At this time primary elections are of little importance, but May 8 stands out because of elections unrelated to the White House. Indianans declined to give incumbent Republican Senator Richard Lugar another term which is worthy of a separate commentary and voters in North Carolina banned same sex marriage and civil unions. A vote that was redundant considering the state’s constitution already banned non heterosexual marriage. This did not come as much of a surprise, however, the next day President Barack Obama announced his support of same sex marriage and it was immediately analyzed by political strategists on all sides. Of course one cannot believe any of their conclusions because they only serve the political interests of those expressing it. Republican pundits were pleased because they claim this will alienate religious African-American and Latino voters that might have voted for Obama while Democrats believe this move will energize the base as well as youth voters where an overwhelming majority support same sex marriage. Both sides make good points, but the issue is of less relevance than what happened this week in Europe.
On Sunday incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy lost to Socialist challenger Francoise Hollande. Sarkozy supported austerity measures like deep spending cuts to repair France’s economy and is now the most notable leader to pay the price for his position. In the same week the Greek political parties that reluctantly accepted austerity policies as part of the bailout agreement with the European Union lost to an assortment of left and right wing fringe parties. Prior to this Romania’s government fell over austerity measures on April 29 and the parliament of Netherlands rejected implementing cuts on April 24. Even in nations where governments have not collapsed and incumbents remain in office like the United Kingdom the austerity measures that passed are now being blamed for triggering a double dip recession there.
Republicans do not have many kind things to say about Europe and have used the current economic crisis there as proof that America must avoid the profligate spending of their governments. Austerity is the only good idea they will credit European leaders for choosing and believe we should imitate. Contrary to the rhetoric about welfare states conservatives would have one believe the United States has nowhere near the level of welfare that most European nations have. They are, however, correct about the level of irresponsibility on the part of their governments. Greece is a prime example of a nation living far beyond its means, but while Republicans are quick to point out how mismanaged the nation is for unsustainable welfare benefits they seem to ignore another problem with Greece, most of the people there do not pay taxes. Considering how Republicans believe cutting taxes is the key to economic growth it seems unusual that a nation that for all intents and purposes has a very low tax rate isn’t wealthier. Greek’s welfare system was largely supported by loans and investments not taxes so the wealthy job creators of Greece did not have that burden to support.
One might excuse the recent losses on dissatisfaction with the incumbent leaders and parties, but they do so at their own peril. In fact Richard Mourdock, the challenger who defeated Lugar commented on Hollande’s victory saying, “There are those I’m sure in the administration and in the left side of the Democratic Party that were cheering for that. But we’re not going to stand for that in Indiana because the supporters of Barack Obama are not going to win.” He and Governor Mitt Romney believe in austerity although the only difference is in Europe the politicians have the sense to raise taxes in addition to drastic cuts. That is not the case in the US where tax hikes are near politically impossible and since cuts to military spending is equally unappealing the only thing Republicans can cut are entitlements and welfare spending.
If Romney were to win the election in 2012 and a Republican Congress passed similar spending cuts it would not be long before they would become highly unpopular and considering the lack of economic success in the UK over austerity this country would be plunged into another recession too. Perhaps supporters of austerity think that it will work here because they will not raise taxes, but it is wishful thinking because with so many struggling people losing unemployment benefits, food stamps, subsidies for electricity and heating, and medical coverage there will be many left destitute and desperate which is never a good combination. Supporters argue that the wealthy will create jobs and that while painful it will restore prosperity in the long term. The problem is how long is this term? Years ago preachers of neo-liberalism went to Latin America and convinced their governments to adopt similar austerity policies to correct their economies. Many proponents still argue it was successful, but unless such policies quickly pull enough people out of poverty those who remain poor and struggling grow disillusioned and angry. For some Latin Americans it took decades before there was progress and considering how many Americans want instant gratification it is doubtful the public will wait long.
Same sex marriage will not decide this election because those with strong religious convictions regarding marriage were going to vote Republican anyway. Obama could agree with Senator Rick Santorum’s conservative position on marriage and still never win states like Mississippi so he is securing his own base and appealing to the people most likely to vote for him. Austerity, however, is a far more important issue to exploit because it is something Romney supports, but has yet to successfully improve any European nation’s economy and it is painful for the majority of the population that will feel the spending cuts. Romney is shrewd enough not to go into details about this because if people really knew what they stand to lose under a Romney presidency they will reelect Obama