I’m a strategic voter.
There is a place for idealism in our political calculations because idealism is one of the definitive human virtues that sets us apart from animals, for better and for worse. Yet, idealism is so easily manipulated, perverted and abused by cynical power structures, especially during the worst of times.
And while the last four years have not been the worst of times, they have certainly not been good times, neither for many millions of suffering Americans nor for moi. We have lost precious portions of our lives along with our livelihoods to the machinations of the cynical power structure, which indeed has included one Barack Hussein Obama as its political leader during this trying and testing time.
This is not to say that I view Obama as the scapegoat, the ironically opposite Satan of both conservative and progressive fantasies. Who among us, given the chance and the courage to assume the position, can blame a person for achieving the historic advance?
In fact, because both poles tend to find equivalent fault with Obama for exactly opposite reasons I believe from my own empirical, scientific analysis this equal/opposite demonisation to be proof that Obama’s policies generally land where he proclaimed they would during his 2008 campaign: somewhere in the middle of the current American zeitgeist. And more today perhaps than ever before, the center is an empty space as the ideological herds crowd together increasingly to seek warmth at the opposing polar extremes.
Note to my fellow infotainment addicts: there is no warmth available on the internets, only an ersatz version.
Now, our expectation of willing political compromise that traditionally animates the US political system has grown nil and so I am not wagging my tail in your faces for seeking solace in group alienation within the context of the greater alienation that is America, that indeed is the very essence of homo sapiens spinning around a lonely ball of fire somewhere in the unfathomable void.
Based on Obama’s soaring campaign rhetoric and US political history, you would expect that the result of compromise would be the approximate center most of the time. And perhaps, this may have been true in earlier periods when both political parties consisted of ideological and demographic coalitions that were broadly based.
But what about today, when we know with finality that there is no center of society, of the globe, of the universe?
Obviously, the main political parties no longer possess the broad brush quality about them, especially the GOP. And so, what we have seen for the prior three decades, but most especially since the extremely polarising midterm elections of 1994, are less compromise, more gridlock, more legislative trickery, particulary the use and abuse of the filibuster, the reconciliation process, the executive order, the openly partisan flimflamming of important SCOTUS decisions.
We live in unprecedented times when the largest population demographic, the baby boom, is at or nearing retirement age. This impact on our economics and politics cannot be minimised.
As people age, we tend to grow more conservative in our outlook, more accumulative, and less adventurous. All this runs contrary to the growth dynamic necessary for the capitalist engine to keep chugging up the hill. As suggested by a children’s fable, capitalism rests on the “future of an illusion.”
“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”
As we age, our personal optimism, based as it is on an illusion, can no longer prevail for ourselves without the tugs and pulls of antithesis. Instead, we tend to invest our hopes in our children and grand children.
This investment becomes both a source of hope and a burden passed onto them. The reality of the postwar economy in the US is that growth stalled during the 1970s. Could this stalling of the little engine have been realistically averted, given that the postwar landscape and balance of power could not sustain forever? Perhaps, but the fact is, prima facie, we have seen other western-style capitalist economies also lurch and sputter into decline coincident with the aging of their postwar demographic bulge beyond its useful years of high consumer demand and creativity. Japan, most obviously.
What the US has counted on historically to avoid the cyclical nature of every society’s decline is our relative openness to higher levels of immigration than most other countries. Immigration brings youthfulness, yearning, striving and creativity, a refreshed sense of idealism. Immigration is also accompanied by exploitation by the entrenched, cynical power structures of the new arrivals. Immigrants must earn their franchise along the harder road of capitalist exploitation, it is accepted as the trade-off, the sacrifice that immigrants make for the sake of their children and grand children.
This dynamic relationship between the entrenched powerful and the newly arrived is still at work in the US, although its influence has been undermined by the historic economic and political reaction of the huge baby boom.
And this, too, shall pass.
Ronald Reagan came along in 1980 to inject a sense of optimism at the precise time that the postwar economic boom had noticeably hit the wall. Jimmy Carter made the fatal mistake assuming that Americans were finally mature enough to accept the inevitability of the life cycle. Perhaps his language,
his use of a loaded term, a French word no less, his straight talk about a “crisis of confidence,” misappropriated by others with bad intent and translated into French, no less, doomed us all to an overheating of the future illusion. His bad. Our bad.
Unfortunately, the “morning in America” false meme of unending prosperity/growth promoted by Reagan, so necessary to keep the little engine chugging, cannot sustain forever. Clinton embellished it. Bush bastardized Reagan with his suicidal, desperado policies of tax cuts and unfunded war, in order to keep the dream alive for the few, if not the many.
That Obama has fruitlessly tried to sustain the future of the illusion in his own tepid way is undoubtedly his biggest failing as President. However, as he learned from Jimmy Carter, the capitalist illusion must be maintained, somehow someway. To expect any POTUS candidate to do anything else but work for his own election and re-election, is seriously delusional.
No, you expect the grand malarkey and the promises that will be ultimately left unfulfilled for this will be the legacy of capitalism bequeathed by the cynical power structure from the beginning of the industrial revolution until the bitter end of history:
“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”
I find myself explaining all this to my own son, who will turn 18 a few months too late to be able to vote this time. He thinks I am a communist. I am, I am, and I understand as well that history is a process and that we are part of that process, and the endgame for one civilisation or the hegemony of the bourgeois class and its two political parties is the necessary prelude to the beginning of the next stage.
I made him a bet. We live in a red state that will most certainly go for Romney this time, although thanks to the simultaneous fading of the great white baby boom demographic and its replacement by the great brown immigration boom, is shifting perceptibly election by election.
My son is studying modern Russian history since the reign of the last czar. He holds zero illusions for the future of a socialist utopia. He knows that I am a dopey old man.
“All my friends think you’re my Grandpa,” he laughs at me. “You’re old.”
Yes. I cling to his dreams for the future, I feed off them as much as I mourn the passing of my own time.
“Read these two books,” I told him last summer, “The Little Engine that Could and The Future of an Illusion. Read them both, give it some thought, then come back to me and tell me who you want to be President and I will vote for you.”
He looked at me curiously but eventually he did read both.
And last weekend, on my son’s behalf, I marked my ballot “Gary Johnson” for President of the United States.