The Election Day is scheduled for November 6, and before this date, the candidates will use every possibility to draw voters attention. Presidential nominees will have to prove they can find a way out of the complicated economic situation with its federal budget deficit of more than 9% of GDP and unemployment rate of up to 9%. ForUm has contacted Russian political scientist Nikolay Pakhomov working in the US to learn about specifics of the 2012 election campaign and its pitfalls.
- Nikolay, the presidential campaign of 2008 looked like a showdown between young reformist of Afro-American origin Barack Obama and experience veteran John McCain. How does the fight look now? How important are personal characteristics of the candidates?
- A lot of aspects of this campaign come down to personalities, and Romney loses out to Obama. The candidate of Republicans has huge problems with image. First of all, he is a Mormon, and Mormons are still considered by society as members of a certain one-class club. Moreover, radical protestants believe Mormonism is a cult. Secondly, they joke in America that Romney is not human. He is like a robot, always well dressed, always polite and always responds questions smoothly and without hesitation. The third moment is that he is very rich man. And in light of the economic crisis it rouses suspicions among Americans.
- Isn't it strange that wealth is considered as a defect? How about the stereotype that successful businessman can rule the country as a big corporation?
- Such opinion prevailed at the beginning of the campaign. Romney's staff focused on his rationalism and ability to make decisions fast. They also recalled that Romney once headed the organizational committee of the Olympic Games in Salt-Lake-City.
Obama's suporters, on the contrary, declare that the state is not business, but something more. Moreover, Democrats focus on that a successful businessman is not always the caring father of the nation. They recalled that Romney earned his fortune by buying bankrupted enterprises, firing all workers and reselling the assets.
In fact, Democrats campaign is not focused on class contradictions. They warn the people that if Romney comes to power he will raise taxes for ordinary people and will strengthen the positions of his rich friends. Romney once said that he liked firing people who were not up to their job. The Democrats are now using his words to depict Romney as a heartless millionaire, who likes to fire people.
It is difficult to break such stereotype. Romney's wife tried to improve his image by saying how good husband and farther he is, but Romney still loses to Obama in this respect.
However, Obama also has his problems. Many Americans are disappointed. Declaring changes and reforms in 2008 Obama appeared to be a politician of traditional formation and failed to fulfill messianic ideas.
Slavery, abortions and guns
- What are the specifics of this year election campaign in the US?
- The campaign is of negative character. Democrats accuse Romney of death of a woman. They say, Romney once bought a plant and fired all the workers, including the husband of this woman. The husband lost his medical insurance and the woman died of cancer.
Republicans hold Obama's origin against him, and say that being born in Kenya he cannot be the President of the United State. Moreover, they say he is a traitor and does not love America.
The reason for such negativity is that the candidates have nothing else to say. They do not have solutions for urgent issues, and even if they do, they cannot discuss them openly fearing lobbyists, who may tear them apart. In fact, it is disadvantageous for the candidates to speak frankly about the pressing issues.
- And yet, what is the prevailing topic of the election campaign - material issues (overcoming the crisis and unemployment) or ideology (hegemony of US and American dream)?
- Americans are more concerned about economic problems. Romney promises to create millions of new jobs, while Obama's staff focuses on his achievements being in office, like growth of domestic industry.
However, the election campaign does not go without ideological issue and racial contradictions. Thus, speaking to the audience, full of black people, Vice-President Joe Biden said that if Romney wins they all would be put in irons again. Later, though, Democrats assured that the words were different, and that Biden meant that Romney's presidency would establish the rule of capital over ordinary people.
Though reasonable voters do not buy such suggestions, Democrats have no other way but to use such moments if they want to win.
- Do Republicans touch similar sensitive issues?
- Republicans, for example, discuss possible ban of contraceptives and abortions. IN general, they discuss many social and cultural issues - rights of gays, abortions, religion in the life of Americans, relations between the state and the Church. However, candidates must be very careful on these issues. If they or representatives of their parties say something people do not like the ratings will suffer.
Thus, in August, a republican candidate for Senate of Missouri state Todd Akin explained his stance on abortion by saying that in instances of 'legitimate rape', the female body shuts down, preventing unwanted pregnancy. Akin caused outrage with the comments even among Republicans, and backtracked shortly after by saying he misspoke. Democrats, however, immediately responded claiming very Mitt Romney shares such views.
Republicans also promote a new party program, which will lift any restrictions on weapon possession and bearing.
- Is it necessary? The United States is already full of legally armed people. There are many cases under discussion when mentally sick people had no problems to buy guns, with which they later shot their colleagues, classmates or even passer-bys...
- Weapon-bearing issue is almost religious. When the country had been formed the right for weapon bearing was one of the principle ones. There was a belief that as long as an American has a weapon he can rebel against tyranny and protect democracy. It's obvious that the US is no longer uncertain confederative state, but a strong and powerful state machine. And with all the risks such tradition bears nobody dares to stand against it. May be only eccentric-billionaire, New-York City mayor Michael Bloomberg can afford an independent opinion on this issue.
Handgun lobby is very strong in US. Its national shooting association is one of the largest in the country and has mass-scale membership and unlimited possibilities. Even after four years in office Barack Obama has failed to stand against it.
Enemy for awhile
- What is the major problem a president-elect will face? What can prevent him from fulfilling his pre-election promises?
- The main political problem is growing ungovernability of US with its check-and-balance system, established after the war for independence in the end of 18th century. Back then, Founding Fathers were afraid of two things: mancipation by Great Britain and a tyrant in power, who might take people's rights and freedoms. Thus, the political system was created in such a way to weaken the central branch of power in the country. But nowadays, under the conditions of social networks, new media, economic challenges, such system becomes less and less functional. The central power of US is in hands of the President and Congress, which consists of two houses. The lower House of Representatives is controlled by Republicans and the upper house, Senate, is controlled by Democrats. Hence, the adoption of any laws and reforms becomes a complicated process, as House of Representatives has no incentives to cooperate with Democrats.
Leader of the Republican minority in Senate Mitch McConnell once declared that the main task of their party is Obama's defeat at the presidential elections-2012. From this point of view, all actions of the Republicans have been aimed at paralyzing the political system, leaving the people unsatisfied and angry. This is a huge problem and for four years in office Obama has failed to do something about it. In fact, I cannot imagine that any modern politician have enough strength to change something.
- So, are you saying that Obama's failures can be partially explained by plots of Republicans?
- Partially. Anyway, they have the full right for these plots.
Besides, when Obama came to power in 2008, he had the majority in both Congress and Senate. But the political system of the US is so complicated that even under the condition of full support Obama could not carry out the medical reform. Congressmen were afraid to support Obama, because they knew that if insurance companies had been unhappy or if the realization of the reform had faced problems, the very Congressmen would have faced problems at the next elections.
- Medical reform was one of the key issues of Obama's election campaign in 2008, but he has failed to make visible progress. How serious is this problem now?
- Medical insurance is one of the key issues of the agenda today. Many ideas of Obama were very reasonable, but he has failed to carry out the reform due to various reasons, mainly because of the lobbyists. Insurance companies have the strongest lobbyists. Besides, the current state of affairs is beneficial for insurance companies - people who have medical insurance pay more and more. Obama did not have enough support to fight the lobby and the reform was adopted cutdown. For example, young people can stay longer under the insurance of their parents, and insurance companies' right to deny insurance to already sick people has been limited. However, we still cannot speak about available health coverage. Tens of millions of people keep living without insurance.
- The United States has no only internal problems, but external as well. Do the candidates discuss foreign policy issues, like nuclear programs of Iran or Afghan problem?
- The US has bunch of problems in various regions of the world, but the foreign policy is almost not present in the pre-election campaign. There are two main reasons for that. First, the candidates do not dare to discuss and propose solutions. Secondly, people do not care. Americans do not have jobs, but have debts, and they do not really want to discuss or care about some 'Arab spring' or relations with Europe.
- But Romney was slamming Russia in one of his speeches, naming it the enemy. What policy may be carried out by Romney or Obama regarding Russia and Ukraine?
- Republicans criticize Obama for his relations reboot policy regarding Russia and accuse him of betraying American national interests. However, Romney is surrounded by small-minded experts, which treat relations with Russia by the principle of cold war. But I doubt that in case of victory Romney will actually realize foreign policy plots. Highlight declarations are good for elections, but he would probably take decision based on reality.
Any US President who sees things in a realistic light will never upset relations with Russia. The fact is that US is more interested in cooperation with Russia, than Russia with the States. Washington needs Russia's support on Iranian issue, on change of regimes in Middle East, Afghanistan, Arctic Regions. Russia is interested in American investments, but the matter is that investments depend on businessmen, not politicians.
As for Ukraine, Ukrainian-American relations will be determined by relations with Moscow. If Romney wins, Ukraine, as well as other Russia's neighbors, may expect large-scale support and even calls and urges for anti-Russian actions. If Obama wins, his policy regarding Ukraine and other Russia's neighbors will be careful in order not to irritate Moscow.
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