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Entries in George Bush (4)


2012 US presidential race: nobody will get elected

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama - they could be singing.
In my head they are doing that 'You sing potato, I like potahto' duet.

I always enjoy following a US presidential election. It's fascinating to watch the world's greatest advocate of democracy (and exporter of it to countries in the Middle East) go to the polls. The debates; the razzmatazz; the rallies; the minute-by-minute polling; the relentless TV adverts. US democracy in action is engrossing, if gaudy, stuff.

The only problem is the democracy bit. Despite politicians' soaring rhetoric about the importance of democracy in US society, there's so little of it available in a US presidential election that it might well be time to send the UN observers in.

Here's why.

Firstly, most votes don't count in a US presidential election. Thanks to a combination of an electoral college and an antiquated first-past-the-post voting system, the only votes that count are those belonging to people living in a few 'swing states'. It's hard to explain this system in a couple of sentences (for an in-depth guide may I refer you to Wikipedia) but it means that: 

  • a presidential election really only takes place in around 5 to 10 of America's 50 states 
  • most of the population is effectively disenfranchised and as a result completely ignored by the candidates
  • you can get elected on a minority of the votes cast (by winning the electoral college but not the popular vote, as George Bush did when he, ahem, won the 2000 election with half a million fewer votes than Al Gore).


Secondly, there's the money. There has always been too much of it in US presidential elections, but thanks to a 2010 Supreme Court ruling, it's now easier than ever for rich individuals or organisations to open their chequebooks in support of a preferred candidate. This has led to an astonishing $6 billion dollars being spent on the 2012 presidential race. As Bob Dylan once said, money doesn't talk, it swears - and that sort of cash raises huge questions about elections being bought, vested interests being rewarded politically for donations and so on. Besides that, it's an alarmingly large amount of money to spend on TV adverts made of cheese.

Finally, there's the actual mechanics of the election: nobody really trusts how votes are cast or counted. A lot of this mistrust stems from how things panned out in Florida in 2000, when black people who happened to share surnames with convicts were denied the vote; malfunctioning voting machines were used in poorer areas, rendering many votes (for Al Gore) invalid; and officials overseeing the election (and its aftermath) turned out to be running the Bush campaign in Florida. (Oh, and a bunch of right-wing judges in the Supreme Court, not the electorate, had the final say on who got to be president.)

Many of the Florida problems have not gone away (as the 2012 early voting mess would seem to testify) and there is reason to believe that they are not confined to that state either - for a full overview of some troubling issues elsewhere in the US, Mark Crispin Miller's essay on the 2004 Ohio results is well worth a read, as is this Forbes article about a voting machine company and a certain Mr Romney that invested in it. According to current press reports, there are 'thousands of lawyers' on the ground in several swing states ready to contest the 2012 results. This is not a sign of a country that has confidence in the fairness of its electoral process, and given all the above, it's a country that is right to be suspicious.

These issues make a mockery of US democracy. They mean that, whatever the result of the 2012 election, it can't be trusted. It will be a result that only takes into account the political views of a small minority of US citizens; a result that was bought by vested interests; or a result that ultimately has more to do with lawyers and judges than voters (or all three). Like the rest of the world, I'll be cheering Barack Obama on tomorrow night (if only so that Americans take a step closer to enjoying the sort of healthcare that is commonplace in every other developed country under the sun) - but whichever candidate wins, I'll have big doubts as to whether or not he got elected.

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George Bush, in numbers

Years in office: 8
Elections stolen: 1
Gore's majority over Bush in the 2000 popular vote: 543,895
Civilians killed in 9/11: 2,974
Civilians killed in Iraq: 98,731 (Iraq Body Count website - others estimate it higher)
Total violent deaths in Iraq: 151,000 (World Health Organisation)
Wars launched: 2
Civilians killed in Afghanistan: 8,000 - 26,873 (various)
US soldiers killed in Iraq: 4,229 (
Poodles: 1 (that would be Blair)
Global credit crunches sparked by US subprime mortgage crisis: 1
Cost of Bush bank bailout plan: $700bn
Number of people in US currently without healthcare: 45 million (BBC)
National US debt: $11.3 trillion
US carbon emmisions: 6,049,435 thousand metric tonnes (CDIAC)
Current Bush approval rating: -33 (ABC)
Weapons of mass destruction found: 0
Days left in office: 0

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Michael Foot and the credit crunch

For many years now, Michael Foot has been derided as the Labour leader who authored the 'longest suicide note in history' - the very left-wing 1983 Labour manifesto.

Interestingly though, one very important part of the manifesto - the pledge to nationalise banks - is now official policy of some of the most right-wing governments on the planet.

It's quite funny seeing neo-con George Bush and Gordon Brown (one of the most right-wing Labour Prime Ministers ever) carrying out Michael Foot's policies.

It's a very topsy-turvy world right now.

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Obama v McCain: who won the first debate?

Well I didn't stay up till the wee hours to watch the debate, I caught up with it on CNN this morning. I had a boiled egg to go with it, and a nice cup of tea.

My gut feeling on presidential debates is that they tend to be about the 'presidential' and not about the 'debate'. There seems to be an almost platonic ideal of what a president should look like (or come across as) and the televised debates between candidates give the US public a chance to see how the candidates conform to that ideal.

This is not a good thing: it places personality over policies. When personality politics takes over, affable guys or gals with very bad ideas can end up in power. When you think about the 2004 US election, even with all his visible faults, and having conducted a disastrous war, George Bush looked and came across more like a 'typical' president than John Kerry (the fact that he actually was the president probably helped). Did that sway the election? Well, I think it certainly improved Bush's chances of winning.

This kind of silliness is not restricted to the US: it's fairly obvious that the Tories' good performance in the polls is due in no small part to the fact that David Cameron looks more like a PM, and is a better communicator, than Gordon Brown (although, policy-wise, Gordon hasn't made it easy for himself).

Anyway, back to the US presidential debate itself. Who won? Well, most right-wingers, I expect, will have agreed with what McCain had to say, and most left-liberals will have sympathised with Obama.

As with most elections, it all comes down to the floating voters - and here's where the "presidential ideal" comes in. If 'independent' or 'indecisive' voters cannot differentiate between the policies and content of the candidates (despite there being clear differences in the approaches of McCain and Obama), it probably means that they are going to look for the candidate who appears most presidential. Who was that?

Well, intriguingly, neither of the candidates looked hugely like a conventional president: we saw an old white guy and a young(ish) black guy slugging it out. This is possibly what makes this race so interesting: the parties have plumped for candidates who do not look like, and certainly don't talk like, the presidents of recent times. McCain comes across as a sort of friendly grand-dad, who will sit the voter on his knee and give him a boiled sweet, and Obama sounds like a toned-down version of Martin Luther King.

If neither of them looked quite like a president, the question becomes one of whom came closest. And, on balance, my answer is Obama. He looked slightly more presidential, slightly more authoritative than McCain. It's easier - in my mind at least - to imagine him giving a presidential address to the nation, or greeting foreign dignitaries in the Rose Garden.

Will this be enough, though, to win him the election? Let's see: there are still dirty tricks (Democrats are already going to court to try to stop Republicans from denying the vote to certain social groups) and possibly racism (are Americans prepared to elect a black man yet?) to overcome.

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