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.


#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death

‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum

The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes

Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference

Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki

Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers

Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going


1