Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Hope springs eternal or Waiting for the great leap forwards.

I remember 1992. I remember expecting Labour to win the general election and the crushing disappointment that followed. I couldn't believe that after 13 years, people still wanted to vote Conservative.
What crushed the spirit were the polls. Right up until the exit polls, Labour were destined to be the largest party in parliament. The result would reshape Britain's political boundaries. The pollsters got it wrong.
At least, the pollsters were said to have got it wrong. Perhaps they asked the wrong questions or wrote the answers down without really listening. Perhaps people were ashamed to admit that after 13 years of social division and policies that began the credit boom which is only now unraveling, they were still voting for the government.
Anyway, it's unfair to say anyone got it wrong. That would suggest that people used their democratic right frivolously and I'd hate to think that anyone would ever do that.
Well tonight my fear is that it is 1992 all over again. I had personal reasons to be deeply interested in the outcome of the 1992 general election. I have personal reasons for being deeply affected by the outcome of the 2008 presidential election.
In the last 18 months I have met and befriended more Americans than in the previous 34 put together. In under a year I am marrying an American and it's possible we may eventually live in the States. In the last four days I have become acutely of my dependence on prescription medicine. My heart condition is controlled by various prescription drugs and being without one of those drugs over the last few days has been intolerable.
And so I have been following the debates about health insurance with great interest. Only, there haven't really been any. It's been a non-existent issue.
It does rear its head in conjunction with the rhetoric of the campaign. From the right, the rhetoric has been all about socialism. Considering one of the main ways to get at Obama is to call him a socialist, it is amazing to think that no one in the US knows what a socialist actually is.
To think that anyone espousing a health scheme that still revolves around private insurance is a socialist is idiocy and juvenile propaganda. To claim that taxing those earning over $250,000 to help lower (not remove, lower) the cost of health care is as far removed from socialism as I am from a getting a book deal. Taxing the wealthiest to help the middle classes is not socialism. It's a glimmer of the redistribution of wealth.
Can you imagine a European socialist party with a limited tax plan to slightly reduce the cost of private health insurance by slightly raising the tax of a few? A socialist government would destroy the private system and replace it with a universal, centrally funded system that ensured equity regardless of social standing or wealth. A socialist government would increase the safety net for the poorest, funding it with the excessive wealth of those who had previously benefited from tax breaks designed to win votes rather than improve society.
Obama is no socialist. But until that term stops being thrown around with the same weight as thief or murderer, then sensible political debate will not happen.
But then calling him a liberal didn't stop people telling the pollsters they were going to vote Democrat. Socialist is one step further down the line. And I'm worried that the label will stick, that enough people will believe he cannot be trusted and it'll be 1992 all over again. That the (mental) energy invested in this election will bring only disappointment.

Anyway, I'll honour the outgoing president with one of my favourite Steve Bell cartoons:

Hope springs eternal. Every four years.