Campaign diary

Print edition : November 02, 2012

There are as yet no polls to test the favourability ratings of Big Bird, of Sesame Street fame, but if he ran against Romney or Obama, chances are that Americans would elect the bird.

Obama

A SUNDAY MORNING OUTSIDE A MALL IN A SUBURB OF Colombus, Ohio. The air is clear, the mall is surprisingly cluttered with people who have decided to come here instead of go to church. The data show that only about a fifth of Christians in the United States actually go to church on Sundays. I manage to talk to about 15 people. It is a small survey. The majority of them have no interest in the election despite the fact that Ohio is a swing State and that campaign commercials have saturated the television networks. Of the rest, half are plainly for President Barack Obama (Democrat) and the other half are staunchly against him.

No one seemed interested in his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.

Poverty

A quiet street in Hartford, Connecticut. The shops are in dismal shape. The road before them is dug up for one more emergency repair job. One of the shopkeepers, Jos Ramos, tells me that if you do not do routine maintenance of the water lines, you have to wait for a break to fix things. And then it is more expensive. His neighbourhood has been devastated not by this financial crisis, but by the long-term decline of U.S. manufacturing. The official unemployment rate in the insurance capital of the U.S. is just below 18 per cent, which is more than twice the national average. The poverty rate in Hartford is astounding: a third of its families live below the poverty line, as do almost half of all children in the city.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA at a campaign rally in Cleveland State University, Ohio.-MANDEL NGAN/AFP

Forty-six million Americans lived under the poverty line last year, just above 15 per cent of the population. David Shipler, in his authoritative book The Working Poor, reports that the poor vote at rates of 40 per cent, while the rich vote at rates of 75 per cent. And the poor vote overwhelmingly for the Democratic Party. The poor vote less, but when they do they vote Democratic. No one on the streets or in the shops seemed interested in the elections. Voting hasnt done anyone of us any good, said one young man, as he hastened to catch the slow-moving city bus.

Jobs

A new jobs report was released a few days after a dismal first debate between Obama and Romney. The numbers were apparently better, with the unemployment rate now at 7.8 per cent. The problem is that manufacturing remains on a plateau and the tantalising number of people who are involuntarily working part time is now at 581,000 (they count as employed even though they do not earn enough to survive on).

A SOUP KITCHEN in Los Angeles. Forty-six million Americans lived under the poverty line in 2011.-KEVORK DJANSEZIAN/AFP

Obama seemed exhausted and uninterested in the debate. His head was bowed, his hands were busy taking notes, as Romney swung about like a tethered bull trying to go on the rampage. Obama has almost no record to defend. The banks have been made solvent, but they are refusing to lend money for job creation. In July, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told the Senate: Mortgage credit is tighter than it should be. Since it was banks that were to lead the assault for growth and since it was to be the housing market that was to be its vehicle, all eyes were focussed on the mortgage market and on home construction. Despite low interest rates, the banks have not been generous with their loans, and this has muted confidence in the economy. Obamas strategy for short-term growth has stalled.

No wonder that of the 400 chief financial officers surveyed by the management consultancy firm Grant Thornton, only a third said they would add workers. Twenty per cent planned to shrink further, and the remainder would remain in the same situation. This is bad news for Obama.

PAUL RYAN. In his draft budget, he proposes to slash any social safety net for the poor.-MARY ALTAFFER/AP

A few years ago I went to listen to President Bill Clintons former Labour Secretary, Robert Reich, give a speech in Springfield, Massachusetts, as part of his failed campaign to become Governor of the State. It was an impressive performance. Reich is smart and personable. When asked about his plans to revive the desolate economy of Western Massachusetts, with Springfield as its largest city, Reich pointed to the need to create a biotechnology hub. This was a good answer given the circumstances, but it says nothing about jobs for the massesbiotechnology produces jobs for a small number of highly skilled workers and those who service their needs (bankers, lawyers, housekeepers). The products that they invent are more often than not made in the Pacific Rim or on the Mexico-U.S. border.

Springfield would have to give tax breaks to these firms but watch them have their inventions created into commodities overseas. This is what is called jobless growth. It is also why Michaelann Bewsee of Springfields Arise for Social Justice calls many of the neighbourhoods in her city an economic dustbowl.

Trickle down

Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, are devotees of supply-side economics, namely, if social wealth is handed to the very rich, they will come up with investments that will eventually trickle the social wealth down to the rest of the population. The problem for the U.S. has been that the very wealthy have no incentive to invest in the country. Their factories are built where labour is much cheaper and their capital is secured in offshore accounts to hide them from taxation. Their anxiety about the rate of return stills their patriotism.

NOAM CHOMSKY: "Elections are run by the public relations industry."-MAJED JABER/REUTERS

Ryan, who gives his congressional staffers Ayn Rands Fountainhead and F.A. Hayeks The Road to Serfdom to school them about his philosophy, proposes in his draft budget to slash any social safety net for the poor (including children); to curtail regulation of food production, the health care system and factory work; and to increase military spending and corporate tax breaks. David Stockman, President Ronald Reagans head of the Office of Management and Budget, wrote a stinging assessment of Ryans draft budget a few months ago: Mr Ryans plan is devoid of credible math or hard policy choices. Looking at what Romney and Ryan propose, Stockman concluded that they have no plan to take on Wall Street, the [Federal Reserve Bank], the military-industrial complex, social insurance or the nations fiscal calamity and no plan to revive capitalist prosperityjust empty sermons.

BARACK OBAMA AND MITT ROMNEY during the first presidential debate, held at the University of Denver on October 3 in Denver, Colorado. Obama seemed exhausted and uninterested in the debate. His head was bowed, his hands were busy taking notes, as Romney swung about like a tethered bull trying to go on the rampage.-WIN MCNAMEE/GETTY IMAGES/AFP

Obama was greeted with a fire-and-brimstone empty sermon at the first debate when Romney disavowed his fealty to the Ryan plan, denied that he was going to favour the wealthy with more tax cuts, and refused to offer any specific information on how he proposed to kick-start the economy. They have no short-term programme for economic revival except to hand over money to small businesses, a phrase that stands in for big corporations.

Chomsky

Elections are run by the public relations industry. Its primary task is commercial advertising, which is designed to undermine markets by creating uninformed consumers who will make irrational choicesthe exact opposite of how markets are supposed to work but certainly familiar to anyone who has watched television, said Noam Chomsky on October 10.

Big Bird

Loathe to debate the role of Wall Street in American life, the candidates have decided to turn their talents to discussing Sesame Street.

A DEMONSTRATOR dressed as Big Bird of "Sesame Street" outside a Romney campaign rally in Virginia. At the debate, Romney said that he was going to cut the government subsidy to Public Broadcasting, the channel that produces and runs the "Sesame Street" programmes.-BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS

At the debate, Romney pointed out that he was going to cut the government subsidy to Public Broadcasting, the channel that produces and runs the Sesame Street programmes (now a global franchise, including the Indian version Galli Galli Sim Sim). At the time, Obama said nothing. The next day, however, at a campaign rally, Obama fired back: Hell get rid of regulations on Wall Street, but hes going to crack down on Sesame Street. Social media networks went crazy, with images right across the web of Romney mistreating Big Bird and of Big Bird as homeless and in search of a job.

Writing in The New York Times, the writer Charles M. Blow schooled Romney, Big Bird and his friends also showed me what it meant to resolve conflicts with kindness and accept peoples differences and look out for the less fortunate. Do you know anything about looking out for the less fortunate, Mr Romney? Or do you think theyre all grouches scrounging around in trash cans?

Obamas favourability rating stands at 56 per cent, while Romneys is at 51 per cent (this is the part of the population that sees the candidate in a positive light). Sesame Street has been on the air since 1969 and is watched by 81 per cent of children between the ages of two and eight. Over the years, Big Bird has built up a considerable base of support. No polls are as yet available to test his favourability ratings. If Big Bird ran against either Romney or Obama, chances are that the U.S. public would elect the bird.

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