As we plod into the final two months before the presidential election campaign officially begins (although they in fact begin about two years before the election that precedes the one for which the campaign is intended), there is still time to review what the purpose and principal issues are, before the fog of myth-making, sound-back-biting, wedge issues from imaginary wars on women to the ethics of private equity, and more traditional polemical and fabulist nostrums reduce the electorate to prostrations of boredom and insensibility. This is, in straight sociological terms, an interesting, and even perhaps unprecedented election, as it is not clear what either party or candidate is advocating, apart from the avoidance of the purgatorial misery his opponent would inflict on the nation.
President Obama cannot run on his record and makes no effort to do so. The economic recovery that was coming and coming and coming, is allegedly still coming, but isn’t here. That is the same recovery that he could not produce overnight, and now cannot produce because of the shambles in Europe, which falls on America because Europe is “our greatest trading partner.” This is more diaphanous rubbish than most such apologia: Foreign trade takes less than 15 percent of American production; Europe, even when taken as a whole, is only the fifth trading partner (after Canada, China, Mexico, and Japan); Europe generally is not in worse condition than the U.S. (Germany especially is functioning much better); and concerns about the 17-nation euro have largely driven the investment of $900 billion by Europeans in the United States since 2008, almost twice the previous traditional rate.
Unemployment and under-employment have effectively doubled from the average of the Clinton–George W. Bush years, while national debt has increased a stupefying 50 percent in this term, most of it bogus debt issued to the Federal Reserve and paid for in Monopoly Money notes. There is a broad national consensus for the repeal of Obamacare, whose constitutionality has been upheld, provided it is recognized as a tax. Not content with that, the administration’s media spear-carriers have denied that it is a tax, though it does appear to be an obligatory payment of about $525 billion, one of the largest fiscal impositions in history. Apart from the killing of bin Laden, it escapes my ability to find one success in any field that can be credited to this singularly self-satisfied administration.
But facing it is an opponent who seems incapable of credibly embracing anything more precise than the most soporific generalities. W. M. Romney is a consultant who assembles data and experts and who has no apparent notion of the nature, history, destiny, or national purpose of America. That charge cannot be levelled at the incumbent. Barack Obama does feel that the United States has missed the humanitarian bus and is overinvested in capitalism, meritocracy, and private enterprise, and as a result has been excessively plagued by racism, war, and economic inequalities. He has a completely unoriginal tax-and-spend notion of how to deal with that, though he has packaged it fairly innocuously as reform, fairness, ecological protection, and the spirit of charity; and has enacted it through regulation and executive order, having little ability to gain congressional adoption of any of his program. This is America’s conundrum: a president who believes in rather silly things, even if his instincts are benign (and that is not what Julia Roberts called, in Pretty Woman, “a sure thing”), against a challenger whose beliefs are likely to be reasonably acceptable, although they emerge only after extensive consultation with pollsters and are, at the best of times, likely to change without notice on the basis of the ebb and flow of opinion.
Obama has the benefit of being a conviction politician, though most of the convictions are bad and the execution is sloppy — or malevolent and cynical, as in his inchoate war against the Roman Catholic leadership, assumedly based on the theory that the Catholic bishops were just a bunch of irrelevant ninnies. As William Daley and Joe Biden and other administration Catholics who know something about their faith warned him, Obama struck the shoals of Roman Catholic belief. Obama had no idea what he was getting into, and moved on to injudicious comments about the Trayvon Martin race-relations trial in Florida.