Now that this year’s version of the Big Government loot fight is over and the incumbent statist has won, it will be interesting to see what the next four years will bring for the United States. Will the continued expansion of government involvement in virtually every aspect of our lives somehow bring us renewed prosperity or will the ever-growing welfare state create more and more popular dependency and chronic economic stagnation?
Much like he did in 2008, President Obama has once again promised to be an American president and not just a Democrat one but he does not really have a great degree of credibility in this regard given that he might just be the single most divisive personality to ever hold the office. Of course, there is very little evidence to support the notion that Governor Romney would have been a better steward of all Americans’ constitutional interests. From my perspective, neither candidate was all that different from the other in terms of demonstrating a desire or political capability to fundamentally restore the legitimate nature of government as it relates to the individual.
That said, the election statistics – at least those available at this writing – are rather interesting. Contrary to what the president’s supporters are trumpeting in their victory laps it is complete hyperbole to assert that the he (or the Democratic Party) received any sort of popular mandate, given that he secured the popular vote via a relatively meager ~2% swing. When one considers that Obama received approximately 9 million fewer votes this time around than he did in 2008, combined with the fact that his campaign was almost devoid of any specific agendas, goals, or plans (beyond sticking it to those darned evil rich, of course), I think it is an overreach to assume the man has been issued a broad carte blanche. Conversely, Romney received even fewer votes than Senator McCain did in 2008, which is saying something considering the latter’s anemic performance in that contest.
On the whole, the result seems to indicate that the enthusiasm for either candidate was relatively lacking. Perhaps this is because the respective campaigns boiled down to “Obama has failed” in areas he does not wield significant control or shared significant responsibility with the other party (ironically a tactic that worked for Obama in 2008) and “Romney is out of touch (and rich!),” rather than a contest of combating bad ideas with good ones. I certainly cannot presume to definitely speak to why over 115 million people voted the way they did but I can say that this election, for me, was probably the most disappointingly misguided I have witnessed. I especially grew tired of the incessant references to the so-called “War on Women,” particularly in light of the glaring inconsistency that Jay-Z’s appearance at the president’s campaign rally the day before the election represented. While it is clear that President Obama has more than just 99 problems, apparently a $%^#! ain’t one.
In the bigger federal government picture not much has changed compositionally. The Congress remains divided along party lines but I do not lament this nearly as much as people who constantly clamor for compromise. “If two parties with two sets of bad ideas cooperate, the result is not good policy but policy that is extremely bad.” While such partisan divide can be good for the at least temporary survival of individual rights and freedoms, such faction also provides ample vitriolic fodder to fuel the generally ignorant fire of the masses. Where does a president go who does not overwhelmingly command reverence from his constituency, ran on virtually nothing concrete agenda-wise (beyond what we can reasonably infer), and cannot rely on partisan homogeneity in the Congress? My guess is that we will either see a Clintonesque turn to the center politically or we will see further proliferation of unconstitutional unilateral exercises of executive authority.
Fiscally at least Mr. Obama is between a rock and a hard place and he may grow to regret the interesting circumstances he now finds himself a part of. Despite his clear electoral victory he cannot legitimately claim a referendum nor would it be possible to cooperatively enact any significantly progressive policies until 2015 at the earliest. My amateur prediction is that the Bowles-Simpson tax reform plan will be quickly placed back on the table as, quite frankly, the administration needs something in the way of a leadership solution to the fiscal issue and this is at least a palatable one that both parties have previously signaled support for.
But more than anything, this election means unequivocally that Obama owns everything now. I would posit that he owns his first term too but exit polls in Ohio suggest that the masses still blame the Bogeyman for everything wrong with their lives lately. This excuse – which is exactly what it is and further demonstrates a widespread ignorance for actual economic goings on – is no longer even humorously defensible going forward, particularly given that the President bought his “recovery” with future generations’ earnings and re-nominated Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke in 2010. President Obama has no more excuses, but while I believe his deeply flawed policy perspectives will fail on their own merits this will not guarantee a Republican resurgence when they inevitably do.
Republicans continue to misinterpret the signals. They continue to run “moderate” candidates out at the highest levels that are uninspiring in their unwillingness to take principled stances on tough issues, regardless of their demonstrable personal beliefs. The moderate approach is too liberal, in the modern sense of the word, to appease the social/fiscal conservative base while simultaneously being too traditionalist to appeal to rising voter blocks. Obviously, last night’s results should drive the GOP to seriously reevaluate its approach to national politics, as electoral demographics data are too telling to ignore. And as currently constructed, the Republican message simply cannot satisfy both target constituencies (the old and the new) at the same time in the same ways, so something must change with the ideology if the party is to remain a viable alternative to the idea of progressive statism.
But in pursuit of a new/revamped ideology, the mistaken approach is the shallow one that would simply cater to demographic special interests’ booty lists; and in any event, Democrats have that market approach pretty well cornered. The best answer, in my opinion, is to develop, refine, and coherently present an idea that appeals to individuals across broad walks of life that can thus serve as a greater overriding attraction to superficial demographic ties and political goodies. And in this case, such a new ideology – much like Bowles-Simpson – can come from an old idea. That idea should be the reinforcing principles of why a just government exists and how a necessarily limited government far outperforms a welfare state in terms of both ethical and practical pursuit of individual and, by extension, collective prosperity and freedom. Such an approach will require the Republicans to give up their own costly sacred cows, of course, such as the various “wars” on drugs, social paternalism, and corporate welfare (among others) but the benefits, both for the country that they so often claim to love and politically, simply outweigh the immediate awkwardness that alienating those special interests would bring.
Or Republicans could simply ignore this advice and stay the current course that has resulted in just one instance over the previous two decades in which the GOP presidential candidate has won the popular majority. My vote is for fostering a good idea to combat the bad one that is currently sweeping society before the Gift of Freedom fades away entirely…