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Democratic clarifications in the U.S. presidential campaign: What an American is, needs, and wants

[Translated from Gegenstandpunkt: Politische Vierteljahreszeitschrift 4-2012

The citizens of “God’s own country” have elected the president. Once again the election campaign was, as befits the largest and most powerful of the free democracies, exemplary. This is not so much because of the perfect manner in which the candidates demonstrated how much this highlight of the people’s democratic sovereignty is a matter of the financial power the respective parties are able to muster for their propaganda productions. Nor does this primarily concern the world record–breaking orgy of political fundamentalism, bigotry, hypocrisy, and malice staged by both the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates for the electorate in order to look brilliant as leaders and to make their opponents look despicable. Rather, it is the typically American straightforwardness with which Obama and his Republican challenger revealed what the democratic freedom that all voters get to live to the hilt during and between elections is really all about.

In America, there are three names for the content of this freedom: “Jobs, jobs, jobs!”

A “job” — that’s the essence of lived American freedom. To search for such a thing, to find one, and make every effort to perform it is the right of every free American, especially when the country is in crisis. Thus he only looks after himself and all that is important to him: the income he earns in his job, no matter how high or low, is his property, from which he and his family live autonomously. Apart from the bank to which he repays his loans in installments over the long haul, he is — with the income he earns from his job — the lord over his home, which is his castle and which he has a constitutional right to defend with his gun.

The presidential candidates address him as this autonomous architect of his own happiness, and they promise him that they will use all the power that lies in the public office they either already occupy or are striving to occupy to make sure that hardworking Americans get opportunities to search for a job in which they can work hard and earn money. This is an announcement of disarming clarity.

Apparently, free property owners cannot live out their lives in this entirely private autonomy without being taken care of by powerful men. With their propaganda, the campaigners address the electorate as a bunch of powerless lackeys, buffoons who are completely dependent on the conditions provided by politicians, even and especially when it comes to their most basic purpose in life — competing for a job, without which no existence is possible in the realm of market freedom. “For your job you need me in power” — this is how Obama and Romney address the electorate as dependent objects of decisions made by state officials, as people who have no say about the circumstances in which they live nor about the means with which they struggle to earn a livelihood. Their living conditions are governed by movers and shakers in government, who promise to use their power to ensure that good Americans, in their powerlessness, once again have prospects and that “jobs are created” — by capable American employers. This is the second, equally fundamental and comprehensive dependency with which Obama and Romney confront their audience with all due clarity: Americans’ penchant for getting going when the going gets tough, which makes them so likeable in their own eyes, depends on their making themselves useful for some capitalist profiteer. Without a capitalist who can use them for his business, Americans are left looking stupid and out on the street — despite all their “can-do” attitude, their inalienable freedom, and amidst all the wealth of the richest country on earth. This, however, does not count as an argument against subjecting their each and every effort to get by to the profit calculations of capitalist companies, but rather for providing employers with everything they need to perform their service as the nation’s job machine.

This also covers the entire content of the campaign itself. Obama and Romney let their free American people know that they, the people, are nothing but dependent appendages of state power and private capitalist profit calculations; that the happiness that arises from an American’s freedom is nothing more than a derivative of the power of state and business to define and decide on his living circumstances. And not only do they thrust this status onto the people as if it were the latter’s own personal need for “jobs,” but the people can also view their need for jobs as uniting them with everything their rulers need for their purposes —“America needs jobs” (Romney). In this respect, not only does every American need his job, but he also thereby asserts his native right to the superior competitiveness of American companies and the total superiority and invincibility of American power worldwide. The candidates have outdone themselves in demonstrating that in their hands — and only theirs — the equation between every American’s quite personal pursuit of happiness and the overwhelming power of American capital and American force throughout the entire globe is assured.

What this equation entails, how it should work in detail: this was absolutely secondary in the campaign. At any rate, the candidates did not much bother the voters with any difficult connections between the constraints, successes, and failures every American gets to experience when pursuing his freedom, and the calculations, decisions, and demands made by the bosses in government and in business. They simply informed their citizens that the latter want and need nothing but rulers who know exactly how to use their power as every American is entitled to demand of them: as powerfully as possible, unperturbed by any concerns or considerations for whomever or for whatever reason, guided solely by the best interests of “our great nation” and the strength of its capitalism.

That was the sole link offered by the President and his challenger, though all the more emphatically, between the hardships and necessities of private citizens and the global deployment of American grandeur and power: they offered their own absolutely undoubtable personal credibility as the executors of this equation. To that end they presented themselves on all channels and around the clock as the personified unity of expertise about the dependencies imposed upon normal hardworking Americans by state and business — and at the same time they exhibited their total resolve as professionals in the use of force to continuously cultivate and augment the power of the greatest superpower — wherever and whenever necessary.

In order to let their personal credibility speak for their suitability to be leader of the superpower, each candidate had his own strategy. Romney presented himself as a smart, consistently successful financial magnate who is an expert when it comes to making money and creating jobs; who in matters of the economy and foreign trade refuses to show any deference to China or the climate; and who underscores his economic expertise with his expertise as a ruler-to-be by calling for increased military spending and advocating a “military solution to the Iran question.” Obama, by contrast, posed as an expert on the hardships of Americans battered by the crisis who wants to use all the nation’s monetary power to provide a good climate for job creation and who has even provided them with health insurance — and who of course shows no mercy when it comes to fighting terrorism and ensuring the whole world’s respect for the American superpower.

In this back-and-forth, the competing candidates — who according to knowledgeable observers delivered the “most expensive, toughest and dirtiest U.S. election campaign in history” — pretty much agree on every issue. On the question of national energy policy, for instance, both sides made clear why it is that America absolutely needs “independence from imported energy.” It is simply crucial for everything that makes America important to Americans: their jobs and their belonging to the mighty land of the free. Oil and gas made in America are the levers “to stimulate the economy and to create new jobs,” and are “decisive for national security” — as if each on its own and both together would be the most obvious thing in the world.

There is a wonderful sentence that gets to the heart of this dialectical acceptance demanded of all voting Americans of their total dependency and boundless pride in everything upon which they depend: “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive” (V.P. Joe Biden). This is what an American needs and wants, being a hard worker and patriot and celebrated as such by his political rulers.