Wednesday, 7 November 2012

What a way to run an opposition.

Obama was successful. Congratulations to CU who told us all before the day that the race wasn't even close at all and no matter what the media were saying. Obama was a certainty to be President. Cityunslicker was right and Obama is.

The Americans have a mad system of government. The President is supreme in his power yet he may not control the senate or the House and so may never pass any new statutes or amendments at all.
Each state has a block of votes to allocate solely to one candidate, and count their votes by many different methods and operate all manner of different systems. America is nothing like the UK, even though we often think it is. Its much more like Europe. A great diverse collection of states with their own priorities and religions and ethnic mixes.

But one thing the USA could learn from the UK is how to do not being in government. consider the crazy idea the US has of holding primaries. What a dumb idea this is. Only 8-9 months before the election did the Republicans consider choosing a leader. How much time does that give the choice to make an impact? Virtually none. What brief do they have? What knowledge of what's been going on? What recognition do they have by the voting public? 
The new challenger to the President has to start from near zero and come up with a whole raft of credible, measured, tested proposals in a matter of weeks. its near impossible.

Not only that but in order to become the hopeful to be president, they have to fight all the other hopefuls along the way. They have to publicly rip the guts out of each other candidate. they have to discredit them utterly. Destroy them completely in the eyes of the voters. They must use every political trick in the book. As Mr Burns' political adviser said 

"this is your your muck-raker, your character assassin, your mud slinger and your garbologist."

Every indiscretion from the silliest unpaid parking fine to multiple affairs is revealed. Health records are examined for weakness. Family members are checked for loonies and crooks. All the candidates do this to each other. And with their own cash too! And this goes on for months and months in each state. From January to June all ready for the big election in November.

At the end the Darwinian process has weeded out the weak and left only the strong. But of course it has made them terribly weak. Every possible bad thing about them is now known to the voters of the USA. Every attack they made to rid themselves of a rival is also known. open politics in its rawest form.

And this is the short version. There are actually primaries and caucuses and binding and non-binding and open and closed and conventions and rallies and the state is electing delegates not potential presidents. 

At the end of it all the nominee is a battered and bruised husk that has already campaigned hard for 6 months and is exhausted and exposed. They have made every crazy promise under the sun to every special interest group in every state. They are left facing in more directions, and making more impossible pledges than a Liberal Democrat. Their party is angered over not getting a centrist or a Tea Partyer. Not getting the right ethnically mixed or right religion, or right gender challenger.

All the while the incumbent President has been elected unopposed to stand again, with the full backing of a united party. They can sit in the White House spending money or pledging to spend money on special interests, minority programs and the key marginal states.

Imagine if Ed Miliband had had to fight for his nomination in every county in the UK. If he had to campaign for 6 months on the issues that effected his party. He would have had to have come out strongly for the unions. Strongly for the muslim vote. Strongly in favour of immigration and Europe and green issues and women's rights and public servants getting more pay and ending Trident and opening up coal mines and never once mentioning a cut to a penny of spending.  
The non Labour party voters would think him a communist. Or a crank. Or out of touch. 
All the while he was being attacked by his other rivals for power. The right wing newspapers kicking at him as well as the left wing ones being fed endless stories to discredit him and promote some other in his place.
He emerges as leader with just 5 months to form a credible front bench, manifesto and election strategy. All the public knows of him is he used to be in Gordon Brown's cabinet, stabbed his brother in the back,, had his appendix out privately, drives a non electric car and always looks a bit like he's about to say "Wensleydale!"

After 1 year in opposition Ed Miliband was in danger of being slung out he was so ineffective. It took him another year to find his feet and even get into the game.

And the US elections are personal elections. The voters are picking a person they rate as much as a party. How that person looks and sounds and how much charisma trust and charm they have is very important. To leave the choice of candidate to weeks before the election is utter, utter madness.

No wonder they have that law that the president can only stand for two terms. 
Otherwise they'd never leave.


Dick the Prick said...

There's still a lot of baggage from Bush and Obama does seem a nice guy whereas Romney seems a knob. Obama is wrong on most things economic but Romney couldn't be trusted so it was kinda game over.

The Yank electoral cycle just brings them in and chews them out. $6.2 billion seeems a lot especially when a Denis MacShane clone is the accountant but you've got to respect their willingness to put their money down. It's nicely brutal.

Quite chuffed that Obama won - not my money.

Sebastian Weetabix said...

"At the end the Darwinian process has weeded out the weak and left only the strong"

I respectfully beg to differ. The circular firing squad they all indulge in gets rid of the interesting, the Maverick, the opinionated, the principled, the original... and leaves the dull, the cautious, the trimmer, the inoffensive bleating milksop. They succeed by revealing as little as possible and by being conventional and unoriginal. Wonderful teeth though, I give them that.

When I look at the American system - at the Federal level, I mean - it seems to me that they never really had a revolution in the true sense of the term. Really they just took the powers of George III and called his replacement 'President'. He essentially has strong powers of patronage but is hamstrung by a legislature and judiciary he cannot control. Which is how parliament used to work here, of course, until the party whip system and the neutering of Royal prerogative and the Lords gave PMs virtually dictatorial powers.

Electro-Kevin said...

All this scrutiny and rigorous selection.

So why can't they get presidents who can spell ?

We've had one who thought potato was potatoe and who didn't like being misunderestimated at all.

What was difficult to understand from the CIA brief "She is a drug addled depressive - what ever you do do not fuck her or she will splooge her affections for you live on a public stage." ?

Or "You will make a second term, by bugger !" (burglary)

Another even thought it was the Oral Office and got his cock sucked in the political Holy of Holies.

Not very effective, this US Presidency selection procedure.

Electro-Kevin said...


Blue Eyes said...

Brilliant blog post!

Agree with SW and EK. Even in the UK the system rewards the dull who have made no mistakes in the past. Remember the uproar when Cam refused to say whether he'd done drugs in the past? I'd like to know the proportion of the population that hasn't. Do they automatically get to run the country?? Madness.

Then again, we didn't learn what brand of toothpaste Blair used until GWB told the world.

I doubt there can be a perfect system for choosing a national leader. As CU said before, at least the Americans get people who've been successful at other things before politics, occasionally. We've broken that system with money so now politics is a good career option in its own right.

Anonymous said...

Potato/Potatoe was Dan Quayle, the Vice President.

idle said...

BQ, you and I were writing similar posts concurrently, it seems. Our opinions on the primaries are more or less identical. Romney reached the convention ready for A&E rather than a coronation.

I agree it seems odd that the challenger is almost never a 'leader' of his party, as we understand it. He may not even be in Congress, but Governor of a self-contained state a thousand miles away.

We like to see our opposition leaders at the despatch box and managing an embittered and unmotivated parliamentary party, whilst providing a critique of the government and developing policy.

Our leaders are pretty poor, though, are they not? Their own tale is one of a career of compromises and bribery in equal measure, for it is the only way to climb the greasy pole. Look at Ed Miliband and how he achieved his current job.

Reagan would not have been Reagan after twenty or thirty years in Washington as a Congessman.

Elby the Beserk said...

What astonishes me, regardless of procedures leading up to the election, is that the USA, having had a four year lesson from the EU on why Social Democracy is a disaster, opt for a full-on Social Democrat with as full-on an antipathy for the notion of Civil Liberty as the twunt Blair.

Doesn't get more stupid than that. Actually it does - he's also got into bed with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Dick - Obama creeps me out. He is NOT nice guy. Nice guys don't leave their ambassadors to be torn about by savages who the USA probably armed. No, the man is a nasty little identity politics driven demagogue. The USA has had it.


The Decline and Fall of the American Empire. It won't make pretty watching...

asquith said...

Another noteworthy thing about Obama is its localism. The headline news was what I wanted, and I was also pleased by the fact that some of the most hardline twats like Allen West were defeated in the legislature.

But you've also got local elections which for the most part have also gone my way. They've legalised recreational use of marijuana in 2 states, which I'm delighted with, and equal marriage in 4 states. You've genuinely got localities being able to make their own decisions.

Obama wields great power in the wider world, and I should sincerely hope he avoids another huge-scale war of the kind the right want to launch against Iran. But in America, his power is fairly limited. And of course whether people like that or not will depend on whether they agree wiith most people in their locality.

Bill Quango MP said...

Dp : Not that bothered myself. Obama should have been given a bigger scare for being so careless with the economy. But the economic mess he inherited wasn't his fault. However the one he's leaving for Hillary will be.

Seb W: Nice comment. They sure have one confusing system. Only the Canadians seem to bleat more.

I do think you're partly right. But there are a lot of weirdos with a lot of baggage in the picture. The process culled the extreme ones. But also the sensible ones.

EK: our media delight in portraying US runners as gun totin' rootin' tootin' war lovin' extremists. Since Jimmy Carter lost the fuzzy luvvy media have never got over it.

Poor old George Bush and Reagan were treated like evangelical lunatics. Clinton like a wise and caring prophet. Its bizzare. Our media would never portray a European leader as a "machine gunning a pick up wreck in the desert" frothing bible eyed rabid illiterate cripple brain. Yet they do for the US.

BE: good points! And we didn't find out what biscuit Brown liked until 3 days after Mumsnet asked him, and Campbell and Mandelson had chosen a suitably vague answer.

Idle: Yes, I have seen your quality post. Recommended to all. Our politicos may not be up to much and all from a very narrow sliver of life
but they do get a chance to make their administration their own. But maybe having Lord Ashcroft and Lord Sugar as leaders would be better for the nation. At least they know the cost of things.

Elby : So...not a fan then?

Asquith. It must be liberal heaven with Barry back in the big chair.

I don't think its so much his own personality that is keeping him from Iran as the knowledge that the US couldn't possibly occupy that country.
Bush would have been advised by the military that they could easily win and by Rumsfeld that any war would pay for itself.
No both know better. So Obama wants nothing to do with the Mullahs.

A weak, as is a strong, America is bad for everyone.

Graeme said...

The Presidential process seems to have evolved so that the most accomplished liar wins. But what will Obama do for the next 4 years given that he will be dependant on Republicans bailing him out in Congress? My bet is that he will start another war.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't make much difference who "won" the recent American election -- which Obama did by a bare 2% in terms of the popular vote. And even that mainly because of support from Latinos, whose right to vote, or even to be in the United States, was in many cases questionable.

The main issue is the unsustainable size of the American annual deficit, and of their National Debt. And of the two candidates available, the American voters have chosen the one least capable of dealing with it.

All this newspaper talk about "deadlock between President and Congress" is like focusing the main attention on a couple of tourists wrestling on the edge of Mount Etna.

Budgie said...

Elby - "Obama creeps me out"

Yup, he does the same for me. He is a demagogue.

Graeme said...

Obama has been a lame-duck pres since 2010, when the Dems lost control of both houses of Congress. He is now starting out as a lame duck. It seems that the US like him as Pres but they don't want him to do anything.

Bill Quango MP said...

Republicans have conceded Florida.
That makes for a much worse situation for them and cancels out the popular vote argument a bit.

Obama had a good victory. Romney did poorly. It can't be seen any other way.

Seems Americans do trust Obama to sort everything out.

Not really sure he will. Or even can.

Anonymous said...

Simply not true that Romney lost because of 'hispanics' most of those midwester swing states he was expected to have a possibility of turning around have a very small percent of hispanics, and even other minorities.
He lost because he was a rich guy that changed his position depending on who he was speaking to. He'd not been consistent over a period of time, as a result people could have no idea what a Romney presidency would look like.
Also he made several aggressive foreign policy statements, which was stupid considering Obamas rise to prominence came as a result of people wanting out of Bushes wars, they certainly weren't going to suddenly vote to start another.

Agence communication said...

"" But one thing the USA could learn from the UK is how to do not being in government. consider the crazy idea the US has of holding primaries. What a dumb idea this is. Only 8-9 months before the election did the Republicans consider choosing a leader. How much time does that give the choice to make an impact? Virtually none. What brief do they have? What knowledge of what's been going on? What recognition do they have by the voting public?
The new challenger to the President has to start from near zero and come up with a whole raft of credible, measured, tested proposals in a matter of weeks. its near impossible.