Monday, November 1, 2010

Election eve

It’s easy to lose track of what we’re voting on tomorrow, both given the sheer number of things on the ballot and the masses of messages we are all being pounded by.

But one thing emerges clearly: there are real differences between the two parties. Republicans, riding public outrage, are performing a typically Janus-faced act. Out one side of their mouth they call for a rolling back of government, and for a defence of the beleaguered individual. Out the other, they advocate massive government intervention to enact a repeat of the ‘90s and ‘00s deregulation—the same deregulation, mind you, that led to economic and social disaster. Theirs, however, is not an intervention on behalf of the grassroots.

Rather, it is on the behalf of the wealthy and the corporate—witness Meg Whitman calling for the repeal of the capital gains tax in California, or Congressional Republicans trying to save the tax breaks for people making over $200,000. Think about Carly Fiorina calling for offshore drilling off the coast of California, inviting, in the light of spills in Alaska and the Gulf, a repeat of the Santa Barbara Oil Spill of 1969 which devastated our coast.

And if both Republicans and Democrats have used advertisements to paint apocalyptic scenarios of post-election America should their opponents retain or take the reins of power, Republicans’ policies seem uniquely designed not to address problems—social, economic, environmental—but to create fear around them. Whether in their crude and inaccurate representations of Democrats’ healthcare reforms, in their obsession with painting Obama as soft on terrorists, in their invocations of fascism, or in their scapegoating of immigrants, they have proven themselves to be utterly shameless.

Democrats, however caricatured by Republicans, don’t like to raise taxes and write in regulation for the warm and fuzzy feeling they supposedly get. They are a party with an idea about how to address our country’s problems. They envision taxing the wealthiest in our country to invest in new and existing industries, infrastructural and social projects to aid the least well-off amongst us. They see the people whose labour provides the backbone for our society as the most important.

They are also critical of Republicans’ mantra of cuts, and their opposition to government disinvestment is being validated by the results of cuts in countries like Britain, where unemployment is set to jump because of knee-jerk right-wing cuts to social services and government programs.

Not all Democrats are making responsible arguments in this regard. California gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown, currently ahead in the polls, is in danger of disappointing and fracturing California’s progressive political coalition by pledging not to raise taxes and failing to address the disaster that is Proposition 13. This buys into the idea that California is broke. It is no such thing, but the legislature doesn’t have the ability to raise revenue to pay for the things that a majority of Californians value. Brown has not indicated how he would deal with this conundrum.

Californians, however, can wield our unique (some would say uniquely dysfunctional) power at the ballot to begin reclaiming some of those things we find valuable, by voting to generate funding for our State Parks (Yes on 21), opposing the oil industry’s attempts to roll back efforts at addressing warming (No on 23), closing tax loopholes for corporations (Yes on 24), ending Republican minority rule (Yes on 25), and halting the attempts to meddle with the tax structure to create protection for polluters (No on 26).

Perhaps the greatest tragedy of this election is that our two wars have fallen off of voters’ radars. This reflects the apathy and callousness of an electorate which has become inured to the suffering of Iraqis and Afghans as well as to the needless sacrifices made by U.S. soldiers. But it is also shameful that our elected leaders are ignoring the issue. No one, of course, wants to talk about Iraq, because although Obama declared combat operations over, special forces’ operations have leaped since. And no one is sure what we have created there. The insurgency might be quiet, but as yesterday’s events demonstrate, it is not dead.

If Iraq is unmentionable, Afghanistan is no different for our political leaders. For Republicans because they know that the electorate is increasingly disenchanted with their wars. They realise that the more the public learns about our involvement, the less likely they will be to countenance either it or our absurd defence policies, which involve signing a $60 billion arms contract with Saudi Arabia (a country with a history of wielding bribes and making national security threats where such deals are concerned).

Obama is avoiding discussing Afghanistan because he has betrayed those of us who remember him inveighing against ‘dumb wars’. This is a war, shamelessly egged on by Republicans and by Democrats like our own Dianne Feinstein (she helped the discredited General McChrystal to undermine Obama’s review process), which is without aim and which is breeding security threats that didn’t exist in October of 2001. California Senator Barbara Boxer, it should be mentioned, has been one of a few Senate voices pledging to hold Obama’s fee to the fire. Her opponent, Carly Fiorina, is fully supportive of increasing the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.

There is no method to our war’s madness, and Obama has made a virtue of pursuing an amoral strategy that has no problem arming local warlords who undermine the central government that we criticise for being ineffectual, which in turn takes cash from Iran and rages against the U.S which insensitively undertakes drug raids alongside Russian soldiers who learnt long ago the futility of this kind of conquest. The Taliban used to be the bad guys, but now we are helping facilitate talks between them and the Afghan government that is trying to ban the operations of rogue private security companies, which our Justice Department is proving reluctant to prosecute for their gross excesses. The talks, of course, are being undermined by the Pakistani intelligence services, which have also probably covertly aided the Taliban, and which are also working to undermine Pakistani civil society, something that Obama argued was central to our success. In spite of this, we just offered Pakistan’s military a $2 billion package.

The election cycle, both in California and nationwide, has illustrated many weaknesses in our democratic process.

-Our politics are soiled by money (think of Meg Whitman spending $141 billion of her fortune to buy the governor’s office), and we are in dire need of campaign finance reform. Public funding, whether in a Clean Elections format, or something different, is one antidote.

-We need mechanisms to promote third parties. Contrary to what many believe, American politics contains the full run of the political spectrum. However, money-saturated primary and general elections, an obsession with non-partisan voters (who are assumed to lie mid-way between two imaginary poles), and a tendency to elect party leaders who come from the middle of big-tent parties have all conspired to drown out the wider range of voices (and with them, their ideas), making our political conversations much the poorer.

-Instead of leaving candidates to haggle over debates (or to drop out altogether like the indefatigably arrogant congressman Wally Herger), the Secretary of State should mandate a fixed number of debates for each race, as well as the character of those debates.

-Similarly, for primary contests, there should be mandatory debates, with all candidates appearing on the ballot able to take part. In short, elected election officials, rather than party hacks, should manage (and mandate) debates, ensuring that no candidate is able to be squeezed out, and that incumbents (whether they be Nancy Pelosi or Wally Herger in the general election, or Jerry Brown in the primary) can’t gain by stiff-arming democracy.

-Journalists need to begin behaving like journalists. This means prodding and vigorously questioning candidates. It means being informed about economic, military, environmental and employment issues, in order to be able to call candidates out when they lie or misrepresent events.

In the meantime, be sure to vote on Tuesday.

No comments:

Post a Comment