Barack Obama’s victory this week was hoped for, and celebrated, in Canada as a triumph of Canadian-style Americanism. Here in Toronto, for example, the writers group PEN Canada invited a wide range of people to a public-speaking event titled, “Democracy in the Year of Election” that amounted, at least in its advance notice, to an election-eve secular prayer meeting for an Obama victory. (It was explained in the invitation that it was a contest between an incumbent who wished to extend medical care to the disadvantaged and an opponent who wished to lower the taxes of the rich.)
Writers always hold themselves out as torch-bearers for truth, intellectual integrity and rigorous analysis of the complex. Likewise broadcasters: The election results, on Tuesday night and in days following, were presented on the CBC as an uplifting victory of a deserving winner and a crushing defeat of an evangelical, Zionist, misogynist, fat-cat reactionary.
This was an historic election, but not in ways that Americans or the Canadian left will celebrate. Mitt Romney was never a strong candidate, and any serious incumbent would have sent him to the proverbial dust-bin of history decisively, as Roosevelt did with Landon, Johnson did with Goldwater, Nixon with McGovern, Reagan with Mondale. If Romney had been a thoroughly credible challenger, he would have thrown Obama out of the White House like a dead mouse, as Roosevelt did to Hoover and Reagan did to Carter.
A shocking $3-billion was spent to keep a failed administration and mediocre congressional leaders (House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid) in place, operating a system that is very corrupt and is almost completely dysfunctional. Almost nothing worthwhile was said during the campaign about anything substantial. There is nothing in any of it to celebrate. An incumbent president was re-elected to a second term with fewer electoral votes than he had the first time — the first time this has happened.
The administration couldn’t run on its record, and so resorted to a smear campaign against Romney with a fear-mongering leitmotif about “reproductive rights.” None of the leading figures seemed able, right down to the nauseating treacle on election night, to stop the clap-trap about “the greatest power in human history’s greatest days are ahead of it” long enough to notice what a basket case America has become.
Public health and education standards have collapsed (though not those in the private sector); the whole country is being terrorized by a fascistic prosecution service; and the number of food-stamp recipients and the number of people with criminal records are coursing neck and neck toward 50 million apiece, a shocking figure in each case. The wealthiest country in history is bankrupt, with 50 million citizens in poverty and the entire middle class on an economic knife-edge.
Except when he chose Paul Ryan for vice-president and defeated the President in the first debate, Mitt Romney was never up to the task of running for president. He campaigned for the position for seven years, was knocked out by the valedictorian blunderbuss John McCain four years ago, and passed over by him for vice-president in favour of that trans-Bering Strait geopolitician masquerading as a sexy librarian that all we superannuated male undergraduates once lusted after, Sarah Palin. In the run-up to this election, providentially for Romney, the Republicans’ strongest candidates — Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie (though Americans should beware of grossly overweight ex-prosecutors), Marco Rubio and even Paul Ryan — passed.
This was the single most worrisome aspect of this election. In the terrible year of 1968, with 550,000 draftees in Vietnam, 200 to 400 coming back in body bags every week and the assassinations (Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy) and race and anti-war riots all over the country, Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Kennedy, Nelson Rockefeller, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan all ran for president. Historically, when America has needed leadership, its greatest leaders have come forward. Not this year.
In the past year, an astonishing procession of unlikely Republican claimants arose: Michele Bachmann (anti-inoculationist), Rick “Oops” Perry (who forgot one of three cabinet departments he was going to abolish, proudly jogged with a loaded pistol in his shorts and was the recipient of a vasectomy from his father-in-law), Herman “Hermanator” Cain (American Promiscuity’s Man of the New Decade), Newt (the Human Grenade with his hand on the pin, forever saying “watch this!”) Gingrich, and Rick Santorum, who seemed to be running for president of a revivalist society for Pius IX. Each seized the leadership in the polls, so unsteady was Romney’s status, and each was exposed by the well-funded Romney campaign as unsuited for the great office at the end of the rainbow.
Mitt nibbled 360 degrees around every issue, preaching and then abandoning his own healthcare reform when governor of Massachusetts, eschewing and then endorsing tax cuts, waffling on gays and abortion, and, after a few hawkish tunings-up, he seemed in the foreign-policy debate to be auditioning for the post of President Obama’s national security adviser.
Lest any reader fear otherwise, I am not partisan, nor, overall, to the right of Obama. But I support a more consistent definition of American security interests than has been shown by his feckless attitude toward almost everything — including Iran’s Green Revolution and nuclear program, the failed “reset” with Russia; Libya and Syria. But at least he has avoided the open-ended adventurism of his predecessor.
I am more conservative as a capitalist, because it is the only system that conforms to the almost universal human desire for more, and I favour low income taxes and less regulation than the administration. But, as I wrote here on Wednesday and especially after spending three years in American prisons, I am a strong leftist on protection of human rights and liberties, restraint of rabid prosecutors and a radical effort to address poverty. Yet Obama’s “sharing the wealth” approach won’t accomplish anything. Instead, I favour a wealth tax to be administered, under supervision as charities are, by the taxpayers and devoted to the reduction of poverty, a tax and program that would be reduced as poverty was reduced, giving the wealthiest an incentive to eliminate poverty.
This president has converted the $10-trillion of national debt accumulated in 232 years of American history (from 1776 to 2008) into $16-trillion now, and has financed most of it by selling bonds to the Treasury’s 100% subsidiary, the Federal Reserve, in exchange for bogus cyber-notes. This violates George Washington’s injunction to defend an indissoluble Union militarily and with a strong currency. It isn’t debt at all; it is just a money supply increase of incendiary inflationary consequences, with a delay-fuse provided by the proportions of the economic slow-down the official extravagance has failed to alleviate, in which the 25% annual gasoline price increase and double-digit food and milk price increases are disguised by collapsed housing prices and minimal interest rates, and the recessionary pricing of manufacturers. It is a giant shell game, but there is nothing under any of the shells.
The United States runs up additional debt of $188-million per hour, this President has added $17,000 of new debt for every man, woman and child in the country, and given no hint of how he proposes to prevent the U.S. currency from becoming toilet paper. And there are five million fewer Americans working than four years ago. The greatest and wealthiest nation in history is sliding into a more profound bankruptcy than any serious country has had since Weimar Germany, and almost the whole country seems to be in a delusional fantasyland. The whole American project is under threat as it has not been since 1933, if not 1861. It had the swiftest ascent, and is now nosing into the steepest dive of any great power in history.
Nothing short of higher taxes on discretionary transactions to shrink the deficit, lower income taxes to promote growth and recovery, a serious spending review including entitlement reform, a bi-partisan assault on medical costs (more than twice what they are in other advanced countries such as Canada, while providing inferior care for a third of Americans, a state of affairs that will not be much altered by Obamacare); and a radical reconstruction of the education and justice systems, will restart the long-inexorable rise of America. There is no sign of any of this being considered or that it is even politically possible.
For the first time, a combination of non-white minorities and whites who are invested personally, either emotionally or more often for tangible reasons, in the redistributive side of the political civil war between advocates of growth and of direct transfers of resources from those who have earned them (or inherited from those who did) to those who haven’t (regardless of mitigating circumstances), has eked out a clear victory. If American politics continues along these lines, the social strains, piled onto the funeral pyre of the national accounts, will put the fate of what has long been the world’s greatest nation in acute doubt.
Canadians who are rejoicing today should not imagine that the ripples of the American crisis will replicate a day at the beach when the ripples from it land on our shore. There is an opportunity for Canada and Germany and a few other countries that have played their cards relatively wisely (and China is not particularly one of them), but the geopolitical vacuum incarnated by Barack Obama, Mitt Romney and the Republicans who sat the race out, will create a powerful and dangerous vortex. These will be perilous times.
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