By Ben Cohen: After over a year of campaigning in one form or another, thousands of speeches, ad campaigns, smear tactics, soundbytes, YouTube mashups, rallies, media appearances, and literally billions of dollars, Americans finally get to go to the polls and make their choice for president for the next four years.
The election has largely been a tiresome affair devoid of substance and filled with so many untruths and distractions that it is amazing the population takes it seriously enough to show up to the voting booths.
Americans have been subjected to what really amounts to brainwashing when you add up the number of advertisements and carefully crafted media appearances they have been exposed to. Most Americans have no idea what Barack Obama or Mitt Romney actually stand for, knowing only that one candidate is for 'Hope' and the other for 'America' -- whatever that means. This lack of understanding is deliberate because those who actually take the time to figure out what both parties are really saying are rightfully appalled by the process and the choice they are presented.
Voter apathy is a well known phenomenon, and America has one of the lowest rates of voter turnout in the world. It also spends the most money on the process, indicating the public has an intrinsic understanding that it is a superficial horse race that has nothing to do with real issues.
From a broad perspective, Obama and Romney differ only slightly on all major topics: The economy, health care, Social Security, civil rights, and foreign policy. Obama wants to raise taxes slightly on the rich and cut them for the middle class, while Romney wants to cut taxes for everyone. Obama wants to mandate the purchase of private health insurance, while Romney wants to keep it optional. Both candidates would put Social Security up for the chopping board, and both men have little interest in maintaining civil rights at home or abroad. Their foreign policy plans, at least on paper, are almost identical, differing mostly in tone rather than substance. Their campaigns have been designed to emphasize the differences in order to appeal to their respective demographics, and the media has largely repeated campaign claims without any real perspective.
While both men have dramatically different social, cultural and philosophical backgrounds, they have both arrived in the middle of America's extremely conservative political spectrum. They are offering contrasting ideologies that in actual policy terms are almost exactly the same.
So why bother vote if there are no real differences?
Because America is a very big country, and those minute policy differences have a real and tangible effect when applied to the real world. And given the fragile state of both the economy and global political relationships, those contrasts can literally make the difference between life and death.
Small shifts in the tax code can make a huge difference in the ability of the economy to recover from the giant shock it received in 2008. Obama's tax plan would increase much needed government revenue and allow it to maintain vital social programs and spend money in order to get the economy back on track. The only reason the economy is growing at all is down to the massive injection of taxpayers money into the financial system, and the limited stimulus funds that bailed out the automobile industry, kept teachers, policemen and nurses in work and restored some confidence to the floundering markets. Romney's economic plan has been slammed by every serious economist because, 1) it doesn't add up, and 2) after enacting all the tax cuts for the rich, it means the government will have to slash budgets for vital federal programs (like FEMA, social security, and public education) in order to stay solvent.
Obama's health care plan covers millions more people and stops insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, while Romney's would not. The premise is the same -- massive inefficient privatized insurance companies continuing to gouge customers - but the difference in outcome is very real and very serious. Romney's health care plan (or lack thereof) will result in up to 72 million people living without insurance -- a catastrophe from both human and economic point of view.
The Obama administration's foreign policy has been a mixture of hawkish realism, meaning it has followed a pretty nasty doctrine of extra judicial assassinations, drone killings, overt and covert military action in countries it has no business being in, but with far, far more caution than its predecessors. Obama's global popularity remains high because he has been careful to build international consensus around American action, and pull troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan -- two major symbols of failed American foreign policy. The Obama administration has also carefully managed the Israeli/Iranian conflict, ensuring the Israelis do not attack Iran and denying them guarantees of military assistance. It may not seem like much, but a Romney administration would follow the neoconservative doctrine of hawkish fantasy politics where violence is the first option and power projection the priority regardless of real world outcomes. We saw what happened when neo conservatives took control of foreign policy in America, and it wasn't pretty. 17 out of Romney's 24 foreign policy advisers are Bush neocons, so it doesn't require a huge amount of imagination to envision what could happen over the next four years in Romney gets in (think war with Iran and major conflicts with Russia and China for starters).
There are also issues where there real differences between the candidates: women's rights, gay rights, the environment, and unions being good examples.
In regards to women's rights, Romney's appointment of another conservative to the Supreme Court would make it the most conservative in history, threatening Roe v Wade and potentially rolling back women's rights by 40 years. Romney is running as pro life candidate and he has explicitly stated that he would de-fund Planned Parenthood should he get into office, making contraception far harder to access and abortion a far less safe prospect for vulnerable women. Obama on the other hand, has been a strong advocate of women's rights, making women's issues a centerpiece of his healthcare plan and promoting the enforcement of equal pay for equal work.
As far as gay rights go, the Obama Administration is the most progressive in history. Writes Nicholas Teich in the Huffington Post:
Passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009. The repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" last September. Support for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. Support for a transgender-inclusive Employment Nondiscrimination Act. Secretary Clinton's speech last December in recognition of International Human Rights Day in which she stated the importance of advancing LGBT rights. Then, last May, on Meet the Press, the sitting vice president of the United States personally endorsed marriage equality. Could this all be real? Could a presidential administration really care about advancing LGBT rights? The evidence was overwhelming, but my disbelief continued. Then President Obama followed the vice president with his own declaration of personal support of same-sex marriage.
Romney on the other hand supports a federal marriage amendment to the Constitution that defines marriage as an institution between a man and a woman and has remained typically non-committal on a host of other issues like adoption and hospital visitation rights for gay couples.
On the environment, Romney's plan for a America would be actively disastrous. Romney plans to slash environmental regulation, boost "clean coal" production, and stop fuel efficiency rules should he get in, rolling back the significant achievements of the Obama administration and operating on the basis that climate change poses no serious threat to our existence.
The Obama Administration should not shy away from its environmental record, despite relentless attacks from Republicans and it being pretty unpopular from a political point of view. Notes the Washington Post:
The day after the November 2010 elections made clear President Obama’s greenhouse-gas legislation was doomed, he vowed to keep trying to curb emissions linked to global warming. There’s more than one way of “skinning the cat,” he told reporters.
Since then, Obama has used his executive powers — including his authority under the 1970 Clean Air Act — to press the most sweeping attack on air pollution in U.S. history. He has imposed the first carbon-dioxide limits on new power plants, tightened fuel-efficiency rules as part of the auto bailout and steered billions of federal dollars to clean-energy projects. He also has proposed slashing mercury emissions from utilities by 91 percent by 2016.
Obama has set out an ambitious plan for the next four years that while not up to the standards of every environmentalist, will make a significant difference if enacted. Romney's on the other hand, will be actively detrimental to the environment.
The President has a mixed record when it comes to defending of unions, but he has generally supported them and they are overwhelmingly in his camp for reelection. Romney has consistently attacked organized labor in line with his party, targeting teachers and promising cuts for federal employees under his administration.The preservation of workers rights in America is one of the most important issues confronting the country. Labor rights have been under sustained attack for almost 40 years, making America one of the worst places for workers in the industrialized world.
Romney believes that there should be less regulation in regards to workers rights, and given the US already has one of the least regulated labor markets in the world, it paints a pretty bleak picture for the future.
In short, the choice for the next four years is clear: America can turn the clock back and implement policies further to the right of George W. Bush, or it can continue to progress under the more pragmatic and humane policies of the Obama administration. The hard left believes that the system is broken and neither parties offer a way out of the dysfunctional mess created by Washington and powerful corporate interests. It is true that Obama is not offering a radical plan to revolutionize workers rights, undo decades of imperial foreign policy and dismantle the military industrial complex. But it is also true that no politician or political party could given the structure of government in America. It will take decades of concerted effort to undo the poisonous effects of big business, Wall St and the pentagon system in American politics. There needs to be some sort of basis to move forward, and that means voting strategically to keep the most dangerous politicians out of office and building grassroots pressure to force action from elected officials.
When pushing for health care reform in 2009, Obama echoed FDR and told grass roots activists to "make him do it," knowing that change comes from below, not from above. Obama is not the change progressives hoped for, but he can be if the electorate pushes him. He is a remarkably intelligent and flexible leader with roots in community organizing and progressive politics. He understands the challenges facing America, and understands he is locked in a system that makes change extremely difficult to enact. Obama will seize opportunity to make positive changes while Romney will seize opportunities to dismantle them.
It's not a difficult decision to make if you care about the future of America and want it to be a better place to live in for the majority of the population and generations to come. Obama is the only option for President, and you should go out and vote for him.