Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

US elections: Big Bird laughs last

Ben Trott picks over signs of hope for the left in the US elections

November 10, 2012
4 min read


Ben Trott is an editor of the journal Turbulence.


  share     tweet  

Photo: _joshuaBENTLEY/Flickr

In 2008, Obama largely defined himself in contrast to Bush, especially in terms of foreign policy. While the latter remained under the spell of the Project for a New American Century’s neocons, Obama seemed to want to nurture the dispersed, de-centred forms of power Hardt and Negri had described in Empire, embrace America’s role in the world as one-pole-among-many, while trying to stem the steady decline in its hegemony.

This year, in contrast, revealed little distance between Obama and Romney’s foreign policy proposals. Distinction was mainly to be found in their economic ideas. Romney and his vice-presidential candidate, Paul Ryan – an Ayn Rand devotee – were committed de-regulators, willing only to invest in austerity. They offered few specifics, but famously promised to cull Big Bird. (Sesame Street is produced by the Public Broadcasting Service). Obama, in contrast, has proven himself more open to deficit spending – although Keynesian economists like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz argue he needs to go much further. (While this distinction holds, it is worth noting Obama has his own plan to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the next 12 years.)

Of course, globalisation and the nature of the current crisis pose a challenge for traditional Keynesian solutions. Yet it is hard to imagine even a short-term alleviation in the crisis without boosting aggregate demand and dealing with the over-accumulation produced by decades of deregulation and financialisation. Romney/Ryan’s rejection of anything even leaning in this direction surely secured Obama his endorsement from the FT and the Economist, as well as support from many poor voters.

November 6, however, was an unambiguous victory for progressives, liberals and the left mainly for reasons beyond the presidential election. Firstly, it saw the misogyny of many Republican congressional campaigns roundly rejected. Senate candidate Todd Aiken had justified opposition to all abortion by insisting, in cases of what he called ‘legitimate rape’, women’s bodies tend to shut down and prevent pregnancy anyway. Republican Richard Mourdock argued pregnancy from rape was ‘something God intended to happen’. Both were defeated. Meanwhile, after months of male-dominated discussion of women’s reproductive rights in Congress, record numbers of women were elected (including Elizabeth Warren, one of the most prominent left-leaning Democrats, and the first openly-LGBT senator, Tammy Baldwin.)

Secondly, a series of referendum victories were secured. Maryland passed the DREAM Act, enabling financial support for students without a legal immigration status. It also approved same-sex marriage, as did Maine and Washington; and Minnesota defeated a constitutional amendment outlawing it. Montana and Massachusetts legalised marijuana for medical purposes – and Washington and Colorado legalised it just ‘for the lulz’! California reformed its three-strikes law, which has seen mandatory life sentences handed down for crimes as petty as stealing a pair of socks.

The election night results were also heavily shaped by the contempt shown by many Republicans for those beyond their immediate social base. Romney himself famously dismissed 47% of the population as structurally dependent on big government. As if to prove their isolation, some conservatives tried shifting the terrain of the culture wars: taking on not only abortion, but contraception. Predictably, the party did well with a shrinking demographic of older, white, men. Obama won 93% of African American voters, 90% of gays and lesbians, 71% of Latinos, 60% of young people, and 53% of women.

Some conservatives will certainly now go on the offensive. In the medium term, however – to secure the party’s survival – Republican strategists will presumably try and restore centrist control. They know this will not only mean addressing the xenophobia prolific among its base, but radically rethinking its economic, social, and immigration policy. This will be a major challenge, yet they have few other options. As a spoof Big Bird account tweeted on election night: ‘Hey Romney, this election was brought to you by the number 47 and the letters F and U.’

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Ben Trott is an editor of the journal Turbulence.


With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi

Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun

Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh

With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair

A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook

‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali

Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards

Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.

Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent

Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art

Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs

Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox

Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite

Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead

Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee

Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power

The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced

India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya


1