This is the Life: How did U.S. election become a race?

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The most surprising thing about Tuesday’s U.S. presidential election is not that, if the recently notoriously inaccurate opinion polls are to believed, it’s a neck-and-neck race. It’s that the American people have even allowed a Republican candidate into the race only four years after the debacle that was the George W. Bush area.

Think about it. Bush walked into the job as head of a country that had enjoyed one of the planet’s greatest runs of economic success in history. In short order, that economy ground to a halt, the horrific and never fully explained air attacks on the World Trade Centre and other targets took place and, ensuing, Bush and his vice-president, Dick Cheney, were taking credit for another attack not having happened.

Instead of responding to the bombings as a crime, the Bush-Cheney brain trust sold them as an act of war so they could attack hated regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. They conveniently ignored the fact that if any one country was responsible for the attacks it would have been Saudi Arabia. To their credit they did learn from the history of the Vietnam era — if you want to send young men to face death against an enemy they don’t even know, at least send them where the drugs are good.

That Bush was so eager to send troops into battle was hardly a surprise, he himself having had the fortunate experience of never having to enter battle himself, thanks in all likelihood to the wealth and connections of his family.

After an eight-year debacle so profoundly and wantonly incompetent that it dragged the entire world into the mess, the language-challenged Bush exited by constitutional fiat and set right to work planning his legacy, the country’s first ever presidential liberry.

Fast-forward through the 2008 election in which the war hero John McCain was selected to attempt to succeed Bush (the letters which, appropriately, pair off to form the first halves of the two words that most appropriately describe his presidency) and quickly proved himself incompetent by any measure by selecting a running mate who still leaves the world shaking its head each time she opens her mouth.

Not tired of jet-fueling the Decline of the American Empire, Republicans waded through a motley crew of would-be presidents to select vulture capitalist Willard Romney. Willard adopted his second name because it more accurately describes his passion for getting his mitts onto as much money as is humanly possible.

Now there’s nothing wrong with being rich. Some of my best friends wish they were rich. Remarkably, the way he chose to do so, by acquiring companies, ripping off the meat and then tossing the bones and entrails (also commonly referred to as workers) away like industrial waste, hasn’t rung out warning bells to a large portion of the American people. Henry Ford vowed to produce vehicles that his employees could afford. Romney developed a taste for firing people whose crime was they weren’t managing to add dollars to his already overflowing pockets.

The parallels between Romney and Bush are obvious — born on third base and raised to believe they had hit a triple, never having to do any meaningful work, assuming that hob-nobbing with the rich and powerful is a birthright and having a spectacular ignorance when it comes to geography (and being fearless showing it), following in their daddy’s political footsteps — but there are some differences.

Bush yukked it up as a frat boy, boozing his way through his early years, while Romney has the squeaky clean, tightly focused reputation that all political parties dream of in their leaders. Too bad his entire reason for wanting the presidency seems to be to make sure he and his very wealthy kindred spirits can not only keep their riches, but keep them growing. It doesn’t matter a hoot they don’t actually create anything with that wealth — that’s for the less ambitious to worry about.

One might think that, given recent Republican history, that Democrats would simply be handed the keys and told that the job of running the country was theirs by default. No one should take any pride in the fact that, as a party, they’ve been spectacularly inept at tapping into the needs of the working and wish-they-were-working stiffs. As good a communicator as President Obama can be, his greatest message has been one of hope (so great that Romney has co-opted it late in the campaign), and not of how to achieve it. Hope is nice, but it doesn’t put food on the table or keep the lights burning. That he’s succeeded in stabilizing the economy he inherited, despite his inability to get co-operation from his opponents in Congress, might eventually be judged as a miracle, though.

With neither party willing or, more likely, able to formulate policies that might repatriate jobs given to other countries so that the now un- and under-employed can buy cheaper goods with the money they no longer have, Obama’s message of hope hasn’t translated into one of substance.

The once great power that became the most envied democracy on Earth in the 20th century is sinking fast. It’s a wonder that anyone wants the job of running it. Or that the American people want to give anyone the position.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.