The dictionary of the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language defines “mezcolanza” as “a strange and confusing, and sometimes ridiculous mix.” That seems to have become the election campaign of candidates Barack Obama and John McCain, at least to one Cuban observer.
Many American political analysts point out that Barack Obama has only a narrow lead over John McCain in the polls, even though all factors in the November elections seem to favor the Democrats gaining victory which will carry them to the White House. They point out that at this stage, Obama should have an advantage of more than ten points. One of the reasons attributed to this small margin, (carefully skirting the ethnic factor) is that Obama is a “different” candidate for which many voters harbor doubts regarding his experience and ability to exercise presidential authority. The McCain campaign orchestrates incessant attacks against Obama characterizing him as one who changes his positions, as elitist, superficial, opportunistic, inexperienced and unreliable. A group of Democrats are concerned that this kind of campaign will divide the electorate and have the same negative effect on the Democratic candidate Â similar to those launched against Albert Gore in 2000 and against John Kerry in 2004.
Another reason is that Obama has taken traditional positions that differ little from those of McCain, who in turn has moved away from the original positions of the Bush administration, and is approaching centrist positions. This kind of environment can give McCain more effectiveness in his propaganda, which seeks to turn the elections into a personality contest rather than a debate on whose policies are preferable.
To complicate the picture, the Bush administration has modified its performance in recent months, introducing elements of negotiation in their warlike practices. This, as a result, softens the contradictions between Republicans and Democrats.
For example, the American decision to participate in negotiations with Iran regarding which programs that nation will employ for the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. That position serves to lower the threatening tone of executing military actions against the Iranian nation.
Regarding Iraq, there have been maneuvers from the Bush administration to reduce the degree of differences between the positions taken by Obama. In particular, the declaration of a possible reduction of troops in Iraq in the coming months (coinciding with the date of the presidential general campaign) and, most importantly, to include in the agreements negotiated with Iraq, a stipulation on the date of total withdrawal of U.S. troops, “to be determined in the future.” It was further recognized, as a key criterion for American purposes, in order to perpetuate its military presence in Iraq, that any withdrawal of troops would occur “in accordance with conditions on the ground,” and Obama has expressly accepted this concept. This change blurs the difference between the current Bush position and Obama’s – the difference in positions is reduced.
The decision by the administration to increase the presence and action of U.S. troops in Afghanistan also represents an approximation to Obama’s position stated before and after his recent tour abroad. In practice, the electoral message of Obama calls for strengthening and expanding U.S. war in Afghanistan. This position does not differ much with the plan of the secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, to invest 20 billion dollars in that war during the next five fiscal years. To unify NATO troops and that part of the U.S. troops, which have been acting under separate command, under U.S. command and increase next years total U.S. troops to from 6000 to 10,000 soldiers. The differences remaining between Republicans and Democrats are becoming more rhetoric than actual practical action.
The growing deterioration of the American economy, this topic has become the main source of concern for most American voters.
Although the situation has not been formally called a recession, most analysts agree, based on the official data available, in that this has materialized in the final months of 2007. (The term “recession,” is an adjective used traditionally by the private research institute “National Bureau of Economic Research” to identify an extended period of economic contraction and is so identified after such conditions continue for at least three quarters.)
According to official data from the Department of Labor during 2008 up to July, the U.S. had lost 463,000 jobs and unemployment rose to 5.7% for a total of 8.8 million persons unemployed. The new official figures show that in the final months of 2007 the economy contracted by 0.2%. In the second quarter of 2008, the economy grew by 1.9%, but if you discount the 2.42% represented by the increase of foreign trade due to the strengthening of the dollar, the figure was reduced by more than 1%. Indexed to this result, is also the “economic stimulus package” approved by Congress at the request of the administration, which injected 152 million dollars into the economy over the past three months. Corporate profits have been significantly reduced and the Dow rates at the Stock Exchange have fallen significantly, reaching the level of the so-called “bear market” (market bear hug), when there is more incentive to hold on to shares.
The severity of the economic crisis has forced the Bush administration to set aside its supposed principle of “no governmental intervention” in the activities of private business. Of course, the rule applies to facilitate corporate profits, but when it comes to difficulties, then, as recently stated by Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, ” It is my duty to protect the U.S. economy and the American population.”
In March, the Federal Reserve Board [the central bank] used 29 billion dollars to facilitate the J. P. Morgan Chase Bank’s acquisition of the failed investment firm Bear Stearns. In April 75 billion dollars were used to establish a program of student loans, because of the private sector’s refusal to deal with such loans. In July, more than 100 billion dollars were devoted to rescue private companies with government backing, respectively known as Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac, the institutions with the highest level of mortgage loans for housing construction and private businesses. Additionally the Federal Housing Administration was authorized to spend 300 billion dollars to help homeowners in debt in amounts greater than market value of their properties. In these months, the Federal Reserve Board has been providing funds to shore up the private banking system, which by the end of July the figures were upwards of 167 billion dollars.
If all the figures in these programs are added up, we have a figure exceeding 500 billion dollars of public funds that are intended to save the free enterprise system, a pillar of the U.S. economy. In reality, what it proves is the irrationality of the American consumerist society.
And what do Obama and McCain propose to resolve the problems? Up to now, vague promises, but when they have been translated into concrete data in order to allow institutions such as The Tax Policy Center make some calculations regarding their implications and consequences:
In the case of Obama, his proposals represent an increase in the national debt by 2018 in the amount of five trillion dollars, while those of McCain would increase it by 3.4 trillion. These proposals are made despite the critical economic situation in the United States, and when the official debt is now 9.6 trillion dollars.
The federal budget situation is also critical. It has been announced for the next fiscal year that the deficit will be 482 billion dollars (not counting the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and predictable economic declines in revenues programmed for the budget as a result of the recession). No candidate is proposing solutions to really bring stability to social programs, especially Social Security, Medicare (health insurance for those over 65 years of age and the physically challenged) and Medicaid (health care for the low-income population). These programs use 42% of the federal budget and are now inadequate and inefficient. They follow in the service of the official debt, which this year will be amount to 250 billion.
The Tax Policy Center estimates that by the year 2030, these four programs will consume 100% of the budget.
Where will they go for hope and change?
*The author is a specialist in International Relations and was head of the Cuba Interests Section in the U.S. from September 1977 to April 1989.