For conservatives and progressives the 2012 Presidential Election has been a referendum on the future of America. Voters were offered two fundamentally different narratives.
Barack Obama’s America is multicultural and committed to Big Government. From childhood through pregnancy into the infirmity of old age, our entitlement nation will preside over us, making decisions that influence our choices regarding contraception, healthcare, education, jobs, families, how we die, and how our property, if we have any, will be divvied up after we’re gone.
Obama’s America will be dedicated to “leveling the playing field.” For conservatives that term means that everyone gets a fair opportunity to compete. But for progressives, “leveling the playing field” means taking proactive steps to ensure that the least advantaged among us is given preferential treatment. Sometimes it is invoked to ensure cultural or ethnic diversity. Schools or employers are also encouraged to intervene in the furtherance of social justice as a means for compensating for historical injustices or today’s economic disparities. The outcome, sadly, is that Americans are no longer rewarded for aspirational virtues: discipline, self-control, dedication to hard work, excellence, commitment to family, as well as willingness to save money and resources in anticipation of future needs and responsibilities.
In progressive America there are rarely bad outcomes for irresponsible behavior and someone else—in the guise of the state—pays for our missteps and egregious behavior. If entrepreneurial America begins to lag under the weight of our burdensome social policies, the assumption is that it won’t matter. We are virtuous. We have empathy. We care for the downtrodden. Our entitlement nation will protect us, defend us, provide for us, and ward off other nations and other people who threaten our benevolent “Kingdom of Virtue.” Until one day, bloated with governmental excess, the system tumbles down. Bills can’t be paid; jobs can’t be had; products are no longer competitive, and power shifts to another nation, another region of the world, where excellence and competition have recalibrated justice to once again reward success and punish failure.
Mitt Romney’s vision of America sought to restore individual initiative and economic opportunity by providing businesses with the financial incentives to succeed. In the process he hoped to create the conditions that would foster millions of new jobs, thereby igniting the engine of our recovery. It was the dream of aspirational America founded on our uniquely American experiment. That dream, sad to say, may be over, replaced by the burgeoning needs of our entitlement nation.
Barack Obama and his team of advisors ran a better campaign. Yes, it was a bitterly fought election. Strictly speaking, Obama’s success wasn’t based on a narrative since that would have exposed the economic failings of his administration. Instead, the campaign was based on demonizing Mitt Romney. Attack advertisements flooded the battleground states. Hispanics, single woman, African-Americans, ethnic minorities, gays, young people, as well as most of the disenfranchised and many of the affluent were targeted. The Democrats effectively captured their demographic. In sports parlance, Obama’s “ground game” was hard-hitting and decisive. The demonization began early and never stopped. Even before Romney was the designated Republican choice, the Obama machine had him effectively in their sights. All is fair in political warfare. And this Democratic victory was supremely won.
What was surprising, nevertheless, was how far off base Republican models of voter turnout—forecasts by Karl Rove and Dick Morris—would prove to be. They assumed that Democratic voters in 2012 would be substantially less motivated to vote than in 2008 while minimizing the potential influence of Hispanics and single women. By contrast, Nate Silver’s projections of Barack Obama’s victory proved positively prescient. Conclusion? In 2012 the old methods for forecasting voting behavior were effectively rendered obsolete. The white, ageing male voter receded from center stage. Today, we celebrate the President, the first lady, and their two beautiful daughters who represent America’s hip, multicultural vibe.
But sometimes victories are not what they appear. In politics, winning is ephemeral. One moment you’re on top of the greasy pole, the next you’re covered in mud.
The challenge for the Obama administration is fourfold: ensure the effectiveness of the entitlement programs, stoke the economic engine of recovery, pay down our crippling debt, and protect America’s interests overseas. Of course, we seek energy independence, and we want it to be environmentally clean. While everyone these days longs for the oceans to recede and the specter of global warming to abate, dare I suggest that perhaps that lies beyond Obama’s magisterial élan? The big question at the moment remains the following: How do you accomplish all the above while Americans remain bitterly divided? That’s one mystery that our electioneering “mathematicians” have yet to solve.
Dr. Diana E. Sheets, an iFoundry Fellow and Research Scholar at the University of Illinois, writes literary criticism, political commentary, and fiction. Much of it can be read on her website, www.LiteraryGulag.com.