The electorate has spoken. Mr. Obama has been re-elected, but in winning his campaign has set back any hope of civility ever returning to Presidential politics. No matter one’s political views, no one can deny that Mr. Romney is a thoroughly decent man, as could be seen in the graciousness of his concession speech. In his campaign, he persistently attacked the policies of the President, but never the man. He lost. Mr. Obama constantly attacked the character of Mr. Romney, but never his record. He won. It was a victory for Chicago-style politics, in particular for David Axelrod’s campaign ruthlessness. The persistent blaming of George Bush for today’s economic woes worked in that exit surveys showed 53% of the public blamed Mr. Bush for today’s economy, while 38% blamed Mr. Obama. Mr. Axelrod’s strategy was a reaffirmation of Joseph Goebels' dictum: if you repeat a lie often enough, people will come to believe it as truth.
It could be that Mr. Obama will learn humility from his victory. He was, I believe, the first President re-elected with fewer Electoral College votes (303) [Florida is still undecided] than he received when elected for his first term (365.) The nation remains divided. In losing, Mr. Romney garnered 48% of the popular vote to Mr. Obama’s 50%. It is possible that now Mr. Obama may move toward the center and actually work toward a “Grand Bargain” with John Boehner, who continues as Speaker of the House. Perhaps the President will actually heed his deficit reduction commission and attempt to put our finances in order. Mr. Obama was inclusive in his acceptance speech, but so had he been four years ago.
But I wouldn’t hold my breath. These eras of good feelings never last long; Mr. Obama is a Left-wing ideologue. In 2009, shortly after being sworn in, Mr. Obama made his position clear when he told Congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia. “I won. You lost.” Sixty percent of Americans believe that we are headed in the wrong direction. Forty-three million are on food stamps. Poverty has risen during the past four years, and median income for middle income Americans is lower than it was four years ago, and the number of people working is less than it was four years ago. Above all else, Mr. Obama sees himself as the inheritor to Presidents like Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson who greatly expanded the entitlement state.
It was not Mr. Obama’s success on the economy that won him re-election, the unpopularity of Obamacare, nor his bungling of the events, and their aftermath, in Benghazi. Mr. Obama is seen as an historic figure, and people didn’t want to let go of it. He remains personally popular, despite his policies. Hurricane Sandy may have been his salvation, as it allowed him to link arms with New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christy, as a visible manifestation of bi-partisanship. His victory reflects a changing America. The country is becoming more racially mixed, with white male voters continuing to decline as a percentage. For the first time in our history, there are more unmarried women than married. Church attendance has been declining for years, suggesting a more secular state. Increasingly, people view government as a source of sustenance, not as something to support. We are becoming more like Western Europe, in terms of the relationship between the state and the people. President Kennedy’s call: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” sounds as dated as the civility that once marked our lives.
Pundits may well argue that Mr. Romney played it “too safe,” that he let the President off the hook regarding Benghazi. They may argue that he could have made more of the President’s prior associations with people of questionable repute, or the extreme left-leaning biases of some of his closest advisors. The election may also reflect that the divisiveness in America is greater than a desire for centrism – that even in the general election appealing to one’s base works better than attempting to persuade those in the center.
Elections have often arrived at what seemed inopportune times. In a nation of 320 million people it would be strange if it were otherwise. Yet, of the 56 U.S. Presidential Elections since our founding, none has ever been delayed or postponed. In 1864, Abraham Lincoln ran for re-election in the midst of a Civil War; his Democratic opponent, George McClellan, had briefly served as general-in-chief of the Union Army. Woodrow Wilson ran for re-election in 1916 on the slogan, “He kept us out of war.” Three months after his March inauguration, the first U.S. troops landed in France. One hundred and seventeen thousand never returned home.
While war was raging in Europe in 1940, Americans went to the polls, and they did so four years later while hundreds of thousands were dying on battlefields in Europe and on islands in the Pacific. The early and mid-1960s witnessed Civil Rights’ marches and anti-war protesters, both of which tore at the very fabric of American society. The 1968 Democratic convention required Mayor Richard Daley’s police to break up marches and protesters. Half a million U.S. soldiers were in Vietnam, fighting a war broadcast live into our homes. Yet, we survived. The constant theme during these periods of turmoil was the sanctity of our electoral process.
Once the air clears and emotions have receded, we will find ourselves in the same place – a nation facing a “fiscal cliff”; a national debt that exceeds 100% of GDP; a people bereft of jobs; an education system that is failing our children, as they increasingly must compete globally; a Middle East in which al Qaeda is daily gaining strength and in which Iran is rapidly becoming a nuclear power, and a country in which business confidence is so low that most small and mid-size businesses are fearful of making the long-term investments necessary to provide economic growth.
The important thing, however, is to move ahead. The results are what they are. While I am disappointed, I also know that we will survive. I worry about the trend toward statism, the size of our debt and the threat of Islamic terrorism. Those problems will remain with us. From the Republican perspective, I hope this does not mean that moderates will never again be able to run for office. From the perspective of both Parties, I hope this does not mark the end of decent people seeking public office. Gridlock will persist, but gridlock that prevents the implementation of bad policies should be encouraged, not rued.
This campaign has seemed endless, with the two candidates collectively spending $2 billion. While disenchanted with the results, I am glad it’s over. Unfortunately, I doubt that Presidential campaigns will ever again be civil affairs, consuming months not years, and costing millions not billions.