A Beginner’s Guide to the American Presidential Elections

A Beginner’s Guide to the American Presidential Elections

Red Pill..... Blue Pill.... Red Pill..... Blue Pill....

This article is an attempt to decipher the American Presidential elections. Depending on your level of interest in politics, it will either provide you with entertainment or act as a light sedative. Regardless, it will contain violence, drug use, and offensive language.

I have been told that I am rather left wing. If you’re not, well, gutted, because I’m not one to hold back with my views. And while I may not come across as the greatest fan of America as a whole, keep in mind that America is an enormous country with millions of totally awesome people, but unfortunately only a few of them ever make it into politics.

I have studied politics for four years, and the one thing I have never been able to properly understand is American politics. For the politically illiterate, there are two main parties: the Democrats and the Republicans. The Democrats uperficially claim to be “left wing”, like Labour, while the Republicans are truly “right wing”, like National. Though because many Americans being slightly redder in the neck than Kiwis, the Democrats are in fact closer to National/Act, and the Republicans would get along well with Louis Crimp down in Invercargill. But the simplicity ends there.

You don’t have to be a stoner with Zeitgeist playing on repeat to understand that the American electoral system has problems. Let’s put it into perspective. To be elected, you need a Presidential campaign. For a campaign, you need media coverage. And for that, you need money, and lots of it. The current campaigns for each Presidential candidate are hitting the US$1billion dollar mark, and that’s without taking into account the Super Political Action Committees (super rich dudes with nothing better to spend their money on), some of which have vowed to contribute US$100 million purely to stop Obama from being reelected.

To gain the necessary funds, you have to make promises to all sorts of seedy characters. By the time a President makes it to the White House he has had his back scratched so many times by the oil industry, Wall Street, and the pro-Israel lobby group (AIPAC) that whatever dreams he had to change America and the world at the beginning of their campaign will be well and truly out the window the moment he steps into the White House. Yep, it sure is a mind fuck.

I like to think of American politics as a black comedy. If you don’t laugh, then you will definitely cry. This sentiment is captured by shows like Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, which absolutely tears to pieces the bullshit coming out of Washington and the media circus that surrounds it. But at the same time, he is in fact ripping out reality. There really are people who will fight, to their own “insured” deathbed, universal access to healthcare, or who believe in things like “legitimate rape”. And scarily, these are the people in government. I laugh because I don’t live there, and if I lived there, well, I don’t even want to think about it.

Another approach to nullifying the depressing nature of American politics is to be absolutely off your tits the entire time on everything from whiskey to LSD, like Hunter S Thompson pioneered when covering the 1972 Presidential campaign. Through the thick narcotic haze, Thompson was able to recognize a fad that has persisted through to today: “It’s come to the point where you almost can’t run [for President] unless you can cause people to salivate and whip on each other with big sticks. You almost have to be a rock star to get the kind of fever you need to survive in American politics.” To borrow more of his immortal words, only a fool or a whore would argue with him regarding today’s political climate.

So with the “guidance” of Hunter S, I will do my best to break down the American electoral system, and in doing so, reveal the incredibly ridiculous nature of it all. And seeing as the whole thing is essentially a circus, don’t be offended if I don’t take it too seriously, because if I don’t, I might start crying.

The “Boys” are Back in Town

The 2012 American Presidential elections are coming up on November 6, and the respective candidates are doing their utmost to be the best “rock stars” they can be. Barack Obama, running for a second Presidential term for the Democrats – with or without his birth certificate – is coming across cool as a cucumber, recently jamming out with Beyoncé and Jay-Z.

But Republican candidate Mitt Romney and running partner Paul Ryan are having a bit of trouble reaching the “rock star” status of Obama. I guess it doesn’t help when you hate gays, women and poor people – staple fan bases of many rock stars. First, Ryan made the mistake of citing Rage Against the Machine as one of his favourite bands, to which lead singer Tom Morello quickly responded, “Ryan is the embodiment of the machine our music rages against.” Ouch.

Then Romney was blasted by the mother of deceased Thin Lizzy front man Phil Lynott for rocking out to “The Boys are Back in Town” at a Republican party. She said her son would not have agreed with his pro-rich and anti-gay policies. Lynott certainly wouldn’t be alone. They did, however, receive the backing of Clint Eastwood, though nobody is quite sure how seriously to take his support, given that he spent his entire speech talking to a chair.

So what this all boils down to is that on November 7, the world could potentially be a very, very different place. In the “land of the free”, America’s 160 million women will find out if they have the right to choose, America’s 9 million gays will find out if they are allowed to marry, and the “47 percent” of America, Romney’s so called “dependents” – including war veterans and the retired – will find out if they have the right “to healthcare, to food, to housing”.

Those of us fortunate enough not to live in the land of the supposedly “free” have only have one small thing to worry about – whether the Mayans were correct in picking Mitt Romney to win the 2012 Presidential election, and in doing so, ensure the end of the world.

Romney’s absolutely unwavering love for Israel will surely mean a green light for a preemptive strike on Iran and their far-from-confirmed nuclear ambitions – the parallels with Iraq really are startling to say the least. Prepare to say hello to World War III.

Further, Romney is apparently unaware of global warming. At the Republican convention, Romney blasted Obama for promising to slow “the rise of sea levels… and heal the planet”, to a chorus of laughter from the party faithful. You’d think someone with millions of dollars stashed away avoiding tax in the Cayman Islands would be a little more concerned about rising sea levels, but he is a Mormon, so really anything is possible, or impossible if we’re talking about climate change. Let’s hope the Mayans aren’t correct.

Pepsi versus Coca-Cola

While there are vast differences in the social outlook of the two candidates, the fundamentals of the electoral system are unlikely to change. The candidates will go on and on and on about who is going to do what to the economy, who is going to create X amount of jobs, and who will suck Israel’s balls for the longest, but at the end of the day, Obama and Romney are actually not too dissimilar.

After the disaster that was George W Bush, Obama gave people a glimmer of hope. But in the four years since he was elected in 2008, he has continued to bail out Wall Street, kept the Bush-era tax cuts, and done very little to make amends for America’s disgraceful record in the Middle East. Sure, he pushed through the healthcare reform, but he really hasn’t done anything substantial to help his real voters. Consequently, many critics argue that the elections are like picking between Pepsi and Coca-Cola. This lack of choice is what led to the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, and the protesters aren’t showing any signs of backing down until some real alternatives become available. So why are there only two real choices?

It all boils down to the nature of the electoral system, and the so-called “Electoral College”. I apologise if it gets confusing, but just remember the “guidance” of Hunter S. Rather than directly voting for the President of their choice, voters in each state vote for a slate of “electors”, who then vote for the President they campaigned for on the exact same day. Each state is allocated a share of 538 electors, and so a Presidential candidate needs to gain 270 elector votes nationwide to become President. Heavily populated California is given 52 “electors”, whereas Nevada on its border, with a much smaller population, receives 5.

But the “electors” are not divvied out per capita, and take into account the geographical nature of the state, thus preventing the elections being dominated by urban-centred states. This method helps to account for the incredible vastness of America. States generally enact a “first-past-the-post” system, whereby a candidate who gains majority of the votes in a state will receive the backing of all of the state’s “electors”. These two factors are where the problems begin to emerge.

Opponents of the system argue that as the “electors” are not based per capita, a candidate can be elected President without winning the popular vote – total number of votes. This “flaw” famously occurred in 2000, where Democrat Al Gore received over half a million more votes than Republican George W Bush, yet Bush still won the Presidency. One can only dream of the world we would be in if the system had been different.

Another major issue is that small-party candidates have virtually no chance in hell of ever getting anywhere near the White House. Have you ever heard of Jill Stein? I hadn’t until a few days ago. She is the Presidential candidate for the Green Party (who are totally awesome by the way), and to put it in perspective, she would have to win a majority in an entire state if she wanted to gain even one vote for the Presidency. Like Obama and Romney, Stein went to Harvard, and further, she has the support of arguably the world’s most awesome intellectual: Noam Chomsky. But I guess that’s nothing when you have Beyoncé or Clint Eastwood on your side.

Proponents of the system argue it works (ha), as to be able to gain power a party needs to be well established as a political entity within a state, thus keeping at bay more reactionary parties. Obviously there are inherent flaws in this logic. When you have one candidate vehemently denying climate change, and the other vaguely acknowledging its existence, perhaps reactionary parties are what we need if, you know, we want to save the planet.

An open letter to the people of the United States of America

dear beautiful people of America,

I beg you – beg you – please don’t let Obama lose the upcoming Presidential election. He may not be the best choice, but he is certainly a lot better than the other guy. But you are currently not doing much to appease my fears.

The latest Gallup poll shows around a 47 percent to 46 percent split in favour of Obama, which means that 46 percent of you are still batshit crazy. If you are one of the 46 percent voting for Romney, then please watch the video floating around the web lately, where he directly impersonates Montgomery Burns. Do you really want arguably the most evil cartoon character ever to have existed to run your country?

I know that over a third of you aren’t going to vote, but I beg you to get out of bed this coming November 6 and tick the Obama box. Just look at what happened last time a Republican was in power. It was not pretty.

yours truly,

A “scared out of his mind at the prospect of another Republican President” Michael.

Is it really all that bad?

All that said, New Zealand is a long way from America. And as long as you stay in the bubble of North D, life is good, eh? And a temperature rise of a few degrees wouldn’t be so bad, would it? We could finally utilise those awesome beaches. And the Middle East really is quite meddlesome, isn’t it? Could probably do without it…

Uh oh. I think I may have been a bit too true to Hunter S’ “guidance”. I am beginning to understand the truly warped version of reality that belongs to Mitt Romney. Time to say good night before I say something else I might regret.
This article first appeared in Issue 26, 2012.
Posted 5:01pm Sunday 30th September 2012 by Michael Neilson.