Bin Laden's death will have little bearing on 2012

Now that Barack Obama's "Bin Laden bounce" has come and gone, the 2012 election will be won on domes

Back in May, with the 2012 election still over a year away, many were ready to cancel it and hand Obama another four years. People believed the assassination of Osama bin Laden sealed his already likely victory. There was one big problem with this conclusion: when election time rolls around and people review a politician's time in office, the negatives stand out while the positives seems to disappear.

Look at George H.W. Bush's short and sweet term.

In March of 1991, following the successful Gulf War, Bush Sr.'s approval rating reached an all time high of 87 per cent and remained relatively high for the rest of the year, according to a Roper Center Public Opinion Archive. Many of the most qualified Democratic nominees felt their efforts would be wasted against the popular president and opted out of the race, as Nate Silver pointed out in a New York Times blog. By the 1992 election, however, recession had crept in and Bush Sr.'s approval rating had fallen to 30 per cent. Bill Clinton won decisively.

The reason for this dramatic change in opinion is obvious: people forget. In the midst of economic hardship, people will forget a leader's accomplishments and the positive ways in which he has impacted the country.

What people remember is losing their job months ago and having no prospects of reversing their unemployed status. People remember inflation that makes it impossible to provide for their family. People remember the foreclosure of their house. People remember their taxes are at an all time high and getting higher every day.

This is why bin Laden's death will not determine the results of the 2012 election.

Yes, following the news that American forces had killed the wanted terrorist, Obama's approval rating increased from 47 per cent to 56 per cent in a Pew Research Center poll, a number still much lower than the response to Bush Sr.'s Operation Desert Storm.

A recent Gallup poll regarding the 2012 election, however, revealed that 39 per cent of US voters plan to vote for Obama, while 44 per cent are already willing to commit their vote to any GOP candidate - and this is still in the wake of bin Laden's death.

It seems the hype has already begun its decline. Gallup's most recent poll of Obama's job approval revealed the figure has fallen to 43 per cent. This suggests the 2012 election will not be ruled by foreign policy, and will instead be fought on domestic issues that affect voters everyday.

Granted the defeat of a sitting president is not the norm. There have been 35 elections in which an incumbent president has sought re-election, and 21 out of those 35 have been re-elected. Although victory over an incumbent president is somewhat unlikely, Obama's situation makes it no more unlikely than usual. These polling numbers paired with the 10 per cent unemployment, $4 per gallon gas prices, increasing healthcare disapproval are a sure sign that Obama is beatable.

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If the left leaves it to David Cameron, we'll have Brexit for sure

Only an upbeat, leftwing case can keep Britain in the European Union.

After months flapping and hesitation, and with much of the reporting and detail so dull that it has barely penetrated the consciousness of even those who speak the language of ‘directives’ and treaty provisions, the EU referendum is upon us. With David Cameron signalling concrete outcomes for negotiations, we seem to be set for June, whatever the protests from opposition parties about the date being too close to local and national elections.  

Cameron’s deal, whose most substantive element consists of denying in-work benefits to European citizens, exemplifies the kind of debate that Conservative strategists want to create: a tedious, labyrinthine parochialism, blending the EU’s procedural dullness with an unquestioned mythology of the little Englander. Try actually reading the various letters, let alone the draft decisions, that Cameron extracted from Donald Tusk, and the agreement turns to putty in your head. But in summary, what Cameron is negotiating is designed to keep the EU debate as an in-house affair within the right, to continue and formalise the framing of the debate as between two strains of anti-migrant sentiment, both of them backed by big business.

The deal may be reactionary, but it is also mediocre in its scope and impact. The worries that many of us had in the leftwing pro-In camp, that Cameron’s deal would push back freedom of movement and working and environmental protections so far that we would be unable to mobilise for continued membership of the EU, can now be put to bed. Quite the opposite of allowing Cameron's narrative to demoralise us, the left must now seize an opportunity to put imagination and ideas back at the heart of the referendum debate.

The British political landscape in which that debate will play out is a deceptively volatile environment. Party allegiance is at a nearly all time low. Inequality is growing, and so is the gap between attitudes. The backbone of the UKIP vote – and much of the Out vote – will come from a demographic that, sometimes impoverished by the legacy of Thatcherite economic policy, sees itself as left behind by migration and change. On top of the class war, there is a kind of culture war underway in today’s Britain: on one side those who see LGBT rights, open borders and internationalism as the future; on the other side, those who are scared of the future. About the only thing these groups have in common with one another is their anti-establishment instincts, their total disdain and mistrust of politics as usual.

The only political movement to have broken through the fog of cynicism and disillusionment in British politics has come from the left. Jeremy Corbyn’s rise to the leadership of the Labour has unleashed something new - and while large parts of the press, and some Labour backbenchers, have portrayed this rise as a crusade of the “croissant eating” metropolitan elite, the reality is very different. The rise of the new Labour left has given voice to a renewed socialist and working class politics; its explicitly radical, outsider approach has given it traction across the social divides – among the young looking for a future, and among Labour’s old base. 

A politics of hope – however vague that term might sound – is the only real answer to the populist Euroscepticism that the Out campaign will seek to embody. Radical politics, that proposes an alternative narrative to the scapegoating of migrants, has to find voice in the course of this referendum campaign: put simply, we need to persuade a minimum wage worker that they have more in common with a fellow Polish migrant worker than they do with their employer; we need to persuade someone on a social housing waiting list should blame the privatisation of the housing market, not other homeless families. Fundamentally, the real debate to be had is about who the public blames for social injustice: that is a question which only the left can satisfactorily answer.

The outsider-led volatility of British politics gives the EU referendum a special kind of unpredictability. For voters who have lost faith in the political establishment – and who often have little materially to lose from Brexit – the opportunity to deliver a blow to David Cameron this summer will be tempting. The almost consciously boring, business-dominated Britain Stronger In Europe campaign makes a perfect target for disenfranchised public sentiment, its campaigning style less informed by a metropolitan elite than by the landed gentry. Its main weapons – fear, danger and uncertainty – will work on some parts of the electorate, but will backfire on others, much as the Better Together campaign did in the Scottish referendum.

Last night, Another Europe is Possible held a launch meeting of about a hundred people in central London - with the backing of dozens of MPs, campaigners and academics across the country. It will aim to provide a radical, left wing voice to keep Britain in the EU.

If Britain votes to leave the EU in June, it will give the Right a mandate for a renewed set of attacks on workers’ rights, environmental protections, migrants and freedom of movement. But without an injection of idealism and radicalism,  an In vote will be a mandate for the status quo - at home and in Brussels. In order to seize the real potential of the referendum, the left has to approach the campaign with big ideas and demands. And we have to mobilise.