Monday, May 7, 2012

Election 2012: Not Very Important

You have heard it before: this year's election is "THE MOST IMPORTANT OF {OUR LIFETIME, THE CENTURY, AMERICAN HISTORY, OUR ERA}!!!".

Not only is this overblown and immodest, as the Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf points out, but the opposite is most likely true.

Does the 2012 election offer voters the opportunity to elect a major historical figure, someone who will introduce a new element or ideology to the presidency? No - Obama is already president, and Romney's ideas and identity conform well to the last 140 years of G.O.P. politics.

Is a great deal of policy change likely in the next four years? No. Congress will be Republican, the Senate will be split near 50-50. If re-elected, Obama will have to play small ball for two years, and then all eyes will turn to 2016, which would utterly overshadow 2012 in importance with a new generation of leadership from both parties (Biden, Clinton, Romney, and Paul would all be out of the game - think Chris Christie versus Andrew Cuomo, or Susana Martinez versus Mark Warner). If instead voters choose Romney, the new president will most likely make changes at the margin.

The two potentially enduring policies from Obama's first term are Obamacare and the amazing increase in U.S. debt. In the 2013-2017 presidential term, whoever is elected will fight trench warfare with the opposite party in the Senate over implementation of Obamacare. And whoever is elected will beg for mercy from the budget. Without a massive electoral mandate, it's hard to imagine either one enacting long-term entitlement reform.

Does the 2012 election present a historical breakpoint, with a possible realignment of politics in the U.S.? That occurred in 1852-1860, 1912, 1932, 1980 and could have in 1992 (if Perot had won some states). Does anybody expect the 2012 victor to carry more than 55% of the vote? Or either major party to seriously rethink its positions in defeat? Most likely, 2016 will feature the same arguments over the same issues as the 2012 election... which are largely the same as the arguments in every election since 1980, when the GOP took its modern form.

Since there are only twenty-five presidential elections in a century, and several of them each century do offer stark, historical choices, the in-between elections are by necessity less important than average. When an incumbent runs, importance dips still further, since only one new set of ideas and identities is considered. Think about 2004, 1996, 1992, 1984, 1972, 1956, 1944, 1940, 1936, and 1916. Along with 1924 and 1976, wouldn't those be among the 12 least interesting elections of the past 100 years?

So keep your shirt on, gentle reader: this election will determine who makes some important decisions from 2013 through January, 2017, and it probably won't decide much more than that.

2 comments:

taoist said...

The one difference I can see, and it could be quite key: While I don't see Romney putting forward any transformative legislation himself, if Republicans get majorities in both houses, having Romney instead of Obama makes a huge difference for numbers needed to pass things.

taoist said...

The one difference I can see, and it could be quite key: While I don't see Romney putting forward any transformative legislation himself, if Republicans get majorities in both houses, having Romney instead of Obama makes a huge difference for numbers needed to pass things.