The Election and the Future


It’s not that conservatism isn’t a governing philosophy, it’s that lunacy isn’t a governing philosophy.

 — Joe Scarborough

The election of 2012 is over and Obama and the Democrats have given Romney and the Republicans a sound thrashing. After the Republican sweep in the 2010 Congressional elections, this analyst wondered whether 2012 would be a repeat of 1980 (when the challenger swept out a weak incumbent) or 2004 (when a weak incumbent fended off a weak challenger). Once the Republican field took shape, I felt certain we would witness a repeat of 2004.

I was wrong. Despite a weak economy and the shadow of Benghazi hanging over his administration, Obama won handily. He won an absolute majority of the popular vote, and garnered almost 3 million more votes than Romney. His electoral vote count will probably reach 332, a decline from 2008 to be sure, but still impressive. Democratic gains in the Senate were equally impressive. With Democrats in 23 of the 33 Senate seats up for grabs, there was every expectation that the Republicans would gain at least four seats, giving them control of the Senate. Instead Republicans lost ground, and were defeated in senatorial contests in the red states of Indiana, Missouri, and Montana.

The Republicans have no one but themselves to blame. Mitt Romney ran possibly the worst presidential campaign in our history. He tried to pander and lie his way to the White House, and the electorate called him on it. All politicians pander and lie. Mitt was the first to do nothing but. The better Romney came through in his concession speech — the first and only honorable act of his campaign. The man clearly lacks an inner core of character and belief, and the nation is well off without him in the top job.

Voters were also wise enough to reject Republican loonies such as Todd Aiken (the “legitimate rape” candidate) and Richard Mourdock (who maintained that a pregnancy resulting from rape is God’s will). One Republican shibboleth after another went down in disgrace on Tuesday. There was no voter fraud — indeed, the only electoral fraud perpetrated during this cycle consisted of Republican legislative moves to suppress voter turnout. The voters didn’t buy the contention that 47% of their fellow citizens — including veterans and serving soldiers, sailors, and airmen — are parasites. Gay marriage was endorsed by voters in Maine, Maryland, and Washington, and yet the sky did not fall. It is now clear that full equality for gays and lesbians can only be delayed, not denied.

It is difficult to see how the far right of the party can reconcile itself to moderation. Pragmatists win elections, but fanatics prefer to go down in flames.

Even on Tuesday night there were rumblings from Tea Partiers that the defeat was caused by the Republican establishment’s determination to foist a moderate upon them. This is an illusion that the far right of the party will continue to cling to, perhaps to its dying breath. It is quite clear that had Mike Huckabee run in 2012, he would’ve won the nomination. It is equally clear that Obama would have beaten him, and by an even wider margin. The fact is, despite mass unemployment and huge budget deficits, only a truly moderate Republican — fiscally conservative, socially liberal — could have beaten Obama. The real Mitt Romney — the Massachusetts moderate of ten years ago — could’ve won this election. But that Romney would never have gotten the nomination. This is the dilemma the Republican Party must solve if it is to remain a force nationally.

The country has changed. Whites of European descent no longer dominate our politics, at least when it comes to electing presidents. Romney got 60% of the white vote and still lost. Had Romney been able to garner the same percentage of the Hispanic vote as McCain in 2008, he would’ve been elected. Yet he failed to clear even that low bar. Hispanics, young people, and women are trending not so much for the Democrats, but rather against the far right that now dominates the Republican Party. The not-so-subtle playing of the race card (Sarah Palin’s “shuck and jive” comment; John Sununu’s “learn to be an American” diatribe) fell flat with an increasingly nonwhite, female, and tolerant electorate. White males no longer constitute a big enough bloc to win national elections. The Republican Party must recognize this, or die.

Prospects for 2013

Obama’s victory and the hard blows suffered by the Tea Party ensure that a budget deal will be struck in 2013, probably along the lines proposed by Obama in the summer of 2011. That is, tax increases as well as spending cuts will be enacted. The Republicans are desperate to prevent sequestration, as the defense cuts will hurt their home base in the South disproportionately. The Tea Party caucus will not be able to exercise a veto on the House Republicans as a whole, given that the 2012 election results represent a repudiation of its ideology. A compromise will be reached, unless Obama doubles down yet again on revenues. The need on both sides for a deal is so great that something will almost certainly get done. Whether it will be the best deal for the nation or a band-aid solution remains, of course, to be seen.

In terms of foreign policy, Obama’s reelection causes the prospect of war with Iran to recede somewhat. Time is in fact on the side of the US and Israel, rather than Iran. Should Iran persist in its present course, its economy will collapse before it can obtain a nuclear delivery system capable of striking its neighbors. The Obama administration realizes this. The John Boltons of the world, who would’ve been empowered by a Romney victory, don’t.

This is not to say that Obama’s victory represents morning in America. The US faces almost insurmountable problems — economic, fiscal (any likely budget deal aside), and in terms of foreign policy (we seem to be addicted to a world policy that we can no longer afford to carry on). The $2 trillion American businesses have been keeping on the sidelines will be put in play over the next few years, albeit with less enthusiasm than would have been the case had Romney prevailed. But even this will not guarantee that an economy buffeted by debt, globalization, and structural problems in education and healthcare will recover its place as the dynamo of the world.

Prospects for 2016

The Republican Party must become more moderate if it is to have a chance of recapturing the White House in 2016. It is difficult to see, however, how the far right of the party can reconcile itself to such a move. Pragmatists win elections, but fanatics prefer to go down in flames. The problem is complicated by the fact that the far right is itself divided between libertarians and social conservatives. Presidential contenders from the right wing of the party in 2016 will probably include Rick Santorum (who finished second to Romney in the primaries), Paul Ryan, and Rand Paul (whose libertarianism makes him the most interesting of the three). Each of these men is capable of winning the Republican nomination, but none of them is likely to win a national election. New Jersey governor Chris Christie and Florida senator Marco Rubio both possess a more broad-based appeal, but neither will be seasoned enough for a successful presidential run in 2016. Christie, of course, would find the primaries hard going after his embrace of President Obama during Hurricane Sandy. The possibility exists that an intramural brawl could wreck the Republican Party for 2016 and beyond.

The one candidate who could unite the Republicans in 2016 is Jeb Bush. The nomination is probably his for the taking, if he wants it. A Bush-Rubio or Bush-Christie ticket would be a formidable one, particularly as the George W. Bush administration fades from the national consciousness. A battle of the titans, Jeb versus Hillary, would be a spectacle beyond even the 2008 campaign. If the Democrats succeed in muddling through the next four years, it’s hard to see how Hillary could be beaten; the gender gap would be just too much for Jeb to overcome. That these two might be contesting for the right to preside over a nation and empire in decline probably would not deter them. The cheers of the crowd will drown out the sound of creaking floodgates.

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Jon Harrison

Really? Very interesting factoid.


Jon: Your comments continue to amaze me. When I read your comments I have to remind myself that I am logged onto the Liberty site, not Mother Jones. No doubt Romney was a deeply flawed candidate for those of us that believe that liberty should be the default value to living one's life. You mentioned Romney's character flaws but seem untroubled by Obama's hatefilled campaign. At the end of the day, it is strange that people who profess to believe in liberty spend so much time discussing people afflicted with the "fatal conceit" that they have the abililty to control the lives of 300 million individuals. Nothing in either Romney's or Obama's background would lead a reasonable person to believe that is so. To paraphrase Mencken, all decent people are ashamed if the government they live under...
and that is true whether the "dear leader" is either Romney or Obama.

Jon Harrison

Bruce, let me say one more thing in reply to you and, I guess, Franklin. Mencken was an interesting and erudite man. But to use him to reinforce your views on government rather shocks me. He was, as you should know, a supporter of Nazi Germany, and not only during the early days. His support never wavered -- not after Pearl Harbor, not even after VE Day. So to paraphrase him on government does nothing ( at least in my view) for your argument. Mencken was quite good about publishing people in The American Mercury regardless of their ethicity. But socially he viewed women, Jews, and blacks as inferiors. Is this your idea of a good libertarian? Are the people who show up at Tea Party fallies with posters caricaturing Obama as a monkey good libertarians?


I'd add, however, that "flawed candidate" is redundant, and this would underscore the thrust of your comments. Most people, and some peculiarly slanted writers at this publication, will bicker over which political deity or wannabe is more cynical, less evil, who lies more. It's all quite shameful, like debating which arsonist is hiding the bigger matchbook.
I still recall the prognostications that (a) Reagan will start World War III, or (b) Bill Clinton will usher in communism. Oh, and by the way, which of those two was the bigger liar? Hint, the answer is (c). There's really no right or wrong -- bread and circus and all that, and the political class prays you keep bickering.
Giving us all comfort that it's okay to go from being a slave to -- well, being a slave, Spielberg's _Lincoln_ is out today; bow down accordingly. And not to hypocritically meander into the absurd "he said/she said" land of political equivocation, but Honest Abe might very well be the biggest damn liar of them all.
In gratitude, he gets a monument, even larger than Shelley's famous colossal wreck, among the lone and level sands...

Jon Harrison

Has anyone done more to ruin the movies than Spielberg? Would that he had become an accountant or a salesman. Like Andrew Lloyd Webber, he's a poster boy for cultural decline.

Jon Harrison

Well, thank goodness we have a big tent here at Liberty. So far Stephen has seen fit to stay those who would cast me into the outer darkness.

In politics we have the choice between the better and the worse. That's not to say the better are actually clad in white. Believe it or not, I look at contests between Democrats and Republicans without blinkers (or rose-colored glasses, or whatever the appropriate figure of speech might be). Obama doesn't do much for liberty, but Romney wouldn't have done much either, beyond cutting taxes slightly and paring the federal register. For me economics comes third behind foreign policy and social questions. Romney, as I have said before in this space, is superior to Obama on economics. But Obama is better on the other two. The Democrats are simply better (or the lesser of two evils, if you will) on those issues that matter most to me.

Gary Johnson was clearly the best candidate running. He also had absolutely no chance of winning the election or even garnering the 5% of the vote he hoped to get. It's sad but true, voting Libertarian is a waste of time.

The Obama people ran a tough campaign, no doubt about it. But no tougher than the campaigns put together by Lee Atwater or Karl Rove. Turn about is fair play, as they say. The implication that Romney was a white knight struck down by the Prince of Darkness and his minions is farcical. Nothing in this cycle was more hate-filled than some of the stuff put out by Romney surrogates and some people and groups on the far right of the political spectrum.

The Republicans had a terrible candidate and ran a lousy campaign. They deserved to lose, and thankfully they did. As a result the prospect of another war in the Middle East has receded (though admittedly not vanished). I am also pleased that voters in various states rejected the Right's bigoted views on gay marriage. And I am delighted that the voters of Washington and Colorado began the process of chipping away at Prohibition. Obama has been craven on the question of decriminalizing drugs, but he did show some courage by endorsing gay marriage. It's clear that on issues like marijuana and gay marriage the Democrats are much more friendly to liberty than the GOP.

I'm unhappy that we will not see a shrinking of the federal government and a major reduction in federal income tax rates under this president. But as I have said before in this space, government will eventually shrink whether we will it or not -- and I don't believe we will quite follow Greece's road to get there. In any case, as I said above, for me economics is trumped by foreign policy concerns and social issues. I realize many libertarians believe that economic issues must be first and foremost on a libertarian's agenda. I respectfully disagree.

Mother Jones is a crappy magazine and I would never write for it, but I say the same about National Review, post-Buckley. The fact is, Bruce, "our allies, the conservatives", went away with the advent of George W. Bush. If I have to choose between the Big Government Conservatism of Bush and the Big Government Liberalism of Barack Obama, I'll take the latter. It's definitely the lesser of two evils.

I say to you and those like you on the Right: go on chasing windmills if you like. But the fact is, if you want to get a serious hearing for any of your agenda (and possibly even see some of it enacted), you've got to modify some of your views. I hate to keep harping on the older white male thing, but you guys are living a dream that's gone -- poof! -- as a result of changes (largely demographic) in our society. America has changed and some (though by no means all) of your ideas and ideals are passe. Get over it or you will find yourselves reduced to "grumpy old men".


I don’t know Bruce but I suspect he can respond to your straw man as well as I. I didn’t read him endorsing the Right, nothing whatsoever. His reference to Mencken couldn’t have made it more clear and yet you skirt the issue, and default to the tired “hooray for my” side. Man, Buffalo Springfield couldn’t have been more precise. Shilling for this dreadfully apathetic politician, excusing it on the “lesser of two evils” nonsense misses the point entirely. And this behavior, your acquiescence of the Red vs. Blue quibbling, solidifies their framework; you are helping the left AND the right in all the wrong ways. One can lazily switch over to some republican rag and hear the same exact words, “lesser of two evils.”
What is the result of this empty bickering? The left and the right are both successful -- evil wins. Neither you, nor any right-winger has made a single compelling case to settle this “evil lessening” canard.
Last I checked they both were murdering civilians, both killing individuals who have never done a thing to me or, I imagine, you, both defining how I should live, and both defining what “marriage” means.
And… ya know, it’s almost even not worth it. We could go line item by line item and you gladly excuse your, as Bruce stated, “dear leader.”
By the way, the adjective “courageous” was just hilarious. The content free campaigner remained silent on the gay question for three years (longer if you consider his senatorial term.)
Then tepidly he began slipping his toe in the water when the coast looked clear. Courage, indeed. "Courageous" is not a modifier for any politician.
Demand conviction, Jon. Demand real courage. It’s “none of the above.”
As an aside re your race card rubbish, there is no such thing as a racist “society”. Considering Stephen’s meticulousness regarding the English language and his insistence on objective meaning, it is _courageous_ of _you_ to bandy about such banal clichés. Nevertheless, I am genuinely glad you are here, and I’d never endorse your banishment to the outer darkness.

Jon Harrison

We've been through this argument before. Life is short and I prefer what's achieveable to unrealizable utopias. Your burning moral zeal is fine -- for you. I haven't got the time to waste sharing it.

Gene Berkman

Well reasoned and informed by fact, this article is so much better than most of the commentary I have read on this election.

We can hope that by 2016 there will be a better choice than Jeb Bush or Hilary Clinton - and maybe they hope so too. But I can't fault the author for anything he said about 2012.

Jon Harrison


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