Thirty years ago, Ronald Reagan proposed the Strategic Defence Initiative, a new missile defence system. Nicknamed ‘Star Wars’, the programme would have created a near impenetrable missile shield, protecting the US from Soviet bombs and keeping Americans safe. The problem with this ostensibly defensive programme is what it means offensively, namely that it removes the element of deterrence. If the United States has no reason to fear retaliation, why not strike first? Three decades on, we are witnessing the same principle on a smaller scale with the Stand Your Ground law, removing the fear of consequences from the act of murder. This law, versions of which can be found in more than thirty states, was George Zimmerman’s missile shield. It is why he walks free after admitting killing a teenager.
On the face of it, not much changed last night. After a campaign in which an estimated $2 billion was spent, the White House, Senate and House of Representatives are all in the same hands as they were when polls opened. But in a greater sense, last night signalled a significant shift in the United States; an important election, possibly even on par with Barack Obama’s monumental victory in 2008.
With the election today, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of analysis, statistics and predictions coming from all sides. Spend any amount of time on Twitter, Facebook or a news site and you will hear everything ranging from an Obama landslide to a comfortable Romney win, by way of an electoral college tie. Even the most informed observers of the election appear to put forward wildly different opinions on how today will go, as pollsters contradict each other’s numbers, pundits’ predictions clash and campaigns accuse polling data of being ideological and ‘skewed’. Hopefully this post will go some way towards clearing up some confusion and give non-Americans in particular a better idea of what to expect over the next twenty-four hours.
Watching the vice presidential debate on Thursday night, the informed viewer could not help but be struck with certain impressions about the evening and its differences from its presidential equivalent last week. While last week’s clash saw the Republican challenger take the game to the Democratic incumbent, forcing him into a passive corner, Thursday saw the opposite, with Joe Biden harrying Paul Ryan, challenging his assertions and refusing to allow what he saw as misrepresentations of either side’s policies. It was, as the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald wrote, ‘a pure reversal of the first presidential debate, but on steroids‘.
It is fair to say that the first of this campaign’s presidential debates did not go exactly as anticipated. We were told to expect a policy-light affair, in which the candidates would focus on landing ‘zingers’, and in the end President Obama would win. This did not turn out to be the case. The candidates engaged in real policy discussion, soundbites were surprisingly few and far between, and importantly, unmistakably, Mitt Romney came out on top.
Many people will be familiar with the sense that an acquaintance who is nice to them in person may be less than complimentary as soon as their back is turned. Perhaps a mutual friend tips them off, perhaps they walk into a room and feel the atmosphere change, or perhaps that acquaintance is secretly filmed addressing a room of wealthy donors and the video is posted online.