25 January 2012

US Presidential Elections and the American Right

In democracies, under normal circumstances, electoral results are determined by business classes. You could point to the huge sums of money in the system and the pervasive lobbying efforts. You could highlight the lack of meaningful difference between the left and the right. You could underline the insidious role of the media in shaping perceptions and providing useful fake narratives.

Actually, you could say all of the above.

Partly because of that, nine months ago, I was convinced that Obama was going to be a single term President. The unemployment figures were stuck at two digit, foreclosures were destroying all economic recovery hopes and the American Right was very successful in mobilizing its base against "the Black President." And most importantly, business classes seemed indifferent to what was going on. Corporate profits were up, banksters were back in business with a vengeance and the corporate media maintained its deferential stance towards conservatives and critical stance towards liberals.

They were happy to regurgitate any talking points conservatives might insert into the news cycle. With a few exceptions, liberals were removed from Op-Ed pages. Sunday talk shows were dominated by conservative guests.

When I added to this mixture the racially motivated hatred most conservatives and evangelicals had for Obama, I could not see how he could improve his numbers and get a fighting chance. It looked like the corporate media and their owners were fine with the idea of a "wingnut" being elected POTUS.

In fact, after reading Matt Taibbi's insightful article, I began to take Michele Bachmann's candidacy seriously. That had little to do with Bachmann herself. Some people think she is stupid. I doubt that very much. I believe people confuse stupidity with being uninformed. Bachmann, like most religious conservatives around the globe, is proudly uninformed. All the correlations and causalities she will ever need are there in the Scriptures. Armed with that knowledge processor all she needs is actual data and her staff can provide those any time.

Then something happened. First, Obama, who had been governing from the right, made a more dramatic and unconcealed shift to the right. While his civil rights record was never enviable, at that point he basically doubled down on his record:, he pushed for legislation to make indefinite detention a presidential prerogative, he claimed the presidential right to assassinate people around the world, including American citizens, he escalated his administration's war against whistle blowers and he successfully maintained the President's right to wage war without Congressional approval.

This is without going into his staff changes and economic measures.

Here is a more complete list:
(1) Codify indefinite detention into law; (2) draw up a secret kill list of people, including American citizens, to assassinate without due process; (3) proceed with warrantless spying on American citizens; (4) prosecute Bush-era whistleblowers for violating state secrets; (5) reinterpret the War Powers Resolution such that entering a war of choice without a Congressional declaration is permissible; (6) enter and prosecute such a war; (7) institutionalize naked scanners and intrusive full body pat-downs in major American airports; (8) oversee a planned expansion of TSA so that its agents are already beginning to patrol American highways, train stations, and bus depots; (9) wage an undeclared drone war on numerous Muslim countries that delegates to the CIA the final call about some strikes that put civilians in jeopardy; (10) invoke the state-secrets privilege to dismiss lawsuits brought by civil-liberties organizations on dubious technicalities rather than litigating them on the merits; (11) preside over federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries; (12) attempt to negotiate an extension of American troops in Iraq beyond 2011 (an effort that thankfully failed); (14) reauthorize the Patriot Act; (13) and select an economic team mostly made up of former and future financial executives from Wall Street firms that played major roles in the financial crisis.
To accompany his shift to the right, his economic policies remained neutral towards unemployment and foreclosures. Some liberal economists in the administration were forced out and people like Daley was brought in as Chief of Staff. Contrary to claims that he could no nothing faced with a hostile Congress he chose to follow the advice of Geithner and Daley and did not even try to use the funds in the already approved HAMP program.

A second thing happened. The corporate media added a palpable pro-administration spin to its reporting. Unemployment either disappeared from the news or tiny improvements were treated as huge. Obama was hailed as an exceedingly smart leader. He became the only grown up in the room. His clash with the Republican controlled Congress (they control only the House but the behavior of the Democratic Senators make that nuance moot) over debt ceiling was reported very differently than before. His opponents were portrayed as stubborn ideologues who are out of touch and Obama as a reasonable leader facing an impossible situation.

While it is true that Republicans are out of touch hard core ideologues, no one in the media dared to suggest that previously.

The moment this new media attitude solidified I began to review my previous judgement about Obama's re-election chances.

The Republican Candidates

As part of this change of attitude, the media stories became quite critical of Republican candidates. For instance, as you can see in the examples given in the Taibbi article I linked above, there were many reports that made fun of Bachmann. Interestingly, during her last electoral campaign in Minnesota's 6th District the coverage was respectful and deferential. Nobody mentioned her husband's controversial views or her really over-the-top pronouncements. She was treated like a nice conservative woman with a school girl's crush on W.

Yet, during her presidential campaign, she was treated like a national joke. Tellingly, none of this affected her base and her numbers remained steady (as predicted by Taibbi) as did her funding from the evangelicals. At that point, she started having curious campaign staff problems. After a few change overs, it became clear that she could not hold on to a permanent team. I have seen no report explaining why she had such drastic staff problems.

While she imploded, Herman Cain became the surprise head runner. Since everyone thought that he was in it to sell his book (and he was), no one paid any attention to him. His rise was due to the evangelicals who felt that if Bachmann was pushed aside they were not going to join the Romney campaign. Their attitude was that anybody was better than Romney, as they believed that he was not really a Christian and he was not one of them (and he is not).

When Cain's sexual harassment stories hit the front pages, to the media's chagrin, his support among the evangelicals remained steady. After several such stories that did nothing to his popularity, it took the salacious details of his long term affair to get him to suspend his campaign.

Perry or Governor Goodhair as the incomparable Charles Pierce calls him, self destructed very quickly. He had no message, no real team. He was not ready for the prime time. Other than perhaps magnifying his every misstep, no media effort was needed to derail his candidacy.

By then it was clear that the business classes and the corporate media wanted a race between Obama and Romney as they saw them quite interchangeable. They clearly preferred Obama but if by a fluke a Republican were to become President they wanted that person to be Romney.

The evangelical base of the party begged to differ. This time, they got behind the twice-divorced Newt Gingrich. To everyone's disbelief, Gingrich began to rise in the polls. In his case, most of the horrible details of his past infidelities were public knowledge and it would be quite difficult to rehash them without appearing malicious. Yet they managed to do just that and got his second wife to retell the story of the prelude to his third marriage.

What happened? Once again his support held among the conservatives and he won South Carolina.

I am sure the business classes and the corporate media will find a way to send him packing as well and if needed, a similar scenario will be played out for Santorum. In his case, he has a way of getting himself into trouble without much push from outside.

So, it looks like Romney will be the candidate not because he will have been anointed by the party's base but because he will be the last man standing. Despite clearly supporting him against all the other "nutty" candidates, the media does not seem to be behind him in the presidential race. You can see it from the clear shift in the narrative from "shoulders you could land a 737 on." to "Mitt Romney Made Nearly $22 Million in 2010, Paid Less Than 14 Percent in Taxes.

It is a fail-safe strategy for business classes, as Romney is, in Santorum's nicely racist words, "a paler version of what we have."

This leaves Obama free to move his rhetoric back to 2008 and talk about income inequalities, unfair taxes, rigged system of opportunities and unemployment. All the things he did nothing about for four years. And all the things he just mentioned in his last State of the Union address.

To me the most important aspect of a race between Obama and Romney is the possibility that a good chunk of the Republican base might stay home that day. If they indeed hate him as much as they hate Obama they might just do that.

And that would have very interesting repercussions on the Congressional arithmetic.



Romney is definitely getting the wrong kind of press. LA Times reported that
Some investments listed in Mitt and Ann Romney’s 2010 tax returns – including a now-closed Swiss bank account and other funds located overseas – were not explicitly disclosed in the personal financial statement the GOP presidential hopeful filed in August as part of his White House bid.
This is the kind of hatchet job to which Republican candidates are almost never subjected.

I am very curious why they are going after him while the GOP primaries are still on.

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