A month after the election I am still in the “what the **** happened?” mode – beyond denial, anger, and bargaining but not yet through depression to acceptance. Elections are about the candidates, the campaigns, and the policies. The first two of these are about somebody else and in the past – not a personal problem; it is the third that challenges one’s view of the world and will play out again in the future. A few comments on each:
Mitt Romney could have made a great president – smart, personally successful, great work ethic, good governor, able to assemble a great team. Conservative on most levels. Unfortunately, that did not make him a great candidate.
Conversely, Obama was a very good candidate – loves to give speeches and is very good at it; nice family; able to play the pliant media. For better or worse, he doesn’t have Romney’s executive abilities, but he was foregiven his sins, generally without his needing to ask.
By all measures Obama ran a better campaign. Three dimensions:
1. He targeted demographics (women; African Americans; Hispanics; kids) while Romney targeted ideas (fiscal responsibility; small government; assertive foreign policy). As the incumbent, Obama was brilliant in using executive orders to energize his target groups – free contraceptives; cheap school loans; parents’ insurance coverage; protection for illegal immigrant children. An interestingly vapid campaign – no touting of achievements; no vision for the future – just demonizing the opponent.
2. There was no comparison in the Get Out The Vote effort. Obama kept much of his 2008 structure in place – field offices; the data base – and did a superb job of contacting potential voters right through election day. Some 99 % of the people on his e-mail list apparently voted. (If they voted for him, they probably also voted Democratic on the down ballot races. See Results, Senate. ) Romney started late, had fewer field offices and fewer volunteers, relied much more heavily on television ads (which paid his consultants large commissions), and his data base crashed on election day. Lets dream: The Republican National Committee and a few SuperPAC donors will find a legal way to build an organization that the 2016 candidate can slip into.
3. Romney got pushed too far to the right in the unwieldly primary debates, did not defend himself against Democratic attacks (as he might have by doing rounds of talk shows), was able to refute the Democrats’ caricature of him in the first presidential debate, then decided to run out the clock by not drawing a distinction with the president on anything.
Could a majority of Americans really be so far gone as to embrace Obama’s policies?
1. Free stuff for the 98%. Romney’s “47%” gaffe was fatal, particularly for a patrician. To win, a Republican will have to believe (or be a good actor) that Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you” still resonates with Americans. It probably does – at least for most, most of the time.
2. Politics of envy. Growing inequality needs to be addressed beyond the tax code; but better yet, Republicans need to again champion the land of limitless opportunity.
3. Financial responsibility. More voters trusted Romney on financial matters and it would be a serious mistake to not have this be the central issue of the party, with Paul Ryan as the chief spokesman. Beyond politics, the country needs adult leadership to head off the looming debt implosion.
4. An international “light footprint”. People probably do want a bit of neo-isolationism after the draining Iraq and Afghan wars. Obama’s posture seems to be popular – forget Benghazi; let Egypt go; let Syria go; let the jihadists have Mali; let the central Africans kill a few million more of each other; let the world adjust to a nuclear Iran and North Korea. This attitude will probably prevail until the world comes back to our doorstep – militarily or economically.
5. Demographic politics. Romney got to 27% of the Hispanic vote by advocating for “self deporting” of illegals – Republican consensus for a better policy is certain. The “war on women” was a sham, but the demagoguery worked, and the Republicans need to articulate a pro-life/pro-women posture in issues of health and employment.
With Obama being a superior candidate running a superior campaign largely devoid of policy discussion, it would be a mistake to think that a significant change of policies is needed or that Obama has a mandate to continue trillion dollar deficits with federal spending at the accelerated 24% of GDP. For the moment the party’s fate is in John Boehner’s hands. Pray for him.
Fed Chair Ben Bernanke discusses the fiscal cliff in this week’s video – shortly after he announced that he will increase his printing of new money from $45 billion to $85 billion per month and keep interest rates at nil until unemployment drops below 6.5% or inflation rises above 2.5%. It gets more ugly for those living on bond dividends or fixed pensions.