This year’s American presidential election saw a victory for incumbent Barack Obama. Obama was elected in 2008 on vague promises of ‘hope’ and ‘change’. While the election of the first African American president was historic, there has been very little change in foreign policy. Disillusionment is what could have cost Obama the election, but American liberals (and many of those further to the left) voted against republican challenger Mitt Romney. Much of the organised labour movement,
under attack in a number of states by right-wing state senates, also came out for Obama and Democrats on Election Day. While keeping in mind the bombs falling around the Middle East, there are some positive victories on reproductive rights, equal marriage and drug law reform.
A BBC poll conducted prior to the election asked people outside the US who they would prefer as president. Given that American politics are to the right of much of the world Obama was a clear winner, interestingly the one country polled which had greater support for Romney was Pakistan. Support was still small- around 15% compared to about 12% for Obama (presumably the rest were ‘none of the above’) but it showed how Obama is seen in one of the countries on the receiving end of US foreign policy.
In Afghanistan, which America (along with NATO allies including New Zealand) has occupied for over a decade, more Afghans, as well as more US soldiers, have died under Obamas watch than under his predecessor George W Bush. History will remember Afghanistan as Obamas war. As well as extending the war across the border into Pakistan, Obama has begun bombing Yemen. If there had been any hope that a second term would be different on issues of foreign policy, Obama authorised a drone strike within hours of winning re-election.
Obama has remained a staunch supporter of Israel. In a March speech to the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobby group he stated that “We are bound to Israel because of the interests that we share …That is why America’s commitment to Israel has endured under Democratic and Republican presidents, and congressional leaders of both parties. In the United States, our support for Israel is bipartisan, and that is how it should stay.”
He demonstrated this during Operation Pillar of Defence, when Israel bombed Gaza for several days killing 162 civilians (rockets fired by Hamas killed 5 Israeli civilians) “[T]here is no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders. So we are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself from missiles landing on people’s homes,” he stated. It’s unlikely he would apply the same logic to Yemen or Pakistan.
On domestic policy there was more at stake in this election. The Romney campaign had planned the recriminalisation of abortion with the overturning of the court decision Roe v. Wade as well as limiting access to contraception and other services. A Romney administration would also have reintroduced the ‘global gag rule’ preventing federal funding going to organisations that provide abortion or information on abortion, including outside the borders of US. The retention of reproductive rights was one of the small victories in this election.
“Obama wins because it’s not a traditional America anymore,” stated Fox News host Bill O’Reilly on election night. “The white establishment is the minority.” The only demographics that Romney won the majority of the vote in were men, white people, and those on above average income. With their increased population oppressed groups in the United States; such as African-Americans such as Latinos may be able to win some progressive reforms, as it is no longer possible to win an election simply by securing the votes of historically privileged groups.
Referenda in several states brought about some progressive reforms. Maine and Maryland voted in favour of equal marriage, and in Minnesota voters rejected an initiative that would have defined marriage as between one man and one woman. In Washington and Colorado referenda saw marijuana legalised (though it remains illegal under federal law).
Third parties and socialists
The US electoral system, which sees the winner of a state get all that states ‘electoral college’ votes, makes it near impossible for third party presidential candidates to make an impact. Green Party candidate Jill Stein was a distant fourth with 0.36% of the popular vote. The 6 candidates identifying as socialists amassed just a fraction of a percentage point between them.
A much better result was achieved by Kshama Sawant of Socialist Alternative, who received over 27% of the vote for Washington’s state house of representatives, running against Frank Chopp, the sitting speaker of the house.