Republicans like to say that Barack Obama’s 2008 slogan ‘Hope’ has been replaced by ‘Fear’. And they are right. If you listen to Obama and his campaign paladins, you might think that Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee is itching to take away your Medicare and break the sacred American promise of Social Security. Hell, a Romney presidency means you are more likely to get cancer. Or if you are a woman, you’ll probably die due to complications from an illegal back-street abortion. Everything will be lame again, like the 1950s. Vote Obama, or else.
At the Democratic convention this week, President Obama will tell his supporters that he still believes that, together, he can change America. He may be a little older, wiser, his hair a little greyer (chuckle), but he sill believes that politics can transcend Washington’s partisan squabbles. He won’t tell the truth: he’s all but abandoned his liberal idealism, and his campaign is not about politics or ‘reaching across the aisle’. It’s about poisoning the way Americans see his opponent.
Obama hasn’t changed American politics as he promised, but he has changed. He’s nasty now. When he made his debut on the national stage at the 2004 Democratic convention, he delivered almost a complete inversion of Pat Buchanan’s infamous ‘culture war’ speech at the 1992 GOP convention. Whereas Buchanan saw racial, sexual, and religious conflict, Obama saw the chance to ‘heal’. One national liberalism was his vision. ‘We worship an “awesome God” in the blue states… and yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the red states,’ he said, sailing above everyone else.
Obama’s life story, his rhetoric, even his complexion offered the promise that he could transcend the political and racial divides that had hardened in the past decade. His best-selling autobiography was about synthesising radical critiques of the American establishment into a form of politics that could save America from itself. Here was a black man with Heartland roots and Ivy league credentials.
He rode that promise to the White House. The watchwords of his 2008 campaign were vague, but messianic. And people reacted to him with religious fervor. A little over four years ago I witnessed Obama appear at Gamecock stadium in Columbia South Carolina. He walked out to the soaring strains of U2. Oprah, our nation’s unacknowledged religious leader, anointed him in her introduction, ‘I’ve been inspired to believe that a new vision is possible for America. Dr. King dreamed the dream. But we don’t have to just dream the dream anymore. We get to vote that dream into reality.’
Who could possibly live up to that billing: you are the embodiment of the dream of MLK, the slain saint of America’s civil rights movement? But the crowd believed it. People were quite literally ‘falling out’ as they do at Pentecostal services, trembling, and yelling out with hands raised, mouths open in ecstasy.
But the 2008 Obama was not all rhetoric: he actually campaigned on some issues. He promised to pass laws against sex-discrimination in wages. He promised to reform America’s health care system. He promised to get out of Iraq and focus on the mission in Afghanistan. All of which he went on to do, albeit with varying degrees of success. He also promised to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, allow the Bush tax cuts to expire, and halve the government’s budget deficit. These he did not do.
In 2012, the Obama campaign has relied less on lofty rhetoric, more on vitriol. It’s attack-ad after attack-ad. His deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, even suggested that Mitt Romney was lying about what position he held at Bain Capital, the private equity firm he ran, potentially committing a tax felony in his paperwork. That accusation had to be withdrawn.
Early in August, a pro-Obama Super-PAC released a commercial implying that Mitt Romney was responsible for a woman’s death from cancer. The worker featured in the ad, Joe Soptic, told a sad tail. Mitt Romney and Bain took over his steel plant, GST, and then closed it. He lost his job and his health insurance and ‘a short time after’ his wife became ill. She was discovered to have cancer and died soon after. ‘I do not think Mitt Romney realises what he’s done to anyone, and furthermore I do not think Mitt Romney is concerned,’ said Soptic.
As it happens, Romney wasn’t making big decisions at Bain at the time of the plant closure, which happened in 2001. Although the ad implies that the firing, loss of health insurance, diagnosis and death happened in quick succession, Soptic’s wife died in 2006, five years after Soptic had lost his job.
Obama and his surrogates – like Eva Longoria, the actress — accuse their opponents of conducting a ‘war on women’. To what does this refer? In part it is the verbal grotesqueries of loudmouth talk-radio hosts, such as Rush Limbaugh, and clumsy politicians, like Senate candidate Todd Akin, who said that victims of ‘legitimate rape’ rarely conceive a child. But mostly, the ‘war on women; refers to Romney campaign has given rhetorical support to the resistance of religious institutions, mostly Catholic, who are oppose new health-care rules that require them to provide co-pay free insurance for contraception, sterilisation, and ‘morning afte’” pills. Other than that, it is the usual charge that anti-abortion activists make against the usual pro-life activism, in which women play a role proportionate to their numbers in the general population.
Beyond this Obama’s campaign has portrayed Romney as a vulture-capitalist villain from a Bret Easton Ellis novel, or a clueless patriarchal relic of the 1950s, or a managerial consultant with no discernible convictions who still manages to be running the most extreme right-wing campaign since the Goldwater lark of 1964.
Team Obama could justly claim that they are simply returning fire. Taken together the far right has accused Obama of being a Kenyan anti-colonialist-liberal fascist Muslim who pals around with domestic terrorists, governs like a Marxist, and abases himself before America’s enemies. But these are the ravings of a disparate set of lunatics confined to the dankest hotel ballrooms of the official conservative movement, not the Romney campaign. The ‘dream’ was supposed to be better than this.
Aside from negativity, Obama has not given the slightest suggestion of anything he’d like to do in his second term in office, other than protect the achievements of his first term and prevent Mitt Romney from killing you with cancer. Does he want to broker a peace in the Middle East? Does he plan any major education reforms? To alleviate poverty? Does he have any plan for reducing the nation’s unemployment, which remains stuck above 8 per cent? We don’t know.
Obama’s charm is gone: he seems to scowl at his audience now, with dead eyes. His campaign rhetoric is not about ‘change’, but about ‘preserving’ health-care reform, or ‘shoring up’ an 80-year-old social welfare program. ‘Change’ is now the unsettling threat of Paul Ryan, the Republican vice-presidential nominee. For Obama, this campaign is a choice, the besieged status quo or a yawning apocalypse. He is running the most-bitterly conservative campaign in decades.Tags: Barack Obama, Democrats, US politics