Regardless of who wins the election next Tuesday the issue of primary importance in the lives of most Americans—the increasing wealth gap and economic hardships that arise from it—is not likely to be addressed in any serious way. Barack Obama came into office with a chance to overhaul the financial system, and arguably a mandate provided by his decisive victory to do so. But instead, Obama played to the status quo, inviting Tim Geithner and Larry Summers and other key players in the 2008 collapse to be heavily involved in determining the financial direction of the country. As such, little has changed in the way that Wall Street does business, making the last four years an even more profitable time for banks and brokers, while businesses have struggled to rebuild or continue to close as they did during the last year of the Bush Administration.
Gallingly, the President’s opponent, Mitt Romney, would have us believe that Obama has choked Wall Street with draconian regulations that keep it from salvaging the economy. To any objective observer the charge is laughable but, as with practically all of Romney’s attacks on Obama during this election cycle, it’s just vague enough to stick with people who aren’t following too closely and want to believe that the most moderate Democratic President since Harry Truman is a wackadoo socialist commie.
Each candidate loves to speak in glowing generalizations of their respect for the middle class, yet neither man has said much at all about lower class poor. This is part of what makes Romney’s infamous “47%” video so important—it’s our only true glimpse into what Romney may actually feel for the less fortunate Americans he would seek to represent, and it would seem that he is disgusted by them, to the point of being offended by their very existence. We may not have heard much from Obama lately on the less fortunate in this country, but his biography and history as a community organizer in poverty-stricken neighborhoods may still hold clues as to what Obama, long since a one-percenter himself, may feel for the indigent.
This is all so key in this election because a life of poverty leads to the desperation of crime, is a key factor in mental illness and obesity, and breeds an overall malaise that keeps neighborhoods or even entire cities (like, say, Detroit) from hoping for, or better yet, working toward, a better life. For America to make any forward progress, as Obama’s campaign slogan so hopefully urges us, we must embrace a truly progressive mindset, in all areas of life. For when we stop seeing the other as different, and dissolve the false divides between the races, the sexes, and the classes, we will be more willing to be there for our neighbor in whatever way they need us to be, and will come to understand that issues like health care and welfare are inextricably tied to our overall safety and prosperity as a nation.
In another election cycle I may have urged a vote for Jill Stein, or another progressive candidate from a third party, because I do feel that the long-term health of America’s political system depends on the end of the divisive, exhausting horse race between Republicans and Democrats. But this year we face a choice even more important than we did in 2008. President Obama has come up short on many issues, not only from constant Republican obstructionism, but from failings from Democratic party leadership and within his own administration, but Romney is running on policies that are essentially George W. Bush’s. At a time when the world’s economy remains fragile, we can’t afford to deregulate any further. The outcome could be catastrophic.
Romney also stands with a GOP whose platform is the most divisive and backward since they declared war on single mothers and gays in 1992. The platform serves only to fuel the basest instincts in their constituents, a strategy that can only work so many more times, as the country becomes more diverse every day in terms of ethnicity and sexuality.
For all of the GOP chatter about Obama’s unwillingness to work across party lines, it simply isn’t the case. In his first few years in office, Obama made overtures to GOP leadership on every issue, to the consternation of his own party. In fact, after Republican leaders in the House and Senate whined that Obama refused to meet with them, Obama even tried to institute a monthly meeting with Senate leadership, similar to the talks that the British Prime Minister holds with Parliament on a regular basis. After the President met with and dismissed the petty concerns of both Republican and Democratic leaders, they never asked again. This spirit of bipartisan cooperation was largely undone by the rancor surrounding the push for Obamacare, but another decisive Obama victory could provide the impetus to revisit it.
If 2008 was a chance for Americans to state what kind of country it wanted to be, then this election is a chance to state who we are now, to embrace our differences and assist each other in building a future that works for all of us. And that is precisely what makes Obama the choice we must make.