On U.S. Election Day, A Remembrance of Things Past

As Americans flock to their polling places and fill out ballots that are longer than most Hemingway novels (I kid), I thought a novel way of analyzing the election and its probable result was to revisit a column I wrote four years ago for the Aquinian. It was published Election Day, November 4, 2008, but due to layout and printing requirements was written the previous Saturday, November 1.

Barack Obama is the next president of the United States. 

If you’re reading this on Tuesday, you’ll know that sentence isn’t true. Not yet. 

But, despite the hopes and dreams of the Republican Party, it will be. 

Election Day will not be pleasant for the Republicans. In addition to losing the presidency, the party’s minorities in the House of Representatives and Senate will shrink. 

It will be painful, but the party brought defeat on itself.

This Election Day will be just as painful for Republicans. Mitt Romney will not earn enough electoral votes to claim the presidency, the Senate will remain in Democratic hands, and there’s an outside chance the GOP will lose its majority in the House of Representatives. And again, the party has masterminded its own downfall.

When the Republicans first gained control of Congress in 1994, they promised to make government smaller. They would cut government programs, cut government spending, and cut taxes. For 6 years, with Bill Clinton as president, they delivered on their promise, bringing America balanced budgets and prosperity.

Republicans took control of the House two years ago because Democrats screwed up, using two years of political capital up on a complicated health care reform while the country was suffering its highest unemployment rates in decades. Whatever you think of Obamacare (and I think it’s quite good policy), for the average person everything else takes a back seat to finding a good job if he/she doesn’t have one (or keeping it if it’s under threat).

Spurred on by the new Tea Party movement, Republicans said in 2010 that the trouble with the economy was too much government, especially in fields where (according to conservatives) the market could do just as good a job if not better, like health. Democrats, by not focusing on jobs in 2009 and 2010 (or even arguing much about the possible economic benefits of health reform), lost the argument and the House by default.

Through the George W. Bush era, the Republicans abandoned many of those small-government ideals. They made a new government department (Homeland Security) from thin air and started the war in Iraq for no apparent good reason. 

That war, whose final costs are now expected to be $2.4-trillion, is a very expensive government program. 

As government spending ballooned, the Republicans cut taxes dramatically. This slashed revenue so badly that the government has had to borrow trillions (mostly from China) just to pay for itself. American public debt has nearly doubled under Bush, a level that just isn’t sustainable. 

Hypocrisy has also hurt the Republicans. Over the past four years, several of it most prominent figures have been caught up in scandal.  

The sex scandals are embarrassing to a party that promotes traditional family values. The ethical scandals make people question whether Republicans are fit for office and taint the party brand. 

Bush promised a safer America in 2004. Hurricane Katrina showed that he couldn’t deliver, as the government response was as disastrous as the storm itself.

Outside of perhaps the 2009 stimulus package (which kept that year’s recession from becoming worse), Obama and the Democrats did not embark on any massive spending programs during the last four years. Not even the lasting legacy of Obama’s first term, his health reform package, will add a penny to the federal debt – the revenue raised by the reform, for instance, is projected to outstrip by $200-million between now and 2021, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

What’s more, Obama has ended one very expensive government program, the Iraq War, and is ending another one, the Afghanistan combat mission (troops withdraw in 2014).

The biggest piece of hypocrisy I’ve taken from the Obama Administration is the fact the president, a Nobel Laureate for Peace, has a kill list, although blame for that bit of nonsense is better placed at the feet of the Norwegian Parliament.

As for the safety of the country, compare the scrambling of the headless chickens of Bush and his government to Katrina in 2005 to the coordinated, swift, and efficient reaction of Obama and his administration to the USA’s worst natural disaster since: last week’s Hurricane Sandy.

Oh, and Obama killed bin Laden.

The clinching blow to the Republicans was delivered by the economy.  

In Congress, they introduced a laissez-faire economic policy. Laissez-faire is apparently French for “let businessmen play Texas Hold ‘Em with everybody’s money.” 

Predictably, gambling piles of money led to the loss of piles of money. The American economy is now burning in a dumpster, and people are blaming the Republicans. 

That blame disregards the fact that Democrats have controlled both houses of Congress since 2006, but no matter. 

That’s why the Republicans will lose.

The Tea Party has, since the 2010 elections, become the Republican establishment. As the populist, naïve small-government movement made itself at home on Capitol Hill, its ideological rigidity presented itself front and centre. Witness last year’s debt ceiling crisis.

Purity to the cause became more important to Republicans, particularly Tea Party Republicans, than anything else. Approval of anything Obama and the Democrats proposed became akin to blood treason. The Grand Old Party began to race to right on seemingly every issue or policy, from food stamps to abortion. As the message of the party narrowed and more obstructionist, so too did its audience.

What’s more, the only Republican solution to the crisis is more of the laissez-faire economics that worked so brilliantly during the Bush Administration, particularly as banks and auto companies started to go bankrupt in 2008.

That’s why the Republicans will lose the Senate and perhaps the House.

John McCain will lose because, despite his rhetoric, he’s as much a political maverick as he is a Dallas Maverick. 

Yes, he’s opposed his party in areas like election financing and prisoner treatment at Guantanamo. But his record of supporting many of the Bush administration’s policies undermines his promises to change Washington. 

Choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate will also harm McCain. The Alaska governor looked like a good choice at the time, a strong woman meant to appeal soccer moms and bitter Hillary Clinton supporters. 

It’s now clear that 2 years as Alaskan governor and 6 years as mayor of suburban Wasilla does not qualify one to be vice-president of the United States.  

It’s also clear that her selection was meant to pander to the Republican social conservative core. This will turn off moderates who otherwise might have voted for McCain.

Mitt Romney will lose because he is a man out of time.

Perhaps in any other cycle of the last forty-four years, Romney would have had the skills, message, and resume Americans look for in a president. He skillfully crafted a bipartisan health reform package as governor of Massachusetts, crafted a small-government, low tax niche for himself, and was a wildly successful businessman.

This cycle, the one he’s actually running in, he’s had to abandon any bipartisan instinct to earn the trust of his party’s base. He also had to turn sharply right ideologically to win the Republican nomination this spring, adopting a pro-life position where he was once pro-choice and, most glaringly, disparaging Obama’s health reform, despite the fact it was based mostly on his own reform in Massachusetts.

Moderate Massachusetts Mitt returned to the scene after August’s Republican Convention, but trying to sell contradictory messages to the party base (Romney the Right-Wing Hawk) and independent swing voters (Moderate Mitt) doesn’t work in a social media world.

What’s more, his business success hurts him this cycle, namely because in order to return many of the companies his Bain Capital firm invested in to profitability, he gave pink slips to hundreds of workers. At a time when many Americans, especially in Rust-Belt states like Ohio, lost their jobs for the greater profitability of their employer (and the growth of the bank accounts of said employer’s executives), that lay-off legacy is a liability.

That being said, Obama will also win this election on his own merits.  

He is not as divisive a figure as Hillary Clinton, his competitor for the nomination. His captivating speeches give him a rock star aura and appeal to nearly everyone. 

Most important to Obama’s election is his message of hope. To a nation that for the last eight years has been paranoid about terrorism, security, and, recently, the economy, hope is the great salve. 

It’s up to President Obama to make that hope into something more so America can get itself out of moral and fiscal bankruptcy. If he can’t, his country will be more demoralised or worse.

Obama may win this election on his merits. See his national security record above, the snowballing popularity of Obamacare, and the gradually recovering economy.

That said, whether because of his health care reform, the economy, his race, or something else, he is a far more polarizing figure now than four years ago. The rock-star aura, the bipartisan promises, changing the culture of Washington – all are gone.

There still is hope in America, as the unemployment rate gradually falls. That hope is diminishing, however, and Obama will win tonight because the alternative, to most Americans, is worse.

Restoring that hope will be the great project of the next four years. Its success will be Barack Obama’s legacy.

If, by chance, I’m wrong and McCain wins on Tuesday night, fasten your seatbelt. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

If, by chance, I’m wrong and Romney wins, just get as far away from the United States as you can. I hear Western Australia is nice.

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