Friday, Apr 12, 2024

Some Random Thoughts The Day After The Election

Walter Russell Mead, one of America's few public intellectuals to write openly of his own religious faith, penned a beautiful meditation as Hurricane Sandy spread its destruction. The hurricane reminds us, he wrote, that "a storm is coming which neither you nor we can survive. The strongest walls, the sturdiest retirement plans stuffed with stocks and CDs, the best doctors cannot protect us from that final encounter with the force that made and will someday unmake us.

“To come to terms with the radical insecurity in which we live is to find a different and more reliable kind of security… [T]he same force that sends these storms into our lives offers a peace and security that no storm can destroy. As another one of the psalms puts it, ‘Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.’ Accepting your limits and your dependence on things you can’t control is the first step on the road toward finding that joy.” 

The election results leave me feeling rather insecure as well. If President Obama continues with the same policies of the last four years – spiced only by a big tax increase on anyone earning $250,000, including most small business owners – the current economic stagnation could well become permanent, as in most of Western Europe. A diminished American, subservient to the UN, will leave the world order without a good cop on the beat.

In the face of the radical insecurity the election results portend, I’m choosing this morning to seek Mead’s “more reliable kind of security” in Hashem, and to rejoice in the fact that I have been chosen to perform His mitzvos and study His Torah.

Democracy, H.W. Mencken observed, “is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.” And those likely to get it the hardest over the next four years are precisely the same who were hit hardest over the last four years – blacks and the younger cohort of workers, though the full impact on the latter will not be felt until they retire and find that the coffers of all the entitlement programs that their parents received are empty. “The squeezed generation,” the Washington Post’s Robert Samuelson calls them.

The election results effectively guarantee that Obamacare will not be repealed, at least not until foreigners stop buying our bonds and our huge national debt must finally be acknowledged. Obamacare was carefully designed so that its harshest consequences would not take effect until 2014, after the election just passed.

But for now, I have little patience to read the doomsayers. All the websites that claimed so many waking hours over recent months have now become a dovor mius. At least for the present, I only hope that all predictors of doom prove no more accurate than they were in their predictions of the election results. But I will not be paying too much attention one way or the other. Rather, I intend to take advantage of all the time now available, and the reduced temptation to waste my time reading predictions of future events, the results of which will soon be known in any case.

If nothing else, the confident predictions of a massive Romney victory made by some of the very brightest of pundits, sensible men all – Charles Krauthammer, George Will, and Michael Barone, editor of the invaluable Almanac of American Politics – demonstrate the power of hope to cloud judgment. They all confidently predicted that Obama’s most enthusiastic supporters in 2008 would be dispirited by the past four years and turn out in smaller percentages than energized Republicans. Well, at least they were right on the first count. Eleven million fewer Americans voted than in 2008, but Hispanics, blacks and single women constituted an even higher percentage of the electorate than in 2008. 

I, too, bought into the theories underlying the predictions of a Romney upset. How could it be, I asked myself, that at least 3% of the 2008 electorate has not experienced buyer’s remorse? I was even prepared to make the first bet of my life. Fortunately, my partner could not figure out how to do so on-line, thus saving me $500 – the sole consolation of the morning after.

Film critic Pauline Kael famously confessed disbelief over the 1972 election results: After all, she knew only one person who had voted for Nixon, yet he won by a landslide over George McGovern. Those who predicted a Romney triumph do not lead as sheltered lives Kael. They know that there are many who do not share their views. Will, Krauthammer, and Barone, after all, live in the D.C. area. But neither they nor I are young, and the election forced them to confront the fact that the America of their youth is no longer. There are not as many people like them as they thought: Americans raised to revere the Constitution and its balance of powers, to believe in America as the last great hope of mankind, and who share the love of liberty and determination to live by the sweat of their brow of the “noble yeoman” idealized by Jefferson and Jackson (whose names are, ironically, associated with the modern Democratic Party of big government).

That is perhaps the most worrisome question raised by the election results: Has America reached a tipping point, as Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute claims, in which such a high percentage of the population is so dependent on government transfer payments that future governments may be no more able to cut or restructure entitlements than Greece is today?

The president and his campaign team are entitled to crow. They predicted exactly what happened – i.e., the triumph of their vaunted ground game. But that crowing could be short-lived. For one thing, the president can no longer blame his predecessor for all the woes of the economy: He is his predecessor. From now on, he “owns” the economy, though unquestionably he will try to blame Republican obstructionism any time the Republican House does not fall into line – which it will not.

He certainly owns Obamacare, whose baleful effects will soon start to be felt.  Premiums will continue to rise dramatically, the supply of doctors – at least of the quality to which Americans have become accustomed – will decrease, and fewer will accept Medicare patients, and more and more full-time workers will be transferred to part-time positions as employers seek to avoid Obamacare’s penalties for uninsured workers.

Younger voters will not remain young and stupid forever. As George Bernard Shaw put it, “If you are not a socialist at twenty, you have no heart; if you are still a socialist at thirty, you have no brain.” At some point, thirty-year-olds will get tired of living with Mom, even if the service is good and rent is low.

True, the current crop of young and stupid will be replaced by others, particularly if our colleges and universities remain bastions of the Left. Of Princeton faculty who contributed to the campaign, 155 contributed to Obama, two to Romney – a visiting engineering professor and a janitor. But at some point, if the job outlook for college graduates does not begin to improve, the message will begin to filter down.

The mainstream media soiled itself as never before in this campaign, most glaringly in the last weeks, when every effort was made to take Benghazi out of the news. But now that they have successfully ensured President Obama’s reelection, my guess is that many in the media will begin to feel some shame and attempt to reclaim some shards of self-respect. They will be tougher on the president in his second term than they were in his first. I would bet that we will soon start to see more probing news stories on Benghazi and President Obama’s conduct on the night of September 11. And Americans not living in Far Rockaway may soon be startled to learn that FEMA’s performance was not all that great, and that for all the photo-ops of the president looking concerned and presidential, he did not really do that much.

The Democratic coalition of interest groups will eventually prove a fractious one. One of the president’s first post-election announcements was of the scaling back of federal lands to be opened for oil shale production. The environmentalists cheered. But the energy industry is the greatest potential source of well-paying jobs for those strong of back and willing to work hard. And anything that limits the development of the United States’ huge energy reserves will set off war between upper class environmentalists and working class voters, including Hispanics.

Finally, the world has a way of intruding that no president can control. Islamists bent on imposing sharia – of whom Al-Qaeda is but one franchise – are not going away, and will continue to probe American and Western resolve everywhere. Arab Spring has already brought the Islamists to power in several countries, most notably Egypt, with some crucial assists from our own foreign policy establishment. And sometime in the next eighteen months, Iran will have to be dealt with. On how that is done, as much as anything, hinges Obama’s place in history.

I am relieved that the election produced a clear result and that there was no split between the popular and electoral vote. One thing our badly fractured country does not need at present is a crisis of legitimacy, as would have resulted had Romney won the popular vote and lost in the Electoral College.

As hard as it is for one of conservative temperament to admit, the Electoral College is one institution of great vintage of which we need to be rid. The original bargain leading to its creation, based on the fear of small states being dominated in the new United States of America, no longer applies. Small states are still overrepresented by virtue of their two senators.

The Electoral College badly distorts the entire democratic process by causing candidates for national office to focus all their attention on ten or few “battleground” states and ignore the citizens living in the other forty, including the most populous.

Many hoped that the election of 2008 might finally put the legacy of slavery behind us and lead to a less racially conscious country. That did not happen. If anything, the opposite has occurred, fueled by the eagerness of defenders of the president to locate dog whistle appeals to white racism in almost every single criticism of the president.

Perhaps the reelection of Barack Obama, despite running on one of the weakest records of any incumbent since Jimmy Carter, will end the charges of white America’s racism. It’s not that the president did not achieve anything in his first term, but that what he achieved was overwhelmingly unpopular – in particular Obamacare and the $800 million stimulus designed primarily to benefit various Democratic Party interest groups. If despite the unpopularity of his signal achievements the president was re-elected, George Will is likely right that many disappointed 2008 Obama voters did not want to admit that their vote for a historical black figure was a mistake. In short, race helped, not hurt, Obama. (Further refuting the Republican racist charge is the enthusiastic Republican support for all manner of dark-hued politicians – Hispanic, Indian, and black – running as Republicans.)

The president ran a deliberately divisive campaign based on a view of America as a collection of balkanized ethnic and demographic groups, in which group identity reigns supreme. He frequently resorted to “us versus them” rhetoric in appealing to different ethnic groups. He has thus heightened, not diminished, racial consciousness.

One of the most prominent divisions in present-day America is along religious lines. Michael Barone, in a piece entitled “Two Americas,” written prior to the election but published the day after, describes “one America [that] tends to be traditionally religious, personally charitable, appreciative of entrepreneurs, and suspicious of government. The other tends to be secular…, less charitable, skeptical of business, and supportive of government as an instrument of liberal causes. The more conservative America tends to be relatively cohesive. Evangelical Protestants and white Catholics make common cause; the 17th-century religious wars are over.”

To evangelical Protestants and white Catholics, I would add Orthodox Jews, who increasingly vote like their fellow Americans of faith and less and less like their secular Jewish brethren.

Torah Jews can certainly find much to admire in Mitt Romney and how he conducted himself during the campaign. Mormon theology strikes us as strange. But there is nothing strange to Torah Jews about the Mormon networks of mutual help and support. In all my reading about President Obama, I have never read a single story about him extending himself for another human being. Such stories about Mitt Romney are legion. Characteristically, the greatest part of his time since his electoral defeat (buried deep in a New York Times story) has been spent working on data bases to secure employment for about 400 campaign staffers. And that is without even mentioning the four million dollars given to charity last year.

Even when portrayed as an ogre, who enjoys throwing people out of their jobs and watching their wives die of cancer because of a lack of insurance (about as shameless a lie as was ever propagated in a presidential campaign), he refused to respond in kind or conduct himself with less than the dignity befitting a would-be president of the United States.

One of Romney’s last public comments of the campaign was to generously defend Governor Chris Christie’s effusive praise of President Obama after Hurricane Sandy battered New Jersey’s coastline. Christie, he said, was just doing his job of serving the people of New Jersey. Left unsaid: In Chicago, they play politics for keeps, and they can be vengeful.

Speaking of Hurricane Sandy, even such non-religious texts as Blackstone’s Legal Dictionary would define the hurricane as an “act of G-d.” That, too, should give us pause for thought.  

Did the hurricane make a difference in the final result? Probably not enough to have mattered. But it did keep Romney effectively out of the news for four days in the crucial last week of the campaign and provided even those media outlets that did not completely ignore Benghazi an excuse to push it to the back burner. And, of course, it gave President Obama an opportunity to look both presidential and bi-partisan as he strolled together with one of his former harshest critics, Governor Christie, on the Jersey shore.

I think I read that about 6% of voters made up their mind in the last 24 hours, and of those, 65% said that President Obama’s handling of the disaster made a difference. If so, the wag who said that the election would be decided by the least informed voters – those who still didn’t have an opinion after months of campaigning and four years of the Obama presidency – might have been right.

If Hurricane Sandy made a difference in the final outcome – a big if – the question, then, is one to which none of us can provide a remotely definitive answer: What is Hashem’s message to us? Either way, we can only stand back and watch how the “heart of kings in Hashem’s hands” plays out over the next four years. For sure, it will be in many ways different from what we foresee at present.



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