These Republican primaries are a sideshow – and so is the presidential election
While we’re all going doolally over which malignant Republican replicant is the least tragically flawed – a process which will be stretched over the course of six glorious months – the culture wars are still being fought just under the radar.
The fact is, this beauty pageant of machine politics is a total red herring, and a dangerous one at that. None of this historic field of jokers, morons and shills could ever get close to unseating Obama. They’re either too mad to win over the country, or they’re having to pretend to be so mad that they won’t be able to win over the country. See, to win the primaries, they’re having to appeal to the Republican base – a base that has veered painfully hard to the right in the last few decades – using a rightwing narrative of such repugnance that they’ve toxified themselves in the eyes of America’s sane majority.
It once suited the GOP to indulge the fears, prejudices and ignorances of its base. It made delightful political sense; they could chip away at the Democrats and Clinton and Obama with any kind of poison they picked when they were a minority in government. There was practically no lie or obfuscation that the base would not lap up, scoring cheap political point after cheap political point. But eventually the lies got so big and so persuasive that the narrative ran away from the establishment string-pullers, and the lunatics (in the shape of the Tea Party) took over the asylum. Now GOP bigwigs are in thrall to their own monster, forced to pay visible lip-service to the insanity they themselves fermented in the name of political expedience.
The upshot is that we’ll either get a mad’un like Santorum or a pretending-to-be-mad‘un like Romney. And when we do get Romney, he’ll be cut to little gristly shreds in the main election, as the Obama campaign quietly keeps playing clips of him saying all the crazy things he needed to say to win the nomination. Couple that with the huge lack of enthusiasm his own party has in him and all his insincerities, and he won’t come within a parsec of the popular vote.
But here’s the thing: that doesn’t matter. The presidential election is a sideshow. The office of the president is not this all-powerful bully pulpit it’s cracked up to be. The US government is designed to stymie itself, packed as it is with checks and balances. Obama can’t get much of substance done on his own; he has no control over the budget or passage of bills, and precious little over the states. He couldn’t reshape the US into a leftist paradise if he even wanted to.
Which, I hasten to add, he does not. He is not the agent of hope, change and social democracy we all thought. Politically, he’s a hipper David Cameron: he loves financial services and slight regulation, and doesn’t really care about the significant trappings of the welfare state that we decadent pinko Euros thought he did. In any case, he’s as good as powerless, unwilling to act where he could, and unable to act where he wanted. He’s a figurehead, and that’s it.
The real battlegrounds in US politics are lower than the presidency – in Congress and in the states. And while the country may not like the GOP narrative at the top level, in the state houses and in Washington, the rightist agenda still goes great guns.
The states turned alarmingly red during the 2010 elections, and they continue to throb an ominous shade of crimson. There are 29 Republican governors and 20 Democrats, and the former are all pursuing radical right-wing agendas, nigh-on unchecked. Even a governor as unpopular as Scott Walker, who is currently in the throes of a historically unprecedented recall election for his union busting attempts, still clings fairly handily to power.
The fact that these red governors, and their red state assemblies, are still in power shows that the right is not losing the argument on the ground, no matter how wacky their marquee guys may be. They still get voted in and they are still empowered to enact all manner of destructively ideological far-right policies.
The House of Representatives has a huge Republican majority, which they use to thwart all progressive policies. It would take a massive turnaround and significantly higher poll numbers for Obama to even dent this majority. Meanwhile they’ll vote in near lockstep on anything that will hurt their foes and keep the economy faltering on the president’s watch.
The Senate may enjoy a slim Democrat majority, but rightwing obstructionism has choked it into uselessness. Without a ‘supermajority’ of 60 senators, the minority party can and does filibuster with impunity, making it another major thorn in the side of the liberal cause. More blue seats are in play in 2012 than red ones, and many of them are potentially vulnerable – because the GOP still retains credibility in the states that it lacks on a federal level.
On top of all that, the third branch of government, the Judiciary, is also hamstrung by an obstreperous Senate. Obama is struggling to appoint judges at any level in the face of an activist conservative bloc willing to put a filibuster-shaped kibosh on any of his nominations.
He’s not helped by the 5:4 conservative-liberal split in the Supreme Court, which puts a cherry on the eye of this perfect storm. The majority of the court is now openly hostile to liberal democratic aims and lawmaking, making another huge obstacle in the left’s already treacherous path.
So, like I say, all this presidential sound and fury is a red herring. Obama will beat any of the malingerers thrown in front of him, the GOP will take a bit of a hit from being so silly, and America’s inexorable rightward march will continue.Tagged in: barack obama, politics, presidential election, Republican party, usa
Recent Posts on The Foreign Desk
- As Modi celebrates, his chosen election rapporteur criticises his lack of media accountability
- Modi needs to Make Things Happen so that Chinese and other investors Make in India
- Modi's first year Part 1 - "chilling effects" undermine achievements
- Modi's first year Part 2 - prime ministerial focus needed
- Nepal’s disaster has been building for centuries - with effects worsened by modern apathy
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter