(Article changed on October 10, 2012 at 12:43)
(Article changed on October 10, 2012 at 11:55)
As Rebecca Solnit put it in admonishing the Left to support Obama's re-election: Obama may be killing innocent children abroad, but that's not new for American presidents (!!), and Obama at least is promoting health care in ways that Mitt Romney wouldn't.
In other words, even if the Democrats and the Republicans are not distinguishable in terms of foreign policy, at least with the Democrats you get more humane domestic policies.
These supposed differences in domestic policies between the two parties are taken for granted as conventional wisdom, but upon closer examination a very different picture emerges. Before proceeding to discuss highlights of these alleged differences in domestic policy, I want to make an observation about Obama and Romney's first debate that is very telling about the nature of the Democratic and Republican Parties circa 2012. A major reason why Obama performed in such a lackluster manner in his first debate with Romney is not because he was suffering from altitude sickness (as Al Gore suggested, unless the altitude of being among the 1% is going to Obama's head and making him dizzy) but because he and Romney don't differ much on substance. If Obama were to take the gloves off and call Romney out on more of his lies, Obama would also be exposing himself for the policies that he has presided over that share the same fundamental philosophical outlook as Romney's. Obama's position would start to wobble and be in danger of falling apart because in attacking Romney he would also be undermining and exposing his own policies.
During the debate, for example, Romney demonstrated his agreement with Obama about Social Security by pointing out that Obama's own appointee, Erskine Bowles, Bill Clinton's former chief of staff, had advocated privatizing Social Security. This undermines the ultra fine distinction Obama makes that he stands for using the government to protect the public against the market's brutalities. Romney's pointed rejoinder skewers Obama's fabricated image because Obama chose Erskine in the first place. Obama appointed Bowles knowing what Bowles' views on Social Security were and knowing that he and co-chair Alan Simpson (the 2010 Bowles-Simpson Commission) would justify the cuts to Medicare and Social Security that Obama himself wants to make.
Romney can be on the attack on economic policy against Obama because Obama doesn't represent a real alternative to Romney/Ryan, just a calibrated difference in how openly and explicitly they want to accomplish what the Dem/GOP working consensus is: that finance capital, transnational corporations, and the military-industrial complex shall be enhanced and protected at all costs as crucial to the U.S. Empire, and that privatization should move forward relentlessly resulting in the demolition of the New Deal either openly (Romney/Ryan) or with lots of verbiage claiming the opposite of what is actually happening (Obama).
If you share your putative rivals' basic premises, as Obama does with Romney/Ryan, then you cannot wage an aggressive and convincing argument against your rivals because you share too much in common with them. Obama, after all, has made his political career by always acceding to those in authority while appearing to side with those who are disenfranchised, thus over and over again proving his value to those who pull the purse strings of power by quieting down the oppressed and legitimating and codifying things that the more blatantly plutocratic cannot get away with doing as well.
Good Cop/Bad Cop
This trick of making the people think that THE PEOPLE are the ones in charge through wielding their votes every four years - and not the 1% - is practiced by the police as the old "good cop/bad cop" routine. When a suspect is in custody, the cops break the detainee down by assuming superficially opposite roles, with the bad cop going postal on the detainee and the good cop stepping in and restraining his overly aggressive colleague, acting as the detainee's new best friend. The "good cop" chases his out-of-control colleague out of the room, locks the door, and gives the suspect a cup of coffee and maybe a cigarette and attempts to convince the beleaguered suspect to tell the cops what they want so that s/he doesn't get further beaten up by the "bad" cop.
"If you just give us what we need, I can keep that crazy colleague of mine off of you. Work with me here. I'm really on your side."
The Democrats are the "good cop" telling the people that if it weren't for them standing in to shield the people from the "bad cop" Republicans, then they'd be mauled by the "bad cop" Republicans.
This routine works marvelously with the Republicans appealing primarily to those people who identify with the top dog (the ones, for example, who identify with the executioner in publicly staged executions) and the Democrats appealing more than the Republicans can to those who identify with the underdog. Without this charade, it would be nearly impossible to project the false image that THE PEOPLE have their representatives in the corridors of power.
Solnit's argument about Obama's health care being better than the Republican version is a peculiar argument given that Obamacare is virtually indistinguishable from Romney's Massachusetts health care plan when Romney was governor there, a plan that originated with right-wing think tank The Heritage Foundation in 1993. Romney defended himself against Obama when Obama pointed out their health care plans' similarity by saying that when Romney got his plan through the Massachusetts legislature he did so with bipartisan support but that Obamacare was passed against the GOP's wishes in Congress.
This doesn't change, of course, the fact that Obamacare and Romney's Massachusetts health care plan are mirrors of each other. It merely points to the fact that Obama, by moving further and further to the right, has pre-empted positions that the Republicans previously occupied and need to make themselves look different from Obama.