If Mitt the Twit wins, I’m emigrating to the Moon

By Babak Moussavi

If Mitt the Twit wins, where else is there to hide?

Just as they would for a World Cup final, or an Olympic 100m race, millions of people will be glued to their television screens (and probably Twitter feeds) on Tuesday evening (or, more likely, Wednesday morning) to watch the sprint finish of a much more important event. The US Presidential elections are finally happening. If Mitt the Twit wins, the world loses.

At first sight, it seems reasonable that the election is close. American politics is heavily polarised, with only two (plausible) party options at each elections. Barack Obama promised much in 2008, and was inevitably constrained by the political system. Many on the left, such as Paul Krugman, argue that he could and should have been much bolder in his initiatives, with particular regard to the stimulus package that staved off depression, and the health care reforms that were modelled on proposals offered by Republicans (albeit of a different era). Many on the right, meanwhile, set out to stop Obama on Day One, believing him to be an illegitimate imposter, hell-bent on destroying America. They are naturally disappointed that he managed to get anything done at all.

At the same time, it is therefore extremely strange that this election is close. Mitt Romney, an ‘Etch-a-Sketch’ politician, who is able to present himself as just about anything, succeeded in beating off his mostly buffoonish Republican challengers by shifting so far to the right on everything from taxation (no increases, ever), to climate change (pah, liberal hoax), to women’s rights (but he has binders full of them, don’t forget). He too made enormous gaffes along the way, most recently with his claim that 47% of Americans feel like victims, don’t pay tax and would never vote for him. He is also the son of a former Governor of Michigan, George Romney, and a former private equity tycoon. In the current, ‘anti-establishment’, ‘anti-Wall Street’ climate, it is quite incredible that he has managed to get so far. Moreover, he is from the same Republican Party that is responsible for turning a budget surplus into a huge deficit under the Presidency of a certain George W Bush. But by virtually airbrushing the last Republican President from history (note how infrequently his name is uttered, or how he did not even attend the Republican Convention), Mitt Romney can present himself as a fresh ‘change’. (This, despite 17 of his 24 special advisers on foreign policy coming from Mr Bush’s old team). Indeed, he and his Ayn Rand-loving Vice-President, Paul Ryan, would present a change – by rolling back the state (and perhaps even society) to a pre-modern age, that is. Indeed, there is reason to expect the rate of lethal violence to increase if the Republicans recapture the White House, as – with the exception of the Eisenhower years – has always happened in the past hundred years.

Q1) Do you have any consistent policy positions at all?

Should we care so much, if we don’t live in the US? While Mr Obama and Mr Romney disagreed quite strongly (or sleepily, apparently) in the first two debates, in the ‘debate’ on foreign policy there was little substantial dispute between the two. But that does not mean they would be the same in the domain of foreign policy. That debate, as the Princeton professor, Anne-Marie Slaughter, points out, contained almost nothing beyond discussion of the Middle East and China, in which the usual platitudes were uttered. Very little, if anything, was said on climate change, world trade, poverty, energy, NATO, or the Eurozone (although apparently the US will turn into Greece if Mitt is not elected). That was not a debate about foreign policy, but a way for the two candidates to win independent voters with narrow interests in swing states. It should not be taken too seriously as a sign that the two men agree.

More useful would be to look at their parties. One is almost wholly infected with the idea that climate change is not man-made, so does not require any remedy or policy solutions (but hey, if the rest of the world wants to damage their economies by abating pollution and curbing emissions, that’s their problem). One still holds the thoroughly discredited idea that hard power is the most useful foreign policy tool, and that multilateralism is a conspiracy. One still has neo-conservatives posing as “experts” within it. One would start a trade war with China.

I am of course talking about the Republican Party. The Democrats are not angelic (which political party is?), but they remain a far better alternative from an international perspective. They may be too happy to use drones, but I don’t expect an invasion of another country (Iran included) anytime soon. And they wouldn’t fall over themselves to scrap the EPA – for they generally accept that sometimes heretical thing called ‘science’.

While we might deplore the frequently mendacious nature of political debate in the US, at least deliberation about political ideals is, to an extent, occurring. Viciously partisan it may be, but the discussion often centres around which values should underpin (capitalist) society. Those on the radical right yearn for total economic liberty, accompanied by the enforcement of morals (even in the bedroom). Those on the left emphasise substantive equal opportunity, with individuals free to pursue their own conception of ‘the good’. In many ways, this is a full-on culture clash, and to call both Presidential candidates ‘the same’ is ludicrously inaccurate.

(When compared to this, British politics seems completely ‘post-political’, with so much of the discussion focusing on the technocratic: such as about optimal levels of taxation, and efficient administration of the welfare state (through universal credit, for example). The late social democratic historian, Tony Judt, forcefully decried the apparent hollowness in this debate. Little wonder then that Westminster politics is often seen as more wonkish, and less exciting.)

Nate Silver, predictioneer

Will Mitt and his protégé, Mr Ryan, succeed in winning the White House and modelling America in their image by slashing spending and inevitably increasing inequality in the process? Nate Silver, a predictioneer of the New York Times, suggests not. By using a complex algorithm – which, as the Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman points out is a far more reliable method of prediction than ‘expert judgement’ – that takes into account the significant variables, he gives Mr Obama an 85% chance of winning (as of 4th November). No wonder he, along with all other pollsters that suggest Obama is winning, are accused of ‘liberal bias’.

We have reason then, to be confident. But if Mitt Romney is victorious, he, as President of the USA, still has the power to effect change globally. It wouldn’t be pretty. If Mitt the Twit wins, I’ll be emigrating to the Moon.

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9 comments
  1. Alex Green said:

    Decommission the rocket!

    • Maybe I’ll keep it on standby for four years…

  2. senex72 said:

    The moon may be safe, but I am not sure we are!. America has not won a war since 1945, but keeps causing widespread destruction by trying.. Like Rome at the close of the Republic it is run by powerful money-lenders and insurance rackets, big property owners and an over-mighty army; and it tries to buy off the plebs by “bread and circuses.” While the struggle for America’s soul may be between Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck it remains to be seen whether or not they have become two heads on the same snake: the USD will continue to lose value, Syria be taken over by the usual band of religious cut-throats, Israel remain threatening, US GM companies will still try to patent life-forms and impoverish peasant farmers and everyone else, US investigative journalists will remain liable to indefinite imprisonment without trial etc etc, and Russia no-longer has much to gain by compromise given the spread of rocket-bases after the Helsinki accord.
    Empires cause a lot of grief as they establish themselves, and as much again when they fall (as we in Britain should know).. Obama or not, hold on to your seats!

    • Alex Green said:

      Agreed.

    • You will of course be dismissed as one of those cynics who doubted ‘American greatness’. But you make a good (if sobering) point! There are a lot of worrying global problems which won’t be going away anytime soon. But I do think there’s a better chance of navigating them with Obama than there would have been with Mr Romney and his band of neo-con advisers!

      I wonder if that’s any consolation, at all…

  3. senex72 said:

    Well yes but I fear the two-party Presidential election campaigns did not raise these underlying worrying problems about the euro collapse, the $ debts, the over-extended military presence and likely consequences of encircling Iran etc.,and these will see the Romney agenda in full force once the Congress gets started again.

    As to American greatness, thanks for the warning… I confess I have not taken that seriously because US seems to be a derivative,overspill civilisation; its has as few as 7,5 people per acre and so has immense resources and size, but has not generated any fundamental, transforming breakthroughs of its own such as penicillin, splitting the atom, electricity, computers, photography, jet engines, radio, rockets etc, all of which came from elsewhere, or even a language of its own.

    I argue how something looks depends on where you are looking at it from, a cruise ship seems very different seen from a state room compared to the view from the engine room or stewards’ quarters. So we need a measurement of starting points to give our judgements some objective base, as opposed to my suggested subjective reaction to US greatness.: a general, all-embracing anthropology.

    Raymond Cattell (in “A New Morality from Science”) observed that six or so underlying cultural dimensions emerge when we compare nations on a wide and comprehensive battery of measurements: if we profile them on the degree of affluence, of cultural pressure, of conservative patriarchalism, of order and control, and of integration and morale ,:(high to low in each case) a distinctive pattern or profile emerges for each country, some profiles being comparable,and others very different. Australia, Britain and USA have similar dimensions for example, in contrast to the pattern for China,India and Liberia., It remains to be seen how constant these patterns are over time (stability through many decades is suggested) – anyone who knows of recent work in this area would be very welcome to update the discussion – but I suspect that nations with similar profiles will produce individuals with feelings of mutual recognition and friendliness and respect for greatness even. So any doubts about USA might be objective if, as I feel, that nation has begun to shift. its basic profile noticeably further away from UK. since 2001. It seems the old dominant European groups are slipping in to a minority position there,in the face of an alliance of the minorities, with Spanish-speaking immigrants and Afro-Americans;. and adapting to a Pacific (rather than Transatlantic) focus; so it is no longer a typically “European” nation automatically -even less than it ever was. This disintegration or decadence of the older group ethos might explain why the rivals to Romney for nomination were such a bunch of duffers, thinking back to Eisenhower Roosevelt etc?.And why America is such an uneasy partner in European and Middle-Eastern affairs, not to say disastrous and widely resisted or ignored. and feared as an oil-grabber with no visible civilising influence.

    • Of course I was joking on the American greatness point, which is almost always uttered in a completely meaningless way (or a way that merely refers to hard power, which isn’t the same thing). The ‘debates’ and campaign naturally missed the main topics, but honesty and evidence-based discussion have long been casualties of US politics thanks in part to the anti-intellectual ‘Reagan Revolution’. Oh for another Eisenhower in the Republican Party! Not that he’d have much chance of being nominated. The closest similarity seems to be General Petraeus – and it hasn’t been a good week for him…

      I would like to read Cattell’s book which you mention – thanks for the tip.

  4. senex72 said:

    Thanks: and Soirry! I tend these days to respond a bit defensively, no longer rely on the shield of faith to quench the fiery darts! Catrrell’s stuff is years ago now – but it is interesting from a great mind – and would love to hear of recent work. Thanks again

    • No worries, I’ll have to temper the sarcastic comments in future in case I get mistaken for a neo-con (it’s happened before, so I should have learnt by now…).

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