Ask a Supergenius: Election 2012
And, just generally, I'm happy. The results are pretty great, before we even get into Democrats vs. Republicans: gay marriage passed (and anti-gay marriage amendments failed) in every state it was on the ballot. Medical marijuana passed in Mass., and full-on legal, recreational weed in Colorado and Washington. The three-strikes law in California finally reformed. All this, plus, we can rest reasonably assured that the Affordable Care Act will be implemented and become a permanent part of the American political landscape, thus fulfilling the final piece of the liberal project in America, and it seems (due to the demographics that brought about Obama's victory) like a shoo-in that we'll have real, comprehensive immigration reform in the next year. And one other reason to really be happy...
OK, I'm about to make some broad, wildly speculative statements here about why Mitt Romney lost. There are plenty of reasons I could give. Number one is my default theory on Presidential elections: the most charismatic guy always wins. This is kind of hard to prove or disprove, since charisma is difficult to define, but I think it holds true for most elections in my lifetime (subject to extraordinary circumstances, of course, and tie goes to the incumbent). Then there's the basic impression of dishonesty surrounding Mitt Romney. Not in the general way that all politicians (and really, most people) are dishonest, Mitt's flip-flopping goes way beyond that. But still, how did he lose, with a "JOBS!JOBS!JOBS!" campaign in such a horrible economy, to a president of middlin' popularity? Obama even gave him a free shot by deciding to finally try heroin right before their first debate, and O still won a landslide by electoral votes and a small but clear victory in the popular vote. And as much as I'd like to believe it, I don't think it's because everyone who voted for the President shares his liberal views. I think a lot of them probably think Obamacare is a lousy law that we'd be better off without. But they voted for him over Romney, and my theory is that they did so because they rejected three of the core ideas of the Romney/GOP campaign.
Idea One: That Obama is a radical redistributionist who will fundamentally change America forever. I don't think people really buy into that. Like I said, I think there was probably a good chunk of Obama voters who don't particularly like Obamacare, but also don't think it's going to "fundamentally change" our nation. Is there really a fundamental difference between an America with Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, mandated emergency room care, OSHA inspections for hospitals and whatever other regulations there are in the healthcare industry, and an America with all of the above plus the Affordable Care Act? Can you really say that the two parties break down to a redistributionist party and an individualist party when neither party has any interest in dismantling Medicare or Social Security?
Idea Two: That Republicans are going to do something about the debt. I won't spend much time debunking this, because it's pretty standard stuff, but just look at what we know. The Ryan Plan is marginally more, um, deficit hawkish than Obama's plan, but doesn't really reduce the debt load significantly. The Romney Plan is simply nonsense that doesn't add up in any sort of reality. If you are running specifically on bringing down the debt, and you can't list the specifics of how you would do it and make the math add up, you don't deserve to be taken seriously.
Idea Three: That there is a secret to making the economy boom again (or making gas cheap again), and Mitt Romney has it. This is the biggest piece of bullshit in politics, and it's one both sides are equally guilty of. The truth is, the economy happens quite apart from anything the government does. Not to say that government policies aren't a factor, but they're not the major factor. Yeah, I'm sure jobs come easier wen taxes and regulations are low, and obviously, pumping stimulus money into the economy does get people working, but neither thing is the spicket to make jobs start flowing. The economy collapsed while taxes were at a 60-year low, and Obama lowered them even further in his stimulus package, so clearly they don't have that deep an impact. So let's just jettison this fiction, OK? The economy didn't boom in the 90's because of Clinton's policies, and it didn't collapse in 2008 because of Bush's policies. We all know the economy is going to recover over the next four years, and would have done so regardless of who was in the White House.
The truth is, when it comes to economic policy, there really isn't a huge difference between the two parties. And I don't mean that in a world-weary, "Oh, they're all controlled by the same corporate overlords" way, I mean, literally, they're not THAT different. Our choice isn't between North Korea and Galt's Gulch. It's between, in the words of Ezra Klein, two "blue state, Harvard-educated technocrats who like their information in chart form and their advisers sporting PhDs. They both believe in the genius of free markets, the necessity of a federal safety net, and the importance of a strong military. They don’t question the wisdom of the drug war, drone strikes or even most of the Bush tax cuts. Their records show they govern prudently, analytically, and honorably."
It's not uncommon to hear people talk about "social issues" as if they are inconsequential side-issues that distract from the real issues of the State. But those issues--abortion, gay marriage, immigration and such--THOSE are the issues where there is a major difference between the two parties. So that's my theory, for whatever it's worth. The "swing" voters that ultimately provided the two percentage points or whatever it was to put Obama over the top were probably not "liberals," at least in the economic sense. But they didn't really see a huge difference on that front, and they did see major differences outside of the economic sphere.