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November 5, 2012 / trajsingh

US election: more is less

It’s that time again. Hundreds of millions of dollars later, and we finally get some respite from the elections by the fact that they will be over and done with this week. (Of course 2000 was a bit of an exception, all the way to the Supreme Court that time, courtesy of hangin’ Chad). But is it value for money?

Right up front I had better acknowledge that more or less no-one inside the US cares about what people outside the US think of their election. and they’re right to the extent we’ll all have to deal with whoever gets elected anyway. That out of the way, I’m free to  pontificate (s a resident I don’t get to vote).

When Obama was elected, I was a Hilary supporter – I felt her combination of smarts, hard-headedness and experience was what was needed to make change happen within the beltway. I stand by that view but kudos to Obama for co-opting her. Smart move. I then hoped that the wave of optimism that swept Obama to power would at least give him a mandate to push through the most important issues he’d been campaigning on: healthcare, gitmo closure and climate change. But he instead went with building his power base with Pelosi/Reid and the chance was frittered away. True, a healthcare bill made it to the books, but it wasn’t what it could have been.

The context, of course is one of a recession, one of the worst ever, so credit has to be given for things that didn’t happen, although it’s hard to make the case.

Entre Willard (Mitt to his friends). One of my own (PE person, rather than Mormon) and someone who has actually implemented a decent universal healthcare bill. And then effectively disowned it. The problem with Romney (for me) is that he is in thrall to the Tea Party and their ilk. Radicals who would be unacceptable in a European context, they are the tail wagging the Republican Elephant.

Once in office, would the pandering continue? Who knows, but it’s hard to take it at face value – all that dog whistling is making it impossible to believe that his agenda won’t be the same old tired refrain of trickle down Reaganomics.

But in the end, those famous checks and balances probably mean that electing one or the other will only have a marginal impact. This is not to belittle the weirdo stuff around rape, gay marriage and FEMA, but again, in the context of a 310m people strong democracy, the larger picture is largely unchanged, and getting some of that oddball stuff into law will be very tough. (The one area that does freak me out is the vote for Supreme Court justices – that shit has a long-term impact).

If this is due to the fact of a two party system and/or the fact you need to have multimillions behind you to have a shot at getting elected, and/or be a lawyer (Romney has a joint JD/MBA from Harvard Law/HBS), well, I don’t know. But it does seem to be a choice between two almost identical products.

If I had a vote, I would vote for Obama. But, I would do so wondering if it really makes any difference.



  1. Alan Partis / Nov 5 2012 12:47 pm

    While opinions can differ from one to another, I would like to simply point out a factual error: the United States is not a democracy; it is a republic of states in a representative democracy. The difference is not really subtle either. A democracy, where the majority/mob rules, can be equally authoritarian as any dictatorship or kingdom, especially from the minority point of reference. In _theory_, the peoples’ and the states’ representatives (respectively in the House and the Senate) can make much more informed decisions. In practice, sadly, those representatives have proven to be nearly as uninformed as the masses they are supposed to represent, making them little more than “useful idiots.”

    • trajsingh / Nov 5 2012 4:00 pm

      You’re right, but it’s not really relevant to the argument. In fact, the type of ‘democracy’ espoused by the US is on a par with pretty much every single other ‘democracy’ out there. The only exception I can think of is Switzerland, where everyone votes on everything. And, that doesn’t actually make it a mob rule at all – the Swiss are boringly un-mob-like.

      I would modify your comment, it ‘might’ be mob rule if the people doing the electing are uneducated and unaware of what is best for them (like poor people in the US who vote republican even though it harms their own economic interests, or ‘vote banks’ in Mumbai). I’ll stop there because my keyboard has run out of quotation marks.

      • stonepigs / Nov 9 2012 8:21 am

        Given that past performance is no guarantee of future results, ’tis better to work to prevent mob rule before it seeps in and cannot be so easily reverted. As for the problems of having too many uneducated and unaware voters … I think recent results (not just in the U.S.) say all that needs to be said about that.

        I’ve often heard this argument that Republican voters make choices that harm their own economic interests. I admit that I do not understand the argument. I believe it has been demonstrated on large and small scales that free markets have remarkably better outcomes on both a micro and macro scale than do highly centralized command economies. I will admit that the Republican Party does not espouse free markets per se, but their policy positions are more toward that end of the scale than their Democratic counterparts. Making free market choices not only helps one’s own economic interests, but is the superior social and moral choice as well.

      • trajsingh / Nov 10 2012 4:24 am

        Al, your first comment is true but irrelevant – name something that *is* a guarantee of future results? (The phrase you used is marketing speak mandated by the SEC for financial services ads, and nothing more). In fact, what you could have said, both accurately and meaningfully, is “past performance is THE BEST indicator of future results”. Bar none, by a mile, period. It just isn’t a guarantee. But that would have supported the opposite of your argument.

        Not sure what the next point means 🙂

        The reason I say poor voters hurt themselves by voting Republican is that the Republicans espouse policies that will lower the quality of life of poor people, such as denying them healthcare insurance, making it easier for banks to foreclose their properties, removing child support, weakening the base of taxes from other higher income categories that are being re-distributed to the poor, etc. And I’m talking really really poor people here, the ones that aren’t going to make it without help.

        Your point about command economies v. free-market ones is an argument of extremes. Few people, and certainly not me, would deny that capitalism is better than marxist-leninist/maoist communism. However, in the choice before the American people, neither party is arguing for communism, no matter what the Donald says on this. (I know that Americans equate socialism, and liberal thought with communism, but believe me, as someone who is from Europe, and has spent significant time in post-Soviet economies, you’re utterly wrong about that one). We are arguing about policies that are almost indistinguishable from each other (as I said in the my original post).

        So now we’ve dispensed with that issue, we can turn to Republicans espousing more free markets then Democrats. I agree with you here, they do. The problem however is the same as the guy with a hammer – to him, every problem is a nail. Let’s be honest, the free market is *not* the only policy response to everything that ails America, or any other country for that matter. The free market does not provide unalloyed healthcare at a reasonable price for all. It does not create policing, or justice. It does not provide for military protection, or artistic and cultural endeavor. It doesn’t protect consumers from unscrupulous business practices. It simply is not the right tool for every situation. Markets aren’t the answer to everything, and therefore other tools must be deployed. (You can’t fire your citizens either, by the way, and a country is not a company).

        Yet, the Republicans seem to think it is, and that by definition government, and government action, is therefore bad. (I guess none of them have thought about what they’ll do when – if they succeed – the gravy train they are riding on is finally de-railed). Again, I’ve seen countries without functioning governments, and I don’t think it has helped anybody much, other than the despotic and the powerful.

        Finally, you may believe the free market helps your personal economic interest (heck, you may even be right about that ;-)), but to say it is the superior social and moral choice is a) again going to extremes and arguing against something nobody said, and b) an unproven assertion, better phrased as your opinion rather than fact.

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