We all won on 4 Nov

As he bids farewell to the US, Ashish Prashar shares his final thoughts on Obama's election victory

The backdrop of this election has long been the comprehensive failure of conservative policies during the last eight years, and what "change" for those policies should mean. So it wasn’t style but, in fact, substance that dictated the outcome of the election – an election that gave Obama a larger share of the popular vote than either George W. Bush or Bill Clinton ever received.

Obama spoke of "government" in a positive context more than any presidential candidate has in at least 20 years. He embraced an "FDR-style infrastructure building program". He consistently placed energy independence as his top domestic priority, backing up the rhetoric with a plan of public investment to get it done. He said health care "should be a right for every American" during the town hall debate and he had a positive message of engagement with the rest of the world.

Obama was taking positions supported by the liberal progressive base of the Democratic Party, but that also held considerable support among self-described moderates. Obama never needed to "pivot" significantly towards the centre. His core positions already represented the American common ground. In the election exit poll, voters expressed the desire for government to "do more" by an eight-point margin.

Much will be made of McCain's "mistakes" in his campaign, but almost every mistake he made was not a personal failing, but were part of a futile but necessary effort to bridge what had become a gulf between conservative base voters and moderate swing voters. After the utter failure of conservatism in every domestic and foreign policy area, there simply was no overlap left between the moderate and conservative camps, no overriding issue that could be the glue to hold together a centre-right coalition.

Then McCain hastily picked a woefully unqualified and uninformed person to be his running mate because he lacked options. He urgently needed someone who could resonate with both base and potential swing voters, and Governor Sarah Palin seemed to offer hope of energising the base while reaching out to undecided women. They delighted conservatives by attacking Obama as a "socialist," which undermined McCain’s attempt to attract moderates.

McCain's erratic style may have made these flops seem particularly spectacular, but the deep rift created during the last eight years between conservatism and the rest of America was probably too big for even a polished candidate to overcome.

Obama's tremendous skills helped navigate the difficult waters of racial politics and fend off an avalanche of smears. But all that did was return the presidential race to its substantive fundamentals, made all the starker as the financial crisis put an exclamation point on the damage already wrought on our economy.

Trying to figure out how to repair the breach between conservatives and moderates is a problem for the conservative movement, not for us. We won - and I don't mean just the Democrats or the people who voted for Obama. I mean all of us. Every man, woman and child, no matter what colour their skin, no matter their ancestry, no matter their faith or sexual orientation has won something from the election of Obama as the next President of the United States.

The people of America still have a lot of work to do, but they can do it knowing that one of the last borders has finally been crossed. The challenge is to turn the progressive mandate the public has given President-elect Obama into bold action. And that work starts ... now.

Photo: Getty
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This is no time for civility towards Republicans – even John McCain

Appeals for compassion towards the cancer-stricken senator downplay the damage he and his party are doing on healthcare.

If it passes, the Republican health care bill currently being debated in the Senate will kill people. Over the past few months, the party has made several attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act passed under Obama, all of which share one key feature: they leave millions more people without healthcare.

Data indicates that every year, one in every 830 Americans who lack healthcare insurance will die unnecessarily. A report by the Congressional Budget Office suggests that the newest “skinny repeal” plan will leave an extra 16 million individuals uninsured. That’s an estimated annual body count of 19,277. Many more will be forced to live with treatable painful, chronic and debilitating conditions. Some will develop preventable but permanent disabilities and disfigurements - losing their sight, hearing or use of limbs.

This is upsetting to think about as an observer - thousands of miles across the Atlantic, in a country that has had universal, free at the point of delivery healthcare for almost seven decades. It is monstrously, unfathomably traumatic if you’re one of the millions of Americans who stand to be affected. If you’ve got loved ones who stand to be affected. If you’ve got an ongoing health condition and have no idea how you’ll afford treatment if this bill passes.

I’ve got friends who’re in this situation. They’re petrified, furious and increasingly exhausted. This process has been going on for months. Repeatedly, people have been forced to phone their elected representatives and beg for their lives. There is absolutely no ambiguity about consequences of the legislation. Every senator who supports the health care bill does so in the knowledge it will cost tens of thousands of lives - and having taken calls from its terrified potential victims.

They consider this justifiable because it will enable them to cut taxes for the rich. This might sound like an over simplistic or hyperbolic assertion, but it’s factually true. Past versions of the bill have included tax cuts for healthcare corporations and for individuals with incomes over $200,000 per year, or married couples making over $250,000. The current “skinny repeal” plan has dropped some of these changes, but does remove the employer mandate - which requires medium and large businesses to provide affordable health insurance for 95 per cent full-time employees.

On Tuesday, Senator John McCain took time out from state-funded brain cancer treatment to vote to aid a bill that will deny that same medical care to millions of poorer citizens. In response, ordinary US citizens cursed and insulted him and in some cases wished him dead. This backlash provoked a backlash of its own, with commentators in both the UK and US bemoaning the lack of civility in contemporary discourse. The conflict revealed a fundamental divide in the way we understand politics, cause and effect, and moral culpability.

Over 170 years ago, Engels coined the term “social murder” to describe the process by which societies place poor people in conditions which ensure “they inevitably meet a too early… death”. Morally, it’s hard to see what distinguishes voting to pass a healthcare bill you know will kill tens of thousands from shooting someone and stealing their wallet. The only difference seems to be scale and the number of steps involved. It’s not necessary to wield the weapon yourself to have blood on your hands.

In normal murder cases, few people would even begin to argue that killers deserve to be treated with respect. Most us would avoid lecturing victims’ on politeness and calm, rational debate, and would recognise any anger and hate they feel towards the perpetrator as legitimate emotion. We’d accept the existence of moral rights and wrongs. Even if we feel that two wrongs don’t make a right, we’d understand that when one wrong is vastly more abhorrent and consequential than the other, it should be the focus of our condemnation. Certainly, we wouldn’t pompously insist that a person who willingly took another’s life is “wrong, not evil”.

Knowing the sheer, frantic terror many of my friends in the US are currently experiencing, I’ve found it sickening to watch them be scolded about politeness by individuals with no skin in the game. If it’s not you our your family at risk, it’s far easier to remain cool and detached. Approaching policy debates as an intellectual exercise isn’t evidence of moral superiority - it’s a function of privilege.

Increasingly, I’m coming round to the idea that incivility isn’t merely justifiable, but actively necessary. Senators voted 51-50 in favour of debating a bill that will strip healthcare from millions of people. It’s unpleasant to wish that John McCain was dead—but is it illegitimate to note that, had he been unable to vote, legislation that will kill tens of thousands of others might have been blocked? Crude, visceral language can be a way to force people to acknowledge that this isn’t simply an abstract debate—it’s a matter of life and death.

As Democratic congressman Keith Ellison has argued, merely resisting efforts to cut healthcare isn’t enough. Millions of Americans already lack health insurance and tens of thousands die every year as a result. The Affordable Care Act was a step in the right direction, but the coalition of resistance that has been built to defend it must also push further, for universal coverage. Righteous anger is necessary fuel for that fight.