By now the dust has settled on the Presidential election of 2012. I am left feeling like someone who has witnessed a young person reject a solid, intelligent, committed, attractive, principled and deeply committed suitor in favor of someone younger, shinier, and newer, who is in all likelihood a far less suitable match.
Ultimately, the people made their choice, and maybe in some global way that is beyond me, it was the right one. But I doubt it. My most pressing objection to Obama, which I wrote about, concerns Israel. I have little doubt that, despite what turned out to be a fairly effective propaganda campaign to convince Jewish voters that Obama is the greatest ally Israel ever had, in reality, Israel’s on its own in the face of a nuclear threat. This is not the first time in history that Israel has stood essentially alone. But it was unnecessary that it be so, and to the extent that times continue to be extremely precarious for Israel, Jewish-Americans in particular may come to regret their support for Obama.
Then there’s the issue of the U.S. economy. I don’t claim to have special knowledge, but I know that there is such a thing as a budget, and that under leadership of this President, this country is living way beyond its means. I also know what happens when individuals, groups, or institutions stubbornly and consistently live beyond their means. Eventually, either there’s a total collapse, or someone has to pay, with interest. And that will probably be our children. Playwright David Mamet does a better job than I could of illustrating it here.
The country will survive four more years. If, however, the sweeping changes Mr. Obama and his supporters seek to impose take us permanently in a socialist direction, we shouldn’t kid ourselves. More entitlements will not eradicate poverty or provide more opportunity; on the contrary, the capitalist engine which drives the U.S. economy has provided more prosperity and opportunity to more people than any system in the world. A more socialistic tax structure will place a huge drag on that engine.
The ethic of self-reliance that drove our Founding Fathers and that the Puritans championed, and that was embraced by many generations of hard-scrabble, enterprising immigrants, was unique in the history of the world. These people didn’t immigrate with dreams of obtaining “services,” and hoped for nothing from government but protection of their basic rights to work and be free. But again, they were unique. When one speaks with people, including decent, reasonably hardworking, although not especially entrepreneurial, people from other countries, they speak often of the “services” their government provides, or being “looked after” by government. Maybe in some ways, it is like being serfs in times of old; beholden to a king or noble class, in some sense enslaved, yet protected. Let’s face it, that is the way the world worked for thousands of years and many people may find that type of system more comfortable than a capitalist economy.
Maybe for some, it’s a decent tradeoff. Less opportunity and liberty in exchange for more security and equality. After all, freedom includes freedom to fail (with the guarantee, in the U.S., of only a limited safety net). And that is perhaps too uncertain, too frightening for many people in our modern world.
There’s something sad, though, about the possibility that America’s ethos may be subtly changing, from a country where one is free to succeed or fail on one’s own merits, and expected to provide for oneself and one’s children, to one in which we are all a little more timid and less creative, in exchange for a government guarantee of employment, health benefits, being looked after in our old age by government, etc. If such benefits could really come at no cost to our liberty or prosperity it would be delightful. But there is no utopia on this earth. And once we become more dependent on government, government gets more of a say, even if only in subtle ways. There is no free lunch or free healthcare or free birth control. If someone else is paying for you, that someone has a say. If it’s a collective, then the collective has an influence over your life. From a purely humanitarian perspective, I can embrace the idea of universal healthcare, though. It will be, like most things in life, a tradeoff.
Here’s the thing I don’t get, though. Why did voters buy the idea that Romney was not going to help the middle class? Mitt Romney is not an ultra-conservative Republican or an ideologue. He had brought universal healthcare to Massachusetts as governor, and was not opposed to government healthcare but willing to let the states handle this issue. He is a turnaround man, someone who, in his life, helped build a business that bolstered and financed many others and, in so doing, created opportunities for tens of thousands. Yes, some of the work he did involved downsizing companies, and sometimes people lost their jobs as a result. But that is part of a free system.
He offered a vision for the country to get back on its feet financially, by encouraging businesses to grow and prosper. I’m mildly shocked that Americans rejected this vision from someone with a proven track record of great success in building prosperity - starting with his own - in exchange for the already failed vision of someone whose entire career has centered around government. It simply makes no sense to me that the American people believe that Obama will create more opportunities for them. Sadly, all I can think is that, for many people, Obama’s team was effective in playing on people’s feelings of resentment (Romney is the rich white corporate raider, he doesn’t care about you, etc.) As Obama himself said in his campaign’s final days, voting is the best “revenge.”
Indeed, throughout, Obama’s team attacked Romney on a personal level–for his work at Bain Capital, for instance, suggesting that there was something inherently dishonorable about capitalism. They dredged up obscure stories from this decent man’s past–about the dog on the car roof, for instance–and repeated them out of context.
In contrast, there was nothing personal directed at Obama from Romney, who was a class act till the end.
So the voters had their “revenge.” But here’s the problem: acting on feelings of resentment and jealousy don’t usually get you what you want in life, and tend to work the opposite of the way you want them to. Government can’t build true success for individuals, and those who look to it to do so will be disappointed. Nor does demonizing success–as President Obama and his team did Governor Romney’s–make one successful. They would do far better to inspire others.
For our great country and its people, I hope I am wrong. But I think this will be a Pyrrhic victory for Obama’s supporters.
I do see beauty in the people’s choice, if only because he is their choice, and I love the American people. Let’s hope that, like Bill Clinton, President Obama has the savvy to tack more toward the center, to incorporate ideas from right and left, rather than clinging to ideas that failed to promote economic growth in his first term.
As for Mr. Romney, as a man with hundreds of millions in the bank, he didn’t need this aggravation. The Obama team took his unsullied, decent life and attacked his success. Like all politicians, I’m sure he has a healthy ego. But I also sense that the humility he showed in his concession speech reflects his fundamental decency, and I can’t shake the feeling that the American people will regret rejecting him.
He had a lot to give, and as far as I can tell, he ran because he believed the country needed his gifts and skills.
The truth is, President Obama’s speaking abilities are legend. But this country desperately needs a turnaround man.
Instead, we’ll probably get four more years of the same.
If we have the Luck of Obama.