“It’s really sad,” Arnold Hiatt, a key Democratic funder, told The New Yorker. “You could buy this election for a billion dollars.”
While this makes a mockery of democracy it does not create an illusion of choice. The outcome in these elections matter. Hanging chads and slender margins notwithstanding, by the end of the night on Nov. 6, either Obama or Romney will be president.
The case against the Republicans is not difficult to make. Their numbers do not add up, their arguments do not make sense and their record in office contradicts virtually every one of their professed principles. During the eight years prior to Obama’s presidency, they ballooned the deficit, crashed the economy, increased the power of the state over the individual and sent the US’ standing plummeting throughout the world. They built that.
The world is not marginally different because Bush won in 2000 or 2004. Romney is running to the right of him and Obama is running to the left of former US vice president Al Gore.
Insisting it makes no difference who wins is not tenable. Last year, Chelsea Shinneman of Roanoke, Virginia, had a baby, Harrison, who was born with a congenital heart defect. Were it not for the new healthcare act, Harrison would have been destined for a lifetime of sky-high insurance premiums.
In Fort Collins, Colorado, the head of the Homelessness Prevention Initiative, Sue Beck-Ferkiss, could point to 36 families in the area helped by stimulus money. Had there been any Latinos at the table in Akron, they might have added to Obama’s achievements his executive order to halt the deportation of young undocumented immigrants. Had there been soldiers, they might have talked about the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq.
So it matters who wins. Just because improvements are incremental rather than transformative does not mean they are not important. The problem is not that there is no difference between Obama and Romney, but that there is insufficient difference between what Obama has delivered and is offering and what the country needs at a time when poverty is rising, wages have stalled, civil liberties have been suppressed, kill lists drawn up and drone attacks escalated. It is possible to indict the Republican party and vote for Obama without endorsing his record or making excuses for his failures.
However, it is not possible to understand his failures without recognizing that an electoral system funded by the wealthy will never be capable of distributing resources and power equitably, regardless of who is in charge. The fact that this is the choice Americans are faced with does not mean they do not deserve a better one. It simply reflects why, under these terms, a better choice is not possible.