After the expenditure of billions of dollars, endless months of continuous campaigning, and the efforts of so many people, the end result of this election is that things are pretty much where they were before the election. Not much changed. The Democrats continue to occupy the White House and Senate, while the Republicans control the House of Representatives and most of the Governors and legislatures across the country. One thing everyone can agree on is that there has to be a better way, not just in terms of the way we conduct elections, but the voting system, where people needlessly have to stand on line for nearly three hours in cold weather, as we did here. The answer for the election situation is to mandate time-limited campaigns and allow elected public officials the preponderant say in terms of who their party nominates, as I’ve stated many times here.
As far as voting goes, this is a state and local matter, and as with many things, we should see what works best experimentally in different places before changing things wholesale. In this connection, I was happy to see that Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana, and hopefully the feds will not interfere. This gives us an opportunity to see how this works when implemented, what the consequences and results are, and whether it is a viable policy. In my view the “war on drugs” has been a disaster, costing billions of dollars, showing little progress or making things worse, and needlessly incarcerating massive numbers of people for nonviolent offenses. We now have an opportunity to observe what will happen in a controlled experiment and take things from there. There are fifty states and thousands of local governments, any of which can be a laboratory for policy experimentation. The worst thing we can do is adopt policies at the federal level, as often happens, without a clue as to what the consequences will be. In addition, the best decisions are those made closest to home.
Overall this election produced stasis, and possibly continuing gridlock, which sometimes is not a bad thing when it stands of the way of more and more federal control, but not a good thing when serious problems are left unaddressed, especially our precarious finances, which are the result of years and years of borrowing and spending more money than we take in. It is useless to blame one side or the other. What needs to be achieved here is a consensus, which inherently means compromise. Here the onus is on the President to provide leadership, not to insist on having his way, but rather to get involved in the political give and take and nudge things towards a solution. That requires approaching things with a sense of humility, particularly insofar as the election results were far closer than the last time, meaning many more people were dissatisfied with his leadership or policies, like the still unpopular unwieldy health care overhaul, which could and should have been approached incrementally and experimentally as described above.
However, the notion that we are a nation closely divided is far less salient than it seems to be on the surface. This was a very fluid election that could have gone either way. Some will try and assign blame to one thing or another, which usually means hammering something they don’t like and didn’t like before, attributing the loss to that. But it just isn’t that simple, just like the endless shallow “analysis” that incessantly points to the Republicans’ supposed “demographic” problem. I truly loathe the division of the population into identity or interest groups. It is poisonous, but more importantly it is simplistic. The fallacy is that people assigned to these discrete groups vote primarily based upon an identification with that group, when in reality, for most of the population this is not a serious consideration in how they make a political decision. None of this rationalizing would be happening if the presidential election had gone the other way, which could have easily occurred.
Prior to the east coast storm it probably would have gone the other way. At that point Romney had the momentum going into the final days until the storm came and dominated the headlines for several days, after which, for whatever reason, the trajectory of things was reversed. There are always unanticipated events, and clearly if the election had been held on a different day, or during a different week the results would not have been the same. For if the polls were fairly accurate on election day they presumably were accurate on other days predicting different results. That being the case, and given the closeness of the election, there is no room for triumphalism or recrimination, since neither side was able to sway the population decisively.
Then there are intangibles. Ironically, Romney was actually still favored on the economy and most other issues. He lost on empathy, or the perception of it. There were also some instances of self-inflicted wounds, where Republicans managed to blow the Senate due to incredibly inept candidates, (although the Democrats were able to elect a truly nutty candidate, Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts, despite having gone through life with a farcical American Indian heritage). Nor does the blame fall on the tea party, which has been almost entirely about financial problems, not the social issues that led to goofy gaffes by these candidates. In short there is no blame to assign anywhere, outside of unanticipated circumstances, and recriminations are pointless.