Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama: A Study in Americanism

I spent a little time last year posting diaries at firedoglake until I realized that it was more progressive -- even more radical -- than I was prepared to engage. The puzzling thing was that I'm as radical as most of the denizens of Jane Hamsher's site; I just was willing to "work within the system" whereas the firedoglakers were fiercely allied with the Occupy movement and ready to burn the whole place down, convinced that America was rotten to the core.

I don't begrudge them their position. America is a confounding place, especially for a humanist. But what underpins my willingness to engage America on its own terms goes back a lifetime and was quite focused by the 2000 election and its consequences. As the election neared, I was talking with a liberal friend with libertarian leanings who explained that he was backing Ralph Nader because the U.S. needed a wake-up call and there wasn't a dime's worth of difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush.

Al Gore went on to win the election and had it stolen by the Supreme Court, with an assist by Ralph Nader. Now, you might be able to argue that point, but most Americans are no longer prepared to argue that George W. Bush was a successful president. To the contrary, Bush gave us one disaster over another. What with unnecessary tax cuts, two wars waged off the books (and on the deficit), a Medicare drug program that was patently made more expensive by banning price negotiations, Abu Ghraib, torture, and indefinite detention without due process -- and more -- Bush left our country in tatters, and it didn't have to be so.

What differences there are between the traditional two parties do matter and have nothing to do with how radical many of us would want our government to behave. It's how it does behave that matters. So I remain engaged. Or I could pass the time poo-pooing the whole thing, you know, like hanging around cafes on the left bank in Paris, drinking red wine and huffing on Gauloises and talking boisterously with Spanish communists. It might be fun but doesn't get anything done. I actually did that briefly in the early 70s, believe it or not. It's one of the reasons I came back to the U.S., since, I   believed, being in the belly of the beast easily trumped staying in the dusty museum that Europe was at the time.

So the differences between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, however narrow or broad you conceive them to be, do matter and are what will shape our country going forward. All the harumphing and "to the barricades" notwithstanding, what happens in presidential election years do often add up to major sea changes in American politics.

So I've gone on long enough while talking around the point of the title of this post. You do the mental work for a while. Do the differences between Mitt Romney and the America he believes in -- and thrives in -- and Barack Obama and his vision of America add up to enough that what will happen going forward will be meaningful?

I say yes. What say you? And if so, what should we do about it? (Hint: support Barack Obama.)

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