Friday, November 9, 2012

Because you were wondering what I thought about the elections...

Super Tuesday has come and gone. Everyone else seems to feel ok about sharing their opinions on the matter, so I've decided to weigh in.

Before I begin, you should know the following:
  • I am an American citizen who moved to Ireland nearly four years ago in December 2008 at the age of 35. Obama was inaugurated in January, 2009 so I haven't lived in the US since he took office.
  • I voted for Obama in 2008.
  • While I'm a registered Independent, philosophically I am an Anarchist.

Most people reading this will be a little confused, a little alienated, and a little scared by that last one. So let me pause briefly to explain what that means. Anarchism, “a political theory which aimsto create a society within which individuals freely co-operatetogether as equals” is not to be confused with Anarchy, a state of disorder due to absence or nonrecognition of authority. In other words, anarchists get this reputation for being randomly violent punks, but actually anarchism as a movement encompasses a broad range of actions – academic, social, artistic, and subversive. But anarchism is not chaos. It's the strong belief that we should organize against inequalities and oppressions of all kinds.

ANYHOO...about the matter at hand. Back in August, when I was visiting the United States, the Republican Vice-Presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, was in the news for saying, “rape is just another form of conception” -- in other words, we shouldn't give rape victims a pass on abortion. This came on the heels of Senator Todd Adkin saying, five days earlier, that when women are victims of “legitimate rape” their bodies “shut down” and conception doesn't occur. The implication was that rape victims don't need abortion and any pregnant woman claiming to be so because of rape is actually lying about being raped. Normally I don't talk politics with people I know don't agree with me, but I couldn't help complaining about these statements out loud to a family member who happened to be in the room. His first response was that while he agreed that a woman should have the right to choose, still, “No one cares about that stuff. They're just going to vote over issues of the economy.” He further added that I shouldn't believe everything I read. I knew I was wasting my time and energy arguing, but the idea that no one cared about social issues such as women's access to health care (including abortion) really haunted me. Maybe he's right, I wondered. What did I know? I only live in the US vicariously through facebook!

When the voting began on Tuesday, I started to get very nervous. Being five hours ahead of US Eastern Standard Time, I went to bed hours before the results. I dreamt all night long about the election. I dreamt that it was really true, that people in America don't care about anything but the economy.

If people only care about the economy, then we can assume that they only care about their own bank accounts. Now we all know that every Republican party member has a job. I mean, unemployment doesn't exist in Republican circles because they all work, right? Joking aside, I guess I don't understand how so many people who have enough money to live on, quite comfortably, don't look around at the world around them and feel compassion for those living in poverty. Why is it easier to think that poor people who don't work are spongers asking for handouts than it is to think of rich people wanting tax cuts as spongers asking for handouts? And I'm not asking for an explanation of the trickle-down theory. I'm asking for an explanation of the moral outrage being expressed about disadvantaged populations who benefit from government policy over privileged ones. If you make a million dollars by, say, investing your money in stocks or real estate (ie sitting on your backside, pushing papers around), it's a pat on the back for you. But if you earn a few hundred dollars a month from social welfare, then you're a giant asshole.

Now let's look at that for a brief moment. I'll choose my home state of New Hampshire, a small, traditionally conservative state in the northeast. Check out this website by National Public Radio. An infinitesimal 2.7% of households receive assistance. According to NPR, “In order to receive cash benefits continuously, you have to be either poor and blind; poor and old (over the age of 65); or poor and permanently and totally disabled.” For example, “In order to be eligible for any assistance including federally funded food stamps, a mother with two children must be earning less than $675 per month.” So how much money are we talking here? “Recipients of cash assistance receive an average of about $215 a month. In total, this represents about 1.7 percent of the state’s total annual revenue.” Now let's compare that to the state's millionaires. There are over 27,500 of them. That's 5.34% of the NH population. Doesn't that inequity bother you? If you're up in arms about welfare spongers, aren't you being just a little bit hysterical? So this idea that people care most about the economy is truly problematic. I don't think they do. I think they care about themselves. They care about the fact that they might have to pay more if the government decides to increase aid to disadvantaged people. But what doesn't make sense to me is that they'd rather make those people suffer than increase taxes for the richest members of society. And why should we do that? Because no one gets rich without exploiting the poor. NO ONE.

Today, the Irish news is reporting that Obama is proposing to increase taxes on the very rich. Now I know what my Republican kin are claiming, as they have been doing: that he's a scary socialist.

On that August trip home, while sitting fireside on the lake, I overheard the aforementioned person claim, “Bono (lead singer of the band U2) is a wicked socialist.” (Wicked is Northeast slang for “big time.”) I couldn't let that one go. I mean, as a resident of Bono's homeland, I felt more qualified to evaluate that claim. “No, he's not!” I said. “Yes he is,” he insisted, “And he's best friends with that Obama.” My words fell on deaf ears. That's when I started to wonder, first of all, if a stinking rich tax dodger like Bono can be considered a socialist, what on earth do Americans consider socialism? While in Florida two years ago, when Obamacare was being debated, I passed by a group of people on a street corner holding signs about how we can't allow socialism in America. Which makes me wonder, second of all, what is so bad about socialism? Did I miss that lesson in history class?

In a critique of Obama, “Compromising Positions,” published in Harper's Magazine, Thomas Frank makes the point that , “by insisting with such unanimity on the absurd charge of 'socialism,' [Republicans] have actually done a very canny thing: they have defined whatever Obama embraces—bank bailouts, kill lists, herding the public into the arms of private insurers—not as the Democratic mainstream, but as the outermost fringe of the party.” In other words, if you're one of those people calling Obama a socialist, you've probably been suckered into believing something you don't know jack shit about. If you're going to criticize Obama, at least do it for the right reasons.

In Ireland, where I live, there is a Socialist Party, and its members are actually elected to public office. There is no picketing against socialism. People understand what it is, and do not fear it even if they themselves do not agree with it. I think the error people in America make is confusing socialist policies with communist regimes. Socialism aims to distribute wealth equally. Consider the Nordic model. The Scandinavian countries are considered some of the most egalitarian societies in the world. And what's the problem with that, exactly? Seriously. What is the problem with that? The mistake that people are making in their hatred of socialist policies is that they view the enemy as the very poor, not the very rich. (But I'm not here to convert anyone to my anarchist views. I mean, the sad irony is that most or all of the people who will read this aren't the people I am speaking to. If anyone has read this far, I'm amazed and thankful.)

I'm not done, though. Back to Obama. He's not my hero. But here's the thing. You know the story of the frog and the scorpion? You can't expect a person who becomes the President of the United States to be an animal he is not. The President of the United States is going to do some reprehensible shit. He's going to do things like order a drone attack on Yemen hours after he's re-elected. He's going to fail to deliver on promises. He's going to keep Guantanamo Bay open. Because, let's face it, there are three branches of the US government. The President, no matter who he or she is, can never be our savior. The office simply doesn't have the kind of power that people give it credit for.

But let's talk about the power he does have. If Romney had won, what would the victors be celebrating? Ending Roe vs. Wade? Outlawing same-sex marriage? Eliminating social welfare programs? Sending jobs overseas? Getting rid of FEMA? Lower tax rates for millionaires? Drilling for oil? Increasing military spending? What kind of victories would those be? I'll tell you what kind: shitty, selfish ones.

So while I can't get very excited about any US President, there are a few things that I personally found exciting about President Obama: how excited people are that he's come forward to speak against discrimination. He actually came out and said that he supports same sex marriage! He even made an “It Gets Better” video. “Don't ask, don't tell” was repealed. He supports upholding Roe v. Wade. He supports Planned Parenthood. He lifted Bush's ban on stem cell research. He actually reduced military spending. He issued Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (admittedly not much, but at least a start). He made it so Cuban Americans can visit their family. In fact, he's done a bunch of pretty cool stuff. Does that take away from the massive disappointments? Well, it depends on how you look at it.

Some people believe that it doesn't matter who is President – they're all the same sort of evil. The USA Patriot Act is one of the most terrifying (and unconstitutional) laws I've ever heard, and I can't believe it was ever passed, let alone extended by Obama in 2011. You could write a list a mile long of the atrocities committed by the American government around the world in the past four years. But still, I can't subscribe to the belief that all Presidents are equally bad. And I actually wholeheartedly agree with that family member who said, “Don't believe everything you read.” But what scares me more is the things we don't read because they aren't being reported. And I don't mean that in a conspiracy theory way, but rather in the most practical and realistic way possible.

When I woke up on Wednesday, I was happy that my nightmares hadn't come to pass. I haven't mentioned all the other elections and referendum decisions that happened on Tuesday. Actually, those elections, maybe more than anything, have proven to me that people do actually care about things other than the economy. An openly gay senator! Legalization of marijuana! Women in office! There is a lot of celebrating, and celebrating that kind of progress can't be a bad thing. But as long as Americans worship wealth over equality we'll never unburden ourself from our own oppression.


  1. Couldn't agree more with your sentiments. Americans are at a horrible identity crisis type impasse: the traditional "founding values" of absolute independence and a value system based purely on a fake idea of pure self-sufficiency are clearly, plainly wrong. But we are so romantic and nostalgic about them that we are willing to cut off our nose to spite our face. Our country wasn't built on pure self-sufficiency: it was built on slavery, colonialism, war profiteering (and war in general), a variety of clever market speculations (gold standard, commodities, etc) and a slew of other things critically tied to at best the participation of others but more often the exploitation of others. It's hard to face unflattering truths about oneself, though. "If you look in the mirror and see something ugly, maybe you are ugly" - Mo Ibrahim

  2. I can't understand why half of the country believes what the Republican party is serving up. I guess I'm putting faith that President Obama has a long term vision and needs another term to finish what he's started. Here's hoping the next four years aren't filled with more gridlock for the sake of the Republicans throwing a temper tantrum and not doing what good for the country.