I’m sorry, but the title of this piece was meant to deceive you. It is election season after all. But honestly, I’m not an optimist. However, I sense that your anxiety is increasing based on all these pundits raving about things being “too close to call” and I am beginning to get concerned about your well-being, not just on this election day, but going forward. So, I am temporarily trading in my existential dread and donning the cap of someone committed to spreading positive vibes. You shouldn’t despair, regardless of which candidate you’re pulling for. I’ve considered both possible scenarios to help ease you through the next four years. Take a deep breath. It’s going to be okay. Ready?
SCENARIO A: Hope springs eternal
Cue Springsteen’s “Independence Day”! Everyone suspected this is how it would go, besides those extraordinary conservatives frothing at the mouth and implying Nate Silver is a homosexual. The backbone of the GOP was always skeptical of Romney and his arsenal of red flags: he was Governor of “Taxachusetts,” at one time he expressed liberal social views, he ran a functioning healthcare system, etc. They clung on to candidates with little to no shot of winning, selecting a new batshit favorite one week after another, until they begrudgingly had to admit they were stuck with Mitt.
Rejoice! Romney isn’t President! Reagan and Clinton permanently altered the economy of this country, a modification that you can refer to as whatever you want (Reaganomics, Thatcherism, Neoliberalism, or Trickle-Down Economics) and, sure, Obama continued these policies, which have, essentially, allowed corporations to take over the political process and Wall Street to get away with murder.
Nonetheless, Romney would have been even worse. He would have increased the tax burden of all non-wealthy Americans, hacked away at the few remaining social programs, and snatched the $1.35 you pay towards children’s programming and educational shows. What is the use of teaching children how to share if they grow up in a society predicated on the idea that cooperation is a waste of time? The guy doesn’t believe anyone in this country dies because they lack healthcare. He’s wrong of course: over 26,000 American die prematurely, in the richest country in the world, because the insurance industry possesses enough power to block anything resembling a functioning medical system to take shape. If Romney had been elected, we could have expected more meaningless deaths due to profit margins; the Randian utopia of his running mate’s imagination fully realized, “Who is John Galt?” scrawled across the Stars and Stripes.
There’s also history to consider. According to an 80-year study, conducted by financial planner Bob Deitrick and educator Lew Goldfarb, which factored in all aspects of the economy, the verdict isn’t even close: America is in better financial shape when a Democrat is in office. If you invested $100,000 during the 40 years a member of the GOP was at the helm, your money would have increased to $126,027. If you had invested $100,000 during the 40 years a Democrat was running things, you’d have $3,912,210. Yes, the economic differences between the two parties have lessened over time and, nowadays, there is barely a difference, but minimal distinctions can wield vast impact in a country like the United States.
Are you pissed because you think this will be another four years of letdowns? Consider that Garry Wills theory of history from his book on Nixon: people voted for JFK thinking that the problem was Eisenhower, and when their lives remained the same, they began realizing the problem wasn’t the President, but the entire system. In 1999, under Clinton, we got the WTO protests, an inspiring moment that took the ruling-class, entirely, by surprise. Under Obama, we got Occupy. Think the movement is dead? Here in Sandy-ravaged New York, Occupy lapped the Red Cross, out of the gate, in disaster relief. Why can’t the movement re-up now that the specter of the election has drifted away?
Obama has been a failure on environmental issues but, again, Romney would have been even worse. Regulations on our air and water would have been scrubbed away. Barack Obama hasn’t said whether or not he’d allow the controversial Keystone pipeline to be constructed, but we know a President Romney would have. Romney would have rolled with Big Oil over renewable sources of energy, increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. “I’m not in this race to slow the rise of the oceans or to heal the planet,” bragged Romney.
We dodged a bullet by avoiding a Romney presidency. Now, with four more years of Obama, we no longer have to quantify our disappointment. Dashed expectations often lead to far worse outcomes: anger with the Labor Party in England led to Thatcher, Carter’s dreary stint led to Reagan, etc. Thank God it didn’t go that way this time. The terrain is different now. Liberals who finally peel off might become the kind of radicals who try to repair the busted rituals of our democracy. Fool me once, shame on you, as the saying goes. Having been fooled twice, Obama’s loyal faction will have nowhere to turn but inward, an introspection that could increase the creative possibility of our politics.
So, don’t be sad! Embrace the disappointment. It’s the system. Go out and change it, but don’t bother with the hope stuff. This is the best possible scenario for all of us.
SCENARIO B: WHAT JUST HAPPENED?
Cue that scene in the movie “Independence Day” where everything gets blown up. How did Mitt Romney win this election?! This guy is a Ken doll who thinks corporations are people. His religion is viewed with skepticism by most Americans, who tend to think any belief outside the wackiness of the major monotheisms or the spirituality of best-selling self-help books is a disturbing cult. His own base never even liked him. Can you blame them? He has to be the most banal presidential candidate in the history of our great republic. We just elected a robot after a convention that featured Dirty Harry arguing with a chair: our country is, officially, a Don DeLillo novel.
In the end, it was simply a matter of tangible results. Why do you think the House changes so often? Once you eliminate the hardcore Democrats/Republicans in this country, who vote like American democracy is merely a matter of Red Sox vs. Yankees, you are left with the independents. What do they value? Things they can see and touch. Have things gotten better under Obama? As Matthew Stoller recently observed, “Unemployment is high. American household income since the recovery started in 2009 has dropped 5%. Poverty has increased substantially. Home equity – the main store of wealth for the middle class – has dropped by $5-7 trillion, in contrast to the increase in financial asset values held by Obama’s friends and donors. And this was done explicitly through Obama’s policies.”
Americans pulled the lever for Romney, not because they believe in his vision, understand his confounding economic plan, or even because they want to eat a burger with him. They voted Romney because they don’t know what to do any longer. After the horror of Bush and the disappointment of Obama, a Romney vote was the electoral equivalent of the Hail Mary pass; maybe something weird will happen and we’ll win.
You’re distraught about the potential Supreme Court appointments, right? History wants to turn that frown upside down. Look at the postwar appointments. Truman had four bad ones. Eisenhower nominated the liberal William Brennan. and Gerald Ford nominated the liberal John Stevens. The consistent concern is reproductive freedom, but there’s an irony in progressives being fearful of a Republican president’s nominee. Nixon nominated Blackmun, who wrote the Roe v. Wade decision, and the first Bush nominated David Souter, who wrote the Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision.
Worried about President Romney’s foreign policy? It will, largely, be an extension of Obama’s. Like Obama, Romney will reserve the right to lock you up without trial and assassinate you if he sees fit. Like Obama, Romney will impose hideous sanctions on Iran and he will continue to subject Palestinians to a brutal occupation. Like Obama, Romney will continue using drone strikes throughout the world, particularly Pakistan, where civilians will be blown to bits and anti-Americanism will be flamed.
There’s just one major difference between President Romney’s foreign policy and that of his predecessor: more people will care. According to a study by Michael Heaney and Fabio Rojas, the antiwar sentiment that flourished under Bush was, effectively, folded into the Obama campaign, the place it went to die. “As president, Obama has maintained the occupation of Iraq and escalated the war in Afghanistan,” said Heaney, “The antiwar movement should have been furious at Obama’s ‘betrayal’ and reinvigorated its protest activity. Instead, attendance at antiwar rallies declined precipitously and financial resources available to the movement have dissipated. The election of Obama appeared to be a demobilizing force on the antiwar movement, even in the face of his pro-war decisions.”
For the last four years, liberals have remained silent on the subject of war or expressed concern in hushed tones. No longer will this occur. Dead Pakistani kids and extensions of the Patriot Act won’t be ignored by Daily Show fans because they love the fact the First Lady has an organic garden or think it’s cool that the President is friends with Jay-Z. Now, the First Lady is a Stepford Wife and the President doesn’t know who Jay-Z is. The country’s consciousness will have little choice but to snap out of its four-year haze and go back to being concerned about our role in the world.
You’re still making that face! Okay, wait. Listen. Remember all those things Bush wanted to do, after his administration’s patriotism-blackmail strategy wore off? They wanted to invade Iran, mess with Syria, ban gay-marriage, privatize Social Security, etc. His administration was able to do none of it, effectively handcuffed by political setbacks as a result of resistance. The GOP lost The House, the AFL-CIO rallied against his attempted cuts, and the entire nation vocally expressed outrage at his handling of Katrina.
Maybe some of this backlash would have existed if the bumbling McCain and his despised vice-president had been elected, but there was no chance of it in Obamaville. His base had stuck their fingers in their ears when he spoke of increasing the troop amount in Afghanistan and expanding the “War on Terror” into the mountains of Pakistan. Who were they to make a stink about it when it actually happened? After demanding no caveats or standards from their favorite politician, who were they to complain when Wall St. was bailed out, abortion was gutted from his healthcare bill, or Gitmo remained open? Some minor signs of agitation were expressed but then, of course, the election season was upon us and we couldn’t talk about how bad Obama was then, right? We wouldn’t want to elect Mitt Romney. Think of the future!
Well, the future is now upon us. We let the President get away with so much, that a man with no political principles whatsoever is now running the world. What does he really think about anything? No one even knows! He ran on little more than disappointment and, even though the country understood him to be a liar, on this one issue, they knew he was right. We have all been disappointed.
Walk outside. Breathe the air. Doesn’t it taste terrible? We are living in Mitt Romney’s America. Isn’t this gross? Go out and fight back. There need be no reservations about resistance any longer. No one will start lecturing you about how the Republicans are blocking all of the President’s great ideas, how he’s receiving pressure from the Clintons, or being talked into the wrong decisions by his Generals. There are no more flimsy excuses to be implemented. The face of The Empire is no longer rocking a deceptive smile, but a sinister grin. We have a little more work to do, but more people are willing to get involved. Maybe this is the best possible scenario for all of us.
Then again, why be such an optimist? If the early numbers are correct, this second part of the thought experiment has been an exercise in utter futility, and we’ll all be totally completely utterly fine. Amirite? Hello?