Governor Romney’s loss Tuesday night gave me time to step back and think about why I care so much about politics. I was devastated by Romney’s loss, and my state of disbelief clouded my more rational senses. I came to see politics as some sort of irrational obsession of mine, rather than as an institution that has real implications for America.
When I regained my senses, I realized why elections are so important. Elections are the most effective way to make change in a constitutional republic. When you lose, the opposing side is able to enact the policies you so adamantly oppose, and can harm the country. When you win, you gain or retain control. A loss is a loss, and a win is a win, no matter the margin.
It is when a win can be translated into a mandate that the election takes on a certain power that impacts the extent to which policies can be changed or continued. In 2008, President Obama’s election could be interpreted as a mandate to alter the course of American policy. Ultimately in 2010, this mandate was reversed, and a Democratic senate and Republican house effectively ended Obama’s mandate.
President Obama’s victory on Tuesday certainly does not come with the mandate it did four years ago. Obama used a campaign meant to divide the country, and won a narrow margin of victory in the swing states and nationally. When presidents normally win reelection, they garner more electoral votes and a higher popular vote percentage than in their first election. Obama lost votes around the country.
But, Obama won. All the horrendous regulations of Dodd-Frank and the terrible healthcare mandate are now here to stay. Obama’s most unpopular policies will now be enacted. The President will have a full two terms in office, despite a mediocre first term that included the aforementioned legislation. Divided government will continue, as Republicans gained seats in the House and Democrats still control the Senate. The President will likely continue legislating through executive order, bypassing a system set up by our Constitution.
The next four years are going to be a continuation of the status quo. Obama did not run a campaign trying to appeal to a broad spectrum of independents like in 2008. With the economy experiencing sluggish growth rates, millions of Americans unable to find work, and gridlock in Washington, Obama ran a campaign based on winning by the slimmest of margins. Obama did manage to win most of the swing states he won in 2008, but with far fewer votes. His campaign was about winning and maintaining power, with its consequences for governing completely out of the picture.
While I am severely concerned about the direction of the country, I am also concerned about the path of our politics. Over the next few weeks and months, pundits will debate how this election was won and lost. Obama’s campaign will be seen as one of the most negative in history. Obama’s strategy to divide America based on gender, race, and class will be shown to have worked. Is this the party message Democrats will carry through to 2014 and, more importantly, in 2016? Probably, yes.
Obama has created a new Democratic party that goes beyond just promising you everything but the kitchen sink. Obama’s campaign knew Obama had not delivered over the past four years, as evidenced by the high unemployment rate. Instead, they labeled Mitt Romney and the GOP as extremists opposed to contraception and denying women their rights to win the women’s vote. They argued Romney was “anti-immigrant” and wanted to deport all the illegal aliens currently in the country to win the Hispanic vote. And, they painted Romney as a Wall Street tycoon that doesn’t care about the average person to appeal to white liberal suburbanites, the poor, and anyone in the middle class who would listen.
The Republican Party will be forced to look at how to counteract this new Democratic strategy of making Republicans sound like extremists outside the mainstream of American civil society. And, Republicans will have to educate candidates on how to discuss social issues in an appropriate, non-Todd Akin manner. Republican social issues need a messaging makeover, not a policy makeover.
There is no doubt I am still grueling over Governor Romney’s loss Tuesday. But, I am not ready to give up on politics. The next four years will not include the change I so desired in Washington, but I think they will allow America to see its mistake and right its wrong. The election is over, but the battle over America’s future lives on.