Obama's back but it's far from status quo


After 18 months of campaigning and the expenditure of US$4.2 billion ($5.15 billion) on state and national races, the US election of 2012 is over.

Aside from the nearly audible sighs of relief among voters in the swing states such as Ohio, who have been subjected to months of non-stop negative TV adverts, what has the votes of 121 million US voters brought?

According to some media, such as the BBC, the answer is a retention of the status quo. Obama is re-elected. The Senate, contrary to expectations remains Democratic, with even three more Democratic votes; the House remains Republican.

On the surface it does look as if nothing changed and the election simply reflected the close split in voter sentiment.

But that's only the surface. Here are some things that voters decided:

The voters rejected the political message of resentment put forward by Mitt Romney and his party. Republicans have been practising class warfare for decades, lauding the success of businessmen who downsized, forced increased productivity and hollowed out wages of the middle class.

Quite overtly, as Romney said to his wealthy donors, they resented the necessity of providing a social safety net for those less fortunate, the 47 per cent who they claimed, paid no federal income taxes, despite facts to the contrary - payroll taxes deducted from salaried employees.

The rich, though their wealth is increasingly inherited, deem themselves to be job creators and insist that people earning say, $50,000 annually, are takers if they expect social security (superannuation) upon retirement.

The message the majority voted for was an inclusive one, in which the idea of obligation to fellow citizens is as important as personal success. No one likes taxes but the Democrats recognised the necessity for government supported by taxes to provide those services beyond the scope of the private sector. Public safety in all its forms, including disaster relief - see Hurricane Sandy - and infrastructure, are necessarily provisions by government.

The billionaires on the right who tried to influence the outcome had an extraordinarily bad day. Sheldon Adelson, billionaire Las Vegas casino owner, spent $53 million backing nine candidates including Romney. Only one succeeded.

Karl Rove spent $104 million on 15 Republican races and won only two. Linda McMahon, a multimillionaire wrestling franchise owner, spent $50 million of her own money to vie for Connecticut's senate seat for the second time, only to be defeated again.

Put these unsuccessful investments together with estimates of the organisational qualities of the campaigns of Romney and Obama and add to the meat in that sandwich the wisdom exhibited by Donald Trump throughout the campaign and you have to begin to think there may be an inverse ratio between great wealth and intelligence.

Americans rejected candidates who were callous in their disregard of women. The two men who voiced extreme and objectionable comments about the legitimacy of rape and female biology lost in states that voted for Romney.

And, for the first time, three states voted for marriage equality, something previously decided only by the courts or legislatures.

Republicans' indifference or outright hostility toward issues of economic or social justice or the rights of women to control their own bodies met electoral defeat. That these messages of justice and equality resonated with American voters gives me ground for guarded optimism.

- WANGANUI CHRONICLE

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