He who wins US presidency is merely the lesser of two evils

RICHARD SWAINSON
Last updated 08:25 20/11/2012

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In the final analysis, Obama won because of the fortuitous intervention of Hurricane Sandy. 

The United States presidential election was the tightest electoral squeeze since John F Kennedy's father did a deal with Frank Sinatra and his mafia cronies to rouse a few dead bodies from the grave and tip the 1960 scales to Democrat. Whatever the eventual victory for Barack Obama, a huge proportion of what passes for the popular vote in the democracy-loving US went Mitt Romney's way.

In US politics, it's always tempting to assume that there's precious little difference between the two main parties. Imperialist wars, big business and the ongoing shortfall between national ideals and ground-level policy ensure a robust hypocrisy is necessary in political life, whatever your nominal ideological stripe.

Obama's failure to pull troops out of Afghanistan, scale back defence spending and redirect funds into fair health and welfare schemes mark him as anything but the new Messiah. Romney's faux concern with the plight of the unemployed and economically disadvantaged had all the sincerity of a filthy rich man who has read about such things in the newspaper and wonders why the poor unfortunates don't get a better accountant and just pay less tax.

On the other hand, the transparent ineptitude of George W Bush and misogynistic and puritanical idiocy of the Republican party suggest that Obama is very much the lesser of two evils. That half the US electorate chose to blame the incumbent for not fixing the economy quickly enough reflects either amnesia or stupidity on a horrendous scale.

Given that it was Republican deregulation of the financial sector and the consequent amoral conniving of their corporate buddies that caused the crisis in the first place, why would you consider handing them back the reins of power?

As much as I love Clint Eastwood, the spectacle of the venerable old timer chastising the absentee commander-in-chief at the Republican conference had an unintended, sad subtext that summed up their party's campaign - the bewildered and deluded, mouthing meaningless cliches, talking to thin air.

If there was a positive to the US election, it was the demonstration that the old constitutional demarcation between church and state was alive and well.

As Romney was the first credible Mormon candidate for president of the United States, I would have expected his religion to have been much more of an issue. Instead, a large proportion of Americans were willing to entertain a White House without coffee or coke - let alone alcohol - and imagine a first family of bicycle-riding, door-knocking proselytisers, each with their own magic underpants.

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It says much for the tolerance of the American people that this most home-grown of faiths didn't get in the way of his chances.

Perhaps many were just glad that he wasn't a Muslim.

The most salient point about any election is how many participate in it. Legitimacy stems from participation, the surest sign that the system is functioning the way it's meant to.

By these standards, the presidential race rates somewhere between a farce and a sideshow. When less than 50 per cent of eligible voters bother to exercise the franchise, you don't have a working democracy. Indifference, cynicism and a sense of simple powerlessness were voted for by default.

The intellectual vigour of the debate was at times breathtaking. No doubt the economy did loom large for many thinking or disenchanted members of the middle class but, for the hucksters, the spin doctors and the headline writers, the key political discourse involved only two things: Big Bird being on the endangered species list and hitherto unknown medical evidence unearthed by Bible Belt Republicans concerning a violated female's ability to suppress unwanted pregnancy.

The phrase "legitimate rape" is unspeakably vile when used to describe non-consensual sexual relations, but maybe has metaphorical application in wider political life.

In the final analysis, Obama won because of the fortuitous intervention of Hurricane Sandy. The president's handling of a natural disaster had the virtue of novelty after his failings in handling those of an economic and military nature. It will be of some regret to Republican supporters that the scandal involving puppeteer Kevin Clash did not break sooner. If the people had known before the election exactly where the hand that controls Elmo had been, a decisive swing against Big Bird and Sesame Street would have been a certainty and Romney would have won.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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