You’ll have already seen this picture. Wil Wheaton tweeted a link to it the other day, which I think officially makes it mandatory viewing for anyone on the internet.
It’s a handy, pithy, lightly humourous, serious-point-making chart of some of the differences between the two upcoming Presidential candidates in the US, comparing Obama’s generally progressive stance with Romney’s own comically backward positions.
Four years ago I would’ve been all over this shit. And I’m still not completely out of that mindset. Significant parts of me will be profoundly depressed if Romney wins the election. It’s just an instinctively, viscerally appalling thought, in a way that Obama’s continued presidency just isn’t quite yet.
But the seemingly high probability of Obama’s second term is scant comfort. And the graphic above is a fine example of what I refuse to find comforting, this time around, about the idea of a Democrat (phew!) who isn’t George Bush (mercy of mercies!) in the White House.
“Not hard enough on Wall Street” is a nice downplaying of the fact that Obama’s been about as good a friend as the super-rich could have hoped for. The mostly empty rhetoric about having billionaires “pay their fair share” was enough to get him branded as a despised socialist, by people who have no idea what actual socialism looks like, but he’s done very little to stop corporate power and wealth creeping every further toward the top.
“Took a while to warm up to gay marriage” means the government he’s in charge of still routinely discriminates against same-sex couples. Look, it’s nice that Obama doesn’t seem to actually have much of a problem with gay people, the way Romney pretty clearly does. But public opinion has been massively shifting in tolerance’s favour, and Obama’s views are a symptom of that, not a cause. Gay rights are obviously winning, and their victory is about people getting it right, not governments passing laws. It’s nice when they do pass the right laws, obviously, but given what Obama claims to believe about equality, he gets way too much credit for not being quite as oppressive and discriminatory in his policies as he could be.
“Continuing the drone strikes”? Well, that’s a lot of dead children you’re euphemising away there.
A lot of the statist left arguments focus on how much worse things would surely be under a Republican than a Democrat, which encourages this kind of brushing away of minor niggling points like the mass murder of foreigners. They’ll admit that Obama has some flaws, hasn’t achieved as much as they’d hoped, does some things they wish he wouldn’t. But look at the alternative.
I was convinced, in 2008. I stayed up on election night watching the news until fairly late here, when the first results were starting to trickle in. Then I spontaneously woke myself up at around 5.30am, turned the radio on just in time to hear a news update with the announcement of the winner, and went back to sleep with an immense sigh of relief. Finally, the nightmare was over. Bush was out, and the sensible, progressive, nice one was in instead. Everyone knows Democrats are at least better than Republicans. They might not be great, but at least they’re not awful.
And during Obama’s first term, he signed the National Defense Authorization Act, giving the government unprecedented authority to detain basically anyone they like without trial or legal recourse, and he deported more immigrants than Bush did in the same time-span, and he stepped up raids on legal marijuana dispensaries, and he granted fewer pardons than any other president, and he just kept on droning the fuck out of brown people, and it’s getting really hard to even see him as the lesser of two evils.
(By the way, if you acknowledge that Obama is the lesser of two evils, and think this is a reason we should vote for him anyway, but you still do so with enthusiasm – or really anything other than weary, disgusted resignation – than you need to look up “evil” in the dictionary and give yourself a reminder.)
The assumption, which still pervades a lot of my own thinking, that things will necessarily be massively worse under a Republican President because the Republicans are obviously terrible, really doesn’t seem to stand up as well as it used to. And I’m finding it harder to see Obama’s continued supporters as being as well-meaning as I thought I was, four long years ago.