U.S. Elections: Understanding Obama's Victory
Thursday, November 8, 2012
By Claudia Cinatti
After a very hard-fought and extremely costly campaign, in which the two main parties of the US imperialist bourgeoisie spent billions of dollars in the contest for the White House, Democratic President Barack Obama prevailed over his Republican rival Mitt Romney, both in the popular vote (by around 2 million votes) and in the Electoral College, where he easily exceeded the 270 electors needed to assure his re-election.
The theories of those who predicted a very close election, especially after the first debate between the two candidates, in which Romney’s performance was better than expected, did not materialize. Obama not only won the states of the East and West Coasts, with a tradition of voting for the Democratic Party, but he also prevailed in the industrial states that account for much of the working class, like Ohio, and he managed to keep support in southern states, like Virginia and Florida, a traditional electoral base of the Republican Party.
The November 6 election repeated the pattern of “social coalitions” from the 2008 election, a result of a profound polarization that has been taking place in recent years: Obama kept most of the votes of young people, African Americans, women, immigrants – mainly Hispanic and Asian – the progressive middle class and wage earners with incomes less than $50,000 a year, concentrated in urban centers, which allowed him to win the election, while the Republican Party showed that its electoral base is limited to whites, those with higher salaries, people over 65 years old, and the traditional groups of the religious Right (pro-lifers, homophobes, etc.) mainly from rural and suburban areas.
From the demographic point of view, most analysts agree in pointing out that Obama’s advantage is the fact that his electoral base is expanding; to give but one example, Hispanic Americans are now 10% of the electorate, while the white groups that are the Republican base, are declining numerically, which limited Romney’s chances of winning the presidency and strategically poses a problem for the Republican Party. To this is added the fact that the internal weight the Tea Party has acquired inside the GOP, especially beginning with its key role in the victory in the 2010 midterm elections, worked against expanding the Republicans’ electoral influence, and it collided with an electorate that mainly repudiates its agenda of the extreme right, both in economics and in democratic rights. This was expressed both in the defeat of most of the Republican senatorial candidates with Tea Party credentials, which expanded the Democratic majority in the Upper House [Senate], and in the approval of marriage equality [for gay couples], by popular vote in three states, Washington, Maine and Maryland.
Resistance and the “lesser evil”
However, this victory of Obama is far from expressing the enthusiasm and the illusions in “change” that he had aroused in broad popular groups in 2008, when the combination of the outbreak of the capitalist crisis and being fed up with Bush’s war-mongering policies, and the symbolic impact that electing the first African American President entailed, gave Obama a resounding victory that was expressed in a lead of almost 10 million votes for the Democratic Party.
After four years of governing and economic crisis, those enormous expectations have been diminished. During his first term, Obama did not keep any of his campaign promises; the reform of the health care system, far from offering universal free coverage by the government, favored the businesses of the private insurance companies, without improving benefits or increasing employer contributions. Financial reform left intact the big banks and the speculative structure that led to the 2008 crisis. They continued the bailouts of the big banks and monopolies, that increased their profits to record levels, while unemployment officially remained between 10% and 8%, although if those who are no longer seeking work or those who find themselves forced to accept part-time jobs are counted, the percentage of people with employment problems approaches 20%, and 46 million US residents fell below the poverty line. The promised immigration reform, that was going to legalize undocumented workers, has not even begun to be discussed.
African Americans continue suffering the highest rates of unemployment and criminalization. In foreign policy, Obama essentially continued Bush’s “war on terror,” although with a more defensive discourse, seeking consensus and using military technology, like unmanned aircraft [drones], to reduce US exposure and casualties, which make military incursions very unpopular. This big disappointment led to the defeat of the Democrats in the 2010 elections to Congress, in which a large part of Obama’s electoral base flat out failed to vote, which facilitated the strengthening of the Republicans, especially the Tea Party. This tendency was partially changed in the 2012 elections, that, in a distorted manner, expressed the resistance of broad popular groups, including the workers, who chose Obama as a “lesser evil,” compared to Romney, a multimillionaire businessman with a right-wing program based on the dogma coined by Reagan of “small government,” which combines neo-liberal measures with the attack on democratic rights, like the right to an abortion.
The prospects of Obama’s second term are not reassuring for the bourgeoisie: the economy continues to record a weak growth, of hardly 2% in the third quarter of 2012 (although better than the 1.3% of the preceding quarter). That weak growth is not sufficient to create the jobs that will permit qualitatively lowering the rate of unemployment. The distribution of power between the two parties remained intact after the elections, with the Republicans controlling the Lower House [House of Representatives] and the Democrats with a majority in the Senate, which augurs new crises that will paralyze the making of fundamental decisions, as already happened with raising the government debt ceiling in 2010, which becomes especially serious in order to prevent the so-called “fiscal abyss,” the combination of spending cuts and a tax increase that will take effect at the beginning of 2013, and it threatens to push the economy into a recession again. This has already led to the fall of Wall Street following the announcement of the election results. Although Obama’s policy is to reach an agreement with the Republicans on adjustments and cuts to lower the large fiscal deficit by making the necessary concessions, it is not clear that this will be possible.
In foreign policy, Obama will face major challenges, such as the policy towards Iran (and, more generally, towards the Middle East), ending the occupation of Afghanistan, and defining a more aggressive policy towards China, by strengthening the traditional United States’ alliances with Japan and South Korea. While the “realistic” policy of Obama and a group of Republicans is to administer the hegemonic decline of the United States by avoiding military adventures outside the relationship of forces, that lead to failures like the war in Iraq, pressure from domestic hawks and allies like the State of Israel could lead to aggressive policies with unpredictable consequences.
The two-party system and polarization
On the one hand, the elections showed profound social and political polarization, expressed in the division of the Democratic and Republican votes along social lines and in the ideological and cultural confrontation between both parties. But, at thesame time, they again highlighted the fact that Democrats and Republicans are two wings of the same party of the imperialist bourgeoisie, and that the two-party system, under the forms of bourgeois democracy, is the guarantee that capitalist hegemony will not be challenged. The AFL-CIO union bureaucracy, in supporting the subordination of the working class to the Democratic Party is functional for this policy. US workers and the exploited groups are coming out of a profound decline that has been expressed in very low levels of class struggle. However, there are beginning to be some signs that that tendency could be changed.
The immigrants’ struggle, the emergence of young people in the Occupy Wall Street movement, the resistance to the anti-union offensive in Wisconsin, and, more recently, the nine-day strike of around 26,000 working teachers in Chicago, are some examples. In the context of the continuing capitalist crisis, begun in 2008, and of Obama’s second term with greater weakness than the previous one, it is suggested that the workers, the immigrants, and all exploited US residents will exhaust their experiment with the Democratic Party and move forward towards a point of view of class independence.
November 7, 2012
[From the Fracción Trotskista, ft-ci.org – Unofficial translation]