Friday, November 9, 2012

Obama Won! Pass the Ice Cream

When I was a boy growing up on the newly paved streets of Rose Park, a post-World War II neighborhood in suburban Salt Lake City, the ice cream truck made its daily appearance. Like the Pied Piper, its tinny calliope music wafted through the backyards, and whatever we were doing at the moment came to a screeching halt as the Pavlovian response kicked in and we raced to the edge of the curb for whatever delights were being offered. Back in the day it wasn't very expensive to buy ice cream - they practically gave it away. I witnessed many a young child kicking and screaming for his mother to give him or her a nickel to buy ice cream.

The dissection of the 2012 presidential race has begun in earnest. Everyone you read this week is a lot smarter than they were last week.

To the victor the spoils - President Obama and VP Biden
I followed the prodigious conventional wisdom of Karl Rove, Scott Rasmussen, Michael Barone, Pat Caddell, and Dick Morris, even George Will, all of whom predicted a landslide for Mitt Romney. They reasoned the turnout of voters for Barack Obama would be weakened from what it was in 2008, based upon Obama’s poor performance by almost every measurement available. It was a failed presidency, they asserted, and they were right about that. They opined people would certainly relate to their pain at the pump, their declining wages, the Benghazi debacle and the unemployment rates. They (and I) were following the signs of all the earmarks associated with the 1980 election, where Ronald Reagan overtook the incumbent POTUS, Jimmy Carter, at the finish line and thoroughly thrashed him. Back then there was also massive unemployment, gas lines, an Iran hostage crisis, and on and on. Someone even devised a "misery index" and Obama had managed to outpace Carter on that index. Slam dunk election for Romney, one would think. Malaise was the word of the day in 1980. Carter, like Obama, warned it was the new normal. The political climate in 2012, it seemed to me, was ripe for a repeat of history.

However, it was not to be. This is not 1980, and it turns out Barack Obama is no Jimmy Carter.

If anything, his demographic constituencies not only held up from 2008, they replicated and reaffirmed their choice in 2012. Blacks, Latinos, single women and people who were indifferent to religion (the youth voters) all fell in line and turned out in a massive wave of support for Obama. That said, he still collected 9 million fewer voters than he did in 2008, it’s just that Romney attracted 2 million fewer voters than McCain. Worse, those who identified themselves as Mormons in the exit polling sampling were fewer in numbers this year than in 2004. That means fewer Mormons voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 than voted for George W. Bush in 2004. So much for the argument that the Mormon voting bloc was a force to be reckoned with. All the other religious groups, however, voiced stronger support for Romney this year than before.

The result was a narrow victory for Barack Obama in the popular vote, but a convincing vote total in the electoral college.

None of the Republican pollsters saw that coming. They were all basing their models on the 2010 mid-term results that showed a depressed electorate for Obama and a reliable resurgence for conservatism. I was certain the electorate was reflecting and embracing my values. That’s called “projection” in psychological terms, never a good idea when making political calculations. Turns out everyone in America really doesn’t think the way I do. Shocker!

However, the exit polling revealed something I did predict and something I didn’t. The pollsters asked voters which of four characteristics they most wanted to see in their president. Mitt Romney won among voters who chose three of those characteristics: shares my values, is a strong leader and has a vision for the future. What’s more, he carried them heavily, by between nine and 23 points. In all, 79 percent of voters selected one of these characteristics. That’s the part I accurately predicted. They were thinking exactly like me.

Romney lost because he lost among those who chose the remaining characteristic — by 63 points, 81-18. That characteristic? Cares about people like me. Wow, didn’t see that one coming at all. All the negativity hurled at Mitt Romney all summer long in the key battleground states actually paid off for Obama, it seems. Romney was a rich white guy with no compassion for others. The record says just the opposite, but Romney never had a chance against the negative barrage.

I guess I’m just old-fashioned. I don’t really care if a politician cares about people like me. I’ve done just fine all my life without having to rely upon politicians who supposedly are loving and caring. Truth is I’ve lived long enough to realize there isn’t a politician alive who cares about me, nor do I expect him/her to care about me.

In most cases my expectations are very low when it comes to the political class. I’d be grateful if they’d just pass a balanced budget, provide for the national defense, print the currency, and run a good post office. If recent results are any indication, they can’t even seem to get those simple tasks right.

But this election has taught me something. Republicans at the very time when the nation’s financial future is hanging in the balance decided to sit this election out. Based on reports I’ve read, only 33% of registered Republicans nationwide showed up to vote. That’s deplorable. The only bright spot was a net pick-up of seats in the House of Representatives. Apart from that we voted (after $6 Billion from both sides) for more status quo and more contention. Hardly a satisfactory outcome.

After Chief Justice John Roberts ruled on Obamacare, it was clear to me he would not make the SCOTUS responsible for our bad political choices. He said as much in his majority ruling upholding the law as a tax. Implicit in his message was the Congress has unlimited taxing authority. If you don’t like higher taxes, he said, then vote for people to represent you who will oppose higher taxes. He left the decision in the hands of voters in this election.

The majority have now spoken. They said they wanted Obamacare with all its attendant problems. Just since Tuesday we have seen businesses large and small announce cutbacks in their work forces. Why? The number one reason cited is they cannot afford the higher taxes associated with paying for Obamacare.

This stunning disconnect is self-evident. Voters simply cannot make the connection that a government powerful enough to promise you free healthcare is also powerful enough to confiscate enough in taxes to pay for it. The IRS is our new taskmaster, if they never were before. Remember, the government does not operate on revenue derived from any other source than taxpayers. Said another way, the government has no money beyond what it takes from your pocket or borrows from others. The government always runs on other people’s money. That’s why we have reached a point where our credit worthiness as a nation has been downgraded and will continue to slide.

Others will protest, thinking that a government can and should take care of the poor among us, those who can’t afford to pay their own way. It’s such a noble premise, but it is in the end nothing but an empty gesture. Firing up the printing presses and issuing government bonds, borrowing from foreign governments, buying our own securities and filling up our Treasury with worthless paper debt is NOT a sustainable fiscal path.

This could all go away in time if there were enough economic growth to warrant all the borrowing. However, we haven’t seen the economic growth policies that must include reduced government spending, an atmosphere free from the overhang of regulation that stifles innovation and risk taking, and enough certainty that government will not intrude when private capital is invested.

This administration has never understood those basic economic principles. Or, maybe they DID understand and are intentionally doing all they can to undermine our system. Whether it has been intentional or was done in ignorance, the results of our anemic economic recovery have been dismal. On the Letterman show recently, President Obama half jokingly stated he wasn’t very good at math. He said anything beyond seventh-grade math was a mystery to him. That might be the most truthful statement to ever escape his lips given the record of the last four years. Fears of a new intensified recession (since we can't say the Great Recession has really ended, can we?) are now beginning to surface as news of layoffs continues to spread.

We are in deep, deep trouble as a nation, and most of our wounds are self-inflicted. The Canadian Free Press blazed its front page with a distressing headline on Wednesday morning: “America Committed Suicide.” In the days ahead don’t be surprised to see the sentiment repeated.

In Mitt Romney we had an unusually gifted and talented successful businessman put forward his candidacy as the antidote for the ailments of America. He wasn’t looking for a job, only offering his skills to help address the issues head on. He might have been the best-qualified presidential candidate we will ever see. As his running mate he picked the only man in America currently serving in the Congress as the House Budget Chairman who had put forward a plan to begin sanely addressing our fiscal crisis. What we learned in the aftermath of the election is apparently fitness for office and qualifications don’t matter as much anymore. To hear the voters tell it they were more interested in politicians who were more patrician based on some undefined criteria - “caring about people like me.”

That squishy feel good caring feeling they seem to get from our current POTUS is deeply troubling to me. Whatever happened to self-reliance and hard work to carve out your own “feel goods?” It smacks of a society that has been convinced by conniving politicians that the government has an answer for everything, and that is NOT the America we cherished growing up. Mitt Romney wisely observed it was “trickle-down government.”

A wise and caring parent with a child who is diseased and malnourished might suggest medicine and vegetables instead of ice cream, like Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan did in this election cycle. Fearing austerity, the children of the electorate opted instead for sweet treats instead. It seems they want to sustain the unsustainable for as long as possible.

But we may have reached a tipping point in America where the sickly inexperienced child may have become so dependent it only knows to kick and scream for more ice cream.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post. Very well stated, and so true.