US Presidential Election – Lessons not to learn
Writing exclusively for Endeavour Public Affairs, Austin Mitchell MP, who has recently returned from the United States, gives his views on the United States Presidential race. Austin Mitchell is the Labour Member of Parliament for Great Grimsby and is a member of the British-American Parliamentary Group Executive Committee.
The US learned many of its constitutional lessons from us but more recently the trade has gone the other way as ideas and fashions flowed across the Atlantic to Britain: Tax Credits, Sure Starts and, disastrously, Neo-Conservative economics. As I watch this stalemating 2012 election I`m beginning to hope the flow could be staunched because I’m shocked by so much of what I see going on this year.
Most shocking of all is the power of money which is pouring into the campaign on a scale never seen before, largely because of the Supreme Court`s incredible decision in Citizens United that corporations are people with power to spend to promote their views. So this campaign is awash with money as the full force of private and corporate wealth is mobilized against a President the Right doesn’t particularly like. The projection is $11 billion, 135 per cent up on 2008.
We manage to avoid this in the UK by banning advertising on the most potent medium, television, where only free party political broadcasts are allowed, but the US, where Obama outspent the Republicans last time thanks to small internet donations, will now be swamped by the big ones with serious implications for democracy. The poor and the unemployed can`t advertise but the big spenders can and do.
Big money sours the atmosphere, finances extremism, and boosts negative politics because so much of it goes to television to multiply negative attacks, smear and character assassination on a scale which would be counter-productive in squeamish little Britain. The only possible justification is that an election for President is a personal battle and the campaign a grueling test, testing candidates to destruction. It certainly reveals and tests every weakness, inconsistency and character flaw, though personally I’m a little doubtful about what their views on abortion have to do with their ability to handle the economy.
Negativism is heightened by America`s political deadlock which results from the more ideological line taken by the Republicans. In Britain the Conservatives moved right under Mrs. Thatcher as she opted for Neo-Liberal economics but the Republicans have gone even further into La-la Land under the pressures of the Tea Party. As an open, egalitarian society America has always produced more lunatics than inhibited Britain and the Tea Party are a bumper crop. Yet I can`t see why the Republican establishment allowed the lunatics to take over the asylum and pulled that once staid, cautious party into impossibilist politics.
This makes the two party fight more bitter. Worse, it`s then projected out by partisan broadcasting organizations with Fox backing the Republicans and MSNBC the Democrats, spilling the Washington battle and party line out over the country; a party outreach in a way that can`t happen in Britain where broadcasters must be impartial (and dull with it).
The even party balance, nationally and in Congress, stymies everything. Democrats control the presidency and the Senate but their hands are tied because the Republicans hold the House and won`t play the old compromise game. So Democrats can neither increase taxes on wealth, which isn’t paying its share, nor spend to stimulate as any good Keynesians would, while Republicans demand spending cuts and tax cuts for the wealthy and the whole caboodle goes over a cliff next January in an amazing game of chicken. I can`t say who’ll blink first, hopefully the Republicans, but the result is that with recovery slow and jobless there’s no prospect of the necessary stimulus. Unemployment will remain obstinately high and every necessary reform will be stymied. That’s no way to run a great country and with Europe locked down through its Euro-follies and Britain by Neo-Con economics which ain`t going to work, the US holds the world back.
Prolonged deadlock is a frightening prospect unless there is a clean one party sweep which ain`t going to happen. Obama’s record is patchy and disappointing and Romney is a power seeking android who will fill his policy vacuum with anything appropriate to win his audience. He`s still busily backtracking from the liberal policies he espoused to win in Massachusetts to the sterner orthodoxies demanded by the Republican base, so heaven knows what`s he`ll do in power.
Thus with Obama’s support likely to fall because he hasn’t delivered on the high hopes he roused and the ideological Republicans uneasy with Romney and the polls, putting both the lame donkey and the angry elephant neck and neck, it would be crazy for a mere Limey to make predictions. Being crazy, I will.
Allan Lichtman`s book on predicting elections argues that the campaign, the commercials and the abuse have little effect because elections are decided by the record of the President and the wellbeing of the electorate. He’s developed 13 keys, such as economic and foreign policy success, and the charisma of the candidates which concentrates on the negatives which decide elections and an incumbent with negatives on six or more of these keys loses. On my calculations Obama loses out on only five and therefore stands to win. Sadly that calculation leaves me deeply worried because translating the keys into British terms tells me that David Cameron also stands to win in Britain in 2015 for much the same reasons. So not only do I have to hope that we don`t import the electoral trends of the US`s 2012 Presidential but that my calculation of its result doesn`t apply in Britain.