Democratic Lessons from the Latest Presidential Campaign: What an American Is, Needs and Wants
[translated from the article in Gegenstandpunkt 4-12; www.gegenstandpunkt.com]
The citizens of this “God blessed” country have re-elected the president. And once again, as befits the largest and most powerful of the free democracies, the election campaign was exemplary. Not because the candidates demonstrated how much this climax of popular rule is a matter of the financial might the parties are able to muster for their propaganda campaigns, nor because of the unparalleled orgy of political fundamentalism, bigotry, hypocrisy and malice put on by both candidates in order to display their own brilliance as leaders and the despicable nature of their respective opponent, but because of the typically American straightforward manner with which Obama and his Republican challenger revealed what democratic freedom is all about – a kind of freedom that all voters get to live to the hilt during and between elections.
In America, there are three words for that freedom: “Jobs, jobs, jobs!”
That is the essence of American freedom – a job. Every free American is entitled to search for one, and to make every effort to find and occupy one – especially when the country is in a crisis. By doing so, Americans look out for their own good and everything that is important to them. What they earn, no matter how little that might be, is their property from which they and their families can live freely. Apart from the banks, to which they must repay their loans in installments over the long haul, they are the masters of their own homes – which are the “castles” they pay for out of the income from their jobs and which they have a constitutional right to defend with their guns.
The presidential candidates address these free individuals as the masters of their own destiny, and promise to use all the power invested in the presidential office to ensure that hardworking Americans also get the opportunity to find a job in which they can then work hard and earn money. The frankness is disarming. Apparently, people can only be free property owners if powerful men take up their cause. The candidates refer to the electorate as a bunch of helpless saps whose ability to pursue their most elementary aim in life – which consists in competing to find a job, without which nobody can survive in the freedom of the market – depends completely on the conditions that politicians provide. “If you want a job, you need to put me in charge” – this is how Obama and Romney appeal to their audience as the dependent variables of decisions made by state officials, as people who have nothing to say about the conditions they are faced with and the means they have to try and get by on. Their living conditions are determined by the movers and shakers in government, who promise to use their power to ensure that helpless and hardworking Americans have prospects of getting by again and that “jobs are created” – by capable American employers. This is the second, equally fundamental dependency Obama and Romney confront the voters with in a remarkably emphatic manner: What makes Americans so likable in their own eyes, i.e. the art of getting going when the going gets tough, depends on their making themselves useful for capitalist profiteers.
Without a capitalist who can use them for his business interests, Americans are screwed and end up on the street – despite all their “can do” attitude, their inalienable freedom, and amidst the wealth of the richest country in the world. Sadly, that is not taken as an argument against the fact that all their efforts to get by are subjected to the profit calculations of capitalist companies, but for ensuring that employers have everything they need to provide their services as the nation’s job-creating machine.
Those are all the ingredients needed for the campaign: Obama and Romney have informed the free American people that they are dependent tools of state power and private capitalist profit calculations; that any happiness that comes of their freedom is nothing more than a derivative of the power of capital and the state to define and decide. And as if that wasn’t enough, they rub this status in the face of the American people and present it as their very own need for “jobs”. The people can thus happily agree to everything their masters need to achieve their aims –“America needs jobs” (Romney). Therefore, Americans not only need a job, but thereby also claim their natural right to the competitive superiority of American companies and the complete superiority and impregnability of American state power on the world stage. The candidates have thus outdone each other in demonstrating that the identity between each American’s pursuit of happiness and the resounding might of American capital and American military force throughout the globe are in good hands with them – and only with them.
What that identity consists in, how it is supposed to work in detail, was a very marginal issue in the election. For the most part anyway, the candidates did not bother their voters with any difficult links between the constraints, successes and failures all Americans get to experience while exercising their freedom and what those in charge of business and the state calculate, decide and command. They limited themselves to telling their citizens that the latter neither want nor need anything other than rulers who know exactly how to use their power in the way that every American demands: powerfully, never irritated by any scruples or even consideration for anyone or anything, guided solely by the best interests of “our great nation” and its strong capitalist economy.
The sole connection the president and his challenger have drawn between the American people’s hardships and necessities and the global deployment of American greatness and power is their own personal credibility as executive agents of this connection. To that end, they posed on all channels around the clock as personifications of expertise about the dependent status that the state and the economy impose on normal hardworking Americans – and at the same time they pose as professionals in the use of force, with their absolute will to maintain and expand the power of the greatest superpower – wherever and whenever necessary.
In order to prove their personal qualifications for leading the American superpower, Romney presented himself as a smart and notoriously successful financial magnate who knows how to make a fortune and create jobs, who wants to put to rest any concerns about the climate and any respect for China – and he undergirded his economic expertise by referring to his plan to increase military spending and opt for a “military solution to the Iran question.” Obama, for his part, represented himself as an expert on the hardships of crisis-battered Americans, as a leader who wants to use his plenary financial and political powers to ensure a good climate for job creation and who has even provided Americans with health insurance – and, of course, as a commander-in-chief who shies away from nothing and nobody when it comes to fighting terror and making sure that the whole world shows respect for American superpower.
In this mix-up between the personal credibility of the candidates and the preservation of American greatness, the two competitors – who, according to informed observers, put on the “most expensive, toughest and dirtiest U.S. election campaign in history” – agree on pretty much every issue. And when it comes to the issue of America’s energy supply, they made clear why America so badly needs to be “energy independent.” Why? Because of everything that makes the success of America important for Americans: their jobs and their membership in the mighty land of the free. Oil and gas made in the USA are to be used as levers “for stimulating the economy and creating new jobs” and are “decisive for national security” – as if nothing could be more self-evident.
In a single catchy phrase, the Obama campaign managed to capture the dialectic of the required acceptance of Americans’ total dependency and their boundless pride in everything their lives depend upon: “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.” That is what an American needs and wants, hardworker and patriot that he is, and that is what his political masters celebrate him for.
Translated from GegenStandpunkt 4-12