Comparing Presidential Elections: 2008 versus 2012

20 Oct


            In 2008, Barack Obama rekindled faith in the America electoral process for many, and revived the deeper promise of American democracy, bringing to the foreground of the national political experience a brilliant and compassionate African American candidate. When Obama actually won the presidency, it was one of the exciting political moments in my lifetime, and rather reassuring as a sequel to the dark years of George W. Bush’s presidency. Of course, many Americans didn’t share such positive feelings, and an important embittered minority believed that the election of a liberal-minded black man was the lowest point ever reached in national politics, challenging this segment of society that now was deeply alienated from the prevailing political current to mobilize their forces so as to win back control of the country on behalf of white Christian Americans, and also a time to indulge such absurd scenarios as an imminent Muslim takeover of the society. Such polarization, gave rise to an Islamophobic surge that revived the mood of fear and paranoia that followed upon the 9/11 attacks and was reinforced by evangelical enthusiasm for Israel. In this regard, the Obama phenomenon was a mixed blessing as it contributed to a rising tide of rightest politics in the United States that poses unprecedented dangers for the country and the world.


            Nevertheless, as mentioned, Obama’s campaign and election was at the time a most welcome development, although not entirely free from doubts. From the outset my hopes were tinged with concerns, although I did my best to suspend disbelief. All along I found little evidence that Obama’s leadership would liberate the governing process from its threefold bondage to Wall Street, the Pentagon, and Israel.  Such a political will to mount such a challenge was never in evidence, and never materialized. Even in lucid moments, however, I reasoned it was important to elect Obama, despite his endorsement of a woefully deficient set of foreign policy assumptions, because more would be done to give assistance to those impoverished and hit by unemployment and home foreclosures, better judges and diplomats would be appointed, and more attention would be given to climate change. After four years, I continue to believe that these differences matter sufficiently to make it irresponsible not to support Obama and the Democratic Party, especially in so-called swing states.


And if there was excitement in much of America during the 2008 electoral campaigned, it was mild compared with pro-Obama sentiments in the rest of the world four years ago, which reached dizzying heights after his victory. This enthusiasm was a compound of several elements: Obama’s success lifted confidence throughout the world that the United States could again play a benevolent role on the global stage and also because it validated that mythic image of America as a country where it was truly possible for anyone in the society, including members of minorities long discriminated against, to reach the pinnacles of wealth and power provided only that they were sufficiently talented and determined, and some would add, lucky. There remains little doubt that if the peoples of the world were allowed to vote in American elections, as might be appropriate in a globalized world, it would have produced a landslide of unprecedented magnitude in Obama’s favor.


All at once in 2008 it became evident that an American presidential election was no longer just a national  ritual that bemused outsiders watched as a kind of spectacle but a global event that affected the entire world. In fact the selection of a leader for the United States might be in some respects more important for other societies than for America, and further that the outcome of an American election could have a greater impact on a country in Asia, Africa, and Latin America than the effects of their own national elections, a significance reinforced by intense global media coverage of the American election in real time. In this respect, the 2008 election of Barack Obama made many of us aware that ‘political globalization’ was now as much a part of our experiences as ‘economic globalization.’ We were no longer living in a world where the standard map based on the borders of territorial sovereign states depicted the essential organization of political life on the planet. Our globalizing world had made the geopolitical cartography of influence much more spatially elusive, almost impossible to depict visually, but no less real.


Overall, the initial candidacy and election of Obama was, despite my qualms, more about hope than fear. There were concerns to be sure that the McCain/Palin Republican opposition would be dangerous for the world, but such anxieties were relatively subdued, and did not extinguish the strong positive expectations generated by Obama. And these hopes seemed somewhat justified in the first months of his presidency. In April Obama delivered a visionary speech in Prague that articulated a strong commitment to work toward a world without nuclear weapons. The newly elected president also seemed determined to carry out his campaign pledge to end the Iraq War in a responsible fashion, although this welcome move was offset by a disquieting hint that such a demilitarizing move in Iraq would be balanced by an increased commitment to prevailing in the ongoing war for the control of Afghanistan.



In June Obama made a relatively forthcoming speech in Cairo promising a new more positive relationship with the Islamic world as a whole and to the Middle East in particular. The president referred to the long ordeal of the Palestinian people and proclaimed his dedication to achieving a peaceful and just resolution of the Israel/Pa;lestine conflict, including a most reasonable call upon Israel to freeze all settlement expansion while peace negotiations were taking place. That this call on Israel to stop unlawful activity during negotiations was treated by the media as such a bold step tells us just how biased the mainstream attitude toward the conflict had become, and when Israel rejected at Obama ‘s moderate plea it experienced no adverse consequences, although the White House was put on the defensive because it had dared to push Israel to take a step that was against its wishes. This initiative, followed by its withdrawal, demonstrated to the world the extent to which the United States Government was in Israel’s corner, was revealed to all who cared to notice that the only superpower in global politics was a paper tiger when it came to the pursuit of a just outcome of the conflict.


            As already indicated, I half expected disappointments in 2008. I worried about Obama’s typical liberal effort to demonstrate his tough approach to national security including support for a bloated defense budget in the face of a fiscal and employment crisis, about his lame effort to distinguish between Iraq as a bad war and Afghanistan as a war necessary for American security, and hence a good war. Also, I was disturbed by the way Obama dumped Rev. Jeremiah Wright when he became a liability to his electoral campaign, seemed embarrassed by his friendship with the distinguished Palestinian political historian, Rashid Khalidi, and made Rahm Emanuel chief of staff, as his first major appointment. Obama surrounded himself with economic advisors who were the same folks that had collaborated with the banks, hedge funds, and big brokerage houses in the 1990s to facilitate the huge regressive redistribution of wealth in the spirit of ‘casino capitalism.’ Unfortunately, these telltale signs of weakness of principle and ideology were an accurate foretaste of what was in store for the country during the next four years, although it apparently never dawned on the Nobel Peace Prize Committee to withhold its coveted award until Obama demonstrated that he was a deserving recipient, which sadly he never did.


            What happened during the first term of the Obama presidency is definitely disappointing, although it is only fair to acknowledge that extenuating circumstances existed. Obama was dealt ‘a bad hand’ in the form of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. American society was sliding to the right as exhibited by the rise of the Tea Party, and the election of increasingly reactionary politicians as senators and congressmen, creating the most rightwing Congress in memory.  It was difficult to govern in such a setting, and Obama compounded the difficulties by moving more than half way to meet the unreasonable demands of the opposition, and continued to do so even in the face of their clear unwillingness to reciprocate in a corresponding manner. Also, the pressures mounted by Israel and its formidable AIPAC lobby led the White House to back pedal awkwardly with respect to its efforts to create an atmosphere conducive to a balanced peace process for Israel and Palestine. On other issues, as well, Obama followed the pollsters and the party insiders more than principle, and failed to do what was best for the country and the world. After promising to take climate change seriously, Obama led an international effort to avoid imposing legal constraints on carbon emissions, and throughout his reelection campaign in 2012 has done his best to avoid the looming challenge of global warming aside from blandly promoting energy independence and green technology. As a result, the near unanimous scientific consensus on the urgent need for mandatory strict limits on carbon emissions has been disastrously pushed further and further into the background of public consciousness.


            For me the 2012 elections have a different tone and relevance,  that is not less consequential than in 2008, although absent the uplift. I believe this time around the stakes in the presidential election have been reversed. The upcoming election is more about fear than hope. The outcome is as fateful, or possibly more so, for the American people and the world, especially those living in the Middle East, but fateful also in the sense of avoiding the worst, not hoping for the best, or at least something better. Romney’s election, even if he means only 50% of what he is saying, could lead to military confrontation with Iran, a completely free hand for Israel, an effort to undermine and control democratic forces in the main Arab countries, a trade war with China, a deepening of the world financial and employment crises, reduced respect for human rights, especially the reproductive rights of women, and a return to the overt lawlessness of the Bush presidency. Obama if reelected would likely be a more prudent leader, although continuing to throw the weight of American influence mostly on ‘the wrong side of history.’ In this sense, although prudence is to be preferred to recklessness, there are no major principled differences between the candidates when it comes to foreign policy (on domestic policy there is). Romney proposes that the U.S. stay longer in Afghanistan, move closer to an attack mode with Iran, and challenge China more vigorously on economic policy, and Obama agrees with all these positions but pursues them in a more nuanced way, with a greater seeming sensitivity to the risks and pitfalls, but nevertheless adhering to the same misguided and regressive policy options.


            When fear rather than hope shapes our political consciousness, the effect on the citizenry is likely to be despair. Such an effect induces collective depression and encourages extremisms. What is also scary is the degree to which those who are making us fearful are being aided and abetted by the deep pockets of extremist billionaires who seem clearly to sense their ability in this period to buy enough votes to distort the will of the citizenry, and if they should be successful will step up to the policy window to cash in their chips, which could produce some disastrous results at home and abroad. In the background, of course, is the disappointment with the political consciousness of the citizenry that seems so receptive to such a dysfunctional and menacing political agenda as is being presented to them by the Republican Party; it does inspire confidence that the democratic way can lead toward sustainability, security, and justice in the years ahead.


            With such an understanding why not support the Green Party candidacy of Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala? Their positions seem principled and admirable, and their alignments are with the poor and with the environment. Their platform is inspirational and congenial compared to what the Republicans and Democrats offer the American people. But their capacity to govern is untested, and their level of support is minimal.


            I ask myself whether a vote for the Green Party in light of these circumstances would be a wasted vote? It evades the question to observe that in some states, say California or Nebraska, the outcome is so clear that takingsides as between the candidates put forward by the Democrats and Republicans is meaningless. The real test is whether it is worth voting for the Green Party candidates as a matter of principle because they are decent enough not to stoop to the dirty games of money and the accommodation of special interests that are poisoning the political process in the United States. At this point, I am not able to resolve my doubts. Is it irresponsible, given what is at stake, not to vote for the lesser of evils? Is it a misunderstanding of modern democracies to expect clear choices based on principled positions, respect for international law and human rights, dedication to environmental protection, sustainable economic policies, and a commitment to social justice for the entire population? Should we not insist on this misunderstanding to avoid ourselves being entrapped in a demeaning morality that overlooks crimes of state? (for instance, drone terror)


            I must admit if living in a swing state I would vote for Obama, not having sufficient courage of my convictions to risk symbolic responsibility for a Romney victory!


16 Responses to “Comparing Presidential Elections: 2008 versus 2012”

  1. Mark E. Smith (@fubarista) October 20, 2012 at 12:11 pm #

    Richard, my dear man, You’ve Got to Stop Voting!

    It would also help if you stopped believing in the Myth of the Apathetic Electorate:

    Voting in the elections of a democratic form of government is the most precious right of all because it is the way that citizens exercise their power. Voting in the elections of an undemocratic form of government is Consent to Tyranny: and serves only the interests of those spending billions of dollars to engineer popular consent to corporate rule.

    • monalisa October 20, 2012 at 2:39 pm #

      to Mark E. Smith:

      I don’t think that not voting would be the solution to the dilemma US citizen are confronted. The charade of these election-dramas seen from outside USA show more some sort of a play done in accordance with a well written play script.

      The only solution lay in the hands of the US citizen: forming of at least one new party. Supporting it as much as possible. Preferably it should a Green Party because the time has changed and our globe needs more scientists and politicans listen to them and thinking for the future which means leaving old paths behind.

      I am well aware that it will be extremely difficult in forming a new party because of the given basic political structures in USA. But both big parties aren’t really different from each other: there is no real challenge to question their doings and people are lulled and fed with lies.
      Also the Tea Party isn’t much different as the other two.

      To me too it seems that the majority of the US citizen aren’t really aware what is going on in their own governments and many want just believe what they are told. “God’s own country” sounds too good so why not to believe.


      • jt October 25, 2012 at 2:01 pm #

        Monalisa, we do have a green party, we don’t just have 2 parties. You probably see politics as a sitcom, because news organizations WANT ratings, therefore, they’ll drum up anything, do anything, say anything to keep people watching. When Ronald Reagan ran against Jimmy Carter, the media said it was “too close to call” yet Reagen obliterated him. What you also need to know is, just saying, “ok it’s time to go Green let’s do science to make Earth cleaner, won’t work”. There needs to be money, and Scientists usually spend more money than they make, which is why it’s better to keep the growing research and scientific solutions on the free-market. Richard Faulk is just as biased as anyone else. He may claim he seeks truth w/ affiliation, but that’s just not true. It is very rare to find someone who truly forms opinions based on facts and keeping an open-mind. Most people have their minds made up and only see what gives them ammunition to fuel their own personal view.

  2. monalisa October 25, 2012 at 2:46 am #

    Dear Richard,

    I wonder why there aren’t more responses to your so very profound essay.

    However, what I see as a non-US-citizen is, that the US population isn’t very much concerned about the foreign policy of the US government.
    With this point of view the majority is overlooking that the foreign policy of the US government does indeed have a very deep influence and carries a lot of weight into the domestic political agenda.

    As long as the US people don’t see this point they will be brought deeper and deeper into a domestic situation where maybe within a short time (we are living in a fast evolving time structure) it could be too late to mend some imposed political structures which could be deadly for a better economy.

    Take care of yourself,


    • AntiEeyore October 25, 2012 at 10:56 pm #

      I don’t think the definition of profound can be expanded to include an extremely longwinded essay in which the fundamental (and fundamentally flawed) message is that it is better to not vote if your vote has no chance of bringing a particular party/candidate to power.
      I believe Richard could best use his time creating fan fiction about the close collusion between the Bush Administration and the 9/11 terrorists rather than handing out advice that could very well be coming out of Eeyore’s mouth.

      • monalisa October 27, 2012 at 11:17 pm #

        to AniEoyore:

        I think your point is out of sync.

        Prof. Falk doesn’t give an advice.
        His essay, as I understood it, is just a reflection, a sorting of ways out of presented “political waves” created by and “already hit waves” parties showed or are showing.
        And if the Green Party could constitute.

        Not more not less.

        And I think US citizen should carefully think what they want from their politicans for their country and if the present situation should be mended or not.
        So in my opinion it should be an absolute necessity to reflect about past political actions and where its outcomes already hit the walls in the domestic area and in which ways the foreign policy influenced the domestic political actions (blackmailing its citizen and thus creating more and more control, lesser jobs and handing in into just a handful of big companies more orders).


  3. rehmat1 October 25, 2012 at 5:28 am #

    The great majority of American voters are totally brainwashed by the Zionist-controlled mainstream media. They have become ‘political sheep’ to the Jewish lobby groups. That’s why both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney compete with each other to prove who will best take care of the Jewish community and the Zionist entity in the ME.

    If anyone has the doubt about Jewish power in the United State – read how the Jewish media is hounding on their fellow Jewish news agencies, Reuters and Associated Press – for the publication of Netanyahu saying ‘heil Hitler’ during his speech at the UN General Assembly on September 27, 2012.

  4. monalisa October 26, 2012 at 12:09 am #

    to jt:

    Sorry, but I am not a sit-com follower as you might call it.

    I know that USA has a Green Party. But it isn’t strong enough because people don’t really take care what is going on in their own country. Far too many US citizen have no real idea what could mean to “repair” the environment and to think in other terms.

    Sorry, you don’t see your “scientists” in reality. US universities are affiliated with big money – and its sponsors are affiliated too with one of US parties. US research isn’t really a “free market” place where researchers have the possibility for real “free research”.

    Sorry too, that you don’t see the really big possibilities the environment could open to the business agenda. Working hand in hand with scientists it would lead not only to more awareness about our planet (we have only this one to live on) the growing of many smaller businesses would follow too.
    Smaller business is might be not so much in “line with corruption” as the big companies in USA (and elsewhere are or try to do) are – practically already open – permanently doing with its influence on politicans. The political agenda of the US politics shows it clearly.

    Any country on our globe needs tax payers. As you see the big companies aren’t those who care much about their own country and shovel their money off-shore.
    With not enough working people earning good money for their jobs (the trend nowadays is that people get lesser paid as in previous years) and companies shovelling their money off-shore instead of paying proper taxes a country could easily implode.


  5. rehmat1 October 27, 2012 at 6:40 am #

    Of f topic but important. The US, Canada, Israel and several American Jewish groups have demanded that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon fire Dr. Richard Falk for calling UN member states to boycott companies doing business with Israel in his latest report to the United Nations.

  6. rehmat1 October 28, 2012 at 10:28 am #

    Hmmmm! Judia and Samara states were leveled to ground by Babylonians 40 years after the death of King Sulyman. In 1099 AC, the entire Jewish population of Jerusalem (5,000) was killed by the invading Franks. In 1186 AC, Sultan Sallahudin allowed over two dozen Syrian Jewish families to resettled in Jerusalem after defeating the Franks. The Jewish population of historic Palestine in 1914 was only .5% of the total population and the Jewish communities only owned 5% of the total land.

    Miko Peled, son of Gen. Matti Peled is Israel’s 1967 War hero – exposes more Zionist lies here.

    • Fred Skolnik October 28, 2012 at 1:56 pm #

      Dear Rehmet

      You seem to think that being conquered and expelled in their own country delegitimizes the Jewish claim to sovereignty in the Land of Israel. Well, my ignorant friend, the Arabs were also conquered and expelled, so according to your logic, their claims went down the toilet. And when will you learn that there is no historic Palestine that has anything to do with the Arabs. Palestine is Judea renamed by the Romans and then revived as a name by the British in the Mandate period. The Arabs came from the desert and certainly belong there.

      Dear Professor Falk

      It may seem to you that Barry Meridian is a little harsh, but in view of the hatred and calumny being spread on your website, he should certainly be allowed to have his say instead of being censored.

      • Richard Falk October 28, 2012 at 3:28 pm #

        What would be ‘harsh’ of you view his posts as ‘a little harsh.’ I do not
        want on this blog to have personal attacks impugning my character, etc.. There are plenty of venues that engage in these kinds of personal attacks. I am ready to engage with regard to the message but not the messenger.

      • Fred Skolnik October 28, 2012 at 10:50 pm #

        When you characterize Jews or Israelis as Nazis or racists, you are inviting such responses, because many Jews and Israelis do take this personally. Vilification in the guise of civilized discourse is not really better than crude insults. And of course you are opening the floodgates to expressions of the worst kind of antisemitism among a coterie of worshipful followers who hang on your every word. I think you would be wise to reexamine your own messages as well as the realities of the Middle East conflict.

      • Richard Falk October 29, 2012 at 11:05 am #

        I have never done this. At most, referring to the policies of the Israeli government, I have before my UN job and not on this blog. As I have said, there are many venues available to attack me personally, but not this one.
        BM is consistently insulting, and writes in an uncivil tone that I want to
        avoid. Please also realize that most of my posts deal with issues other than Israel/Palestine, while the comments section is dominated by this concern.

  7. monalisa October 29, 2012 at 2:35 am #

    I must remark

    that posting individuals who aren’t able to contribute with their own toughts to any given topic don’t really add to discussions or reflections/thoughts blogs are created for.

    Such people under the name of Fred Skolnik or Barry Meridian for example just repeat in a hurdy-gurdy manner allways the same and aren’t even ashamed (and therefore reflecting their characterial traits) to denounce this blog’s creator.

    The given topic was the US politics, its impacts, its past politics as well as a general outlook on impacts to other countries. Not more not less.

    To me it seems that such above mentioned individuals are ready to destroy discussions or have in their mind to slowly destroy this blog created by Prof. Falk.

    Sorry, but individuals who aren’t able to bring any personal thoughts to a given essay/topic and repeat in a certain manner (could be either paid for for example as already happened several times in the past as disclosed by a British weekly news paper) always the same are creating such impressions as I mentioned above.


    • Richard Falk November 2, 2012 at 6:08 pm #

      Dear Monalisa:

      I appreciate and I agree. Recently I have discarded comments that containing
      insulting or highly defamatory content, especially if linked to the Israel/Palestine conflict. Despite my strong feelings about these issues I do not want this blog to become dominated by those who hold extreme views, and views that deny the humanity of the Palestinian struggle for justice.

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