Unless a lot of voters have been lying to pollsters — and I’m not entirely dismissing the notion, although probably not in numbers to drastically effect the race — Barack Obama will win re-election to a second term.
It is likely to be a near thing in the popular vote, but not a nail biter in the electoral college. A billion dollars buys a lot of organization and the Obama team should once again be congratulated for using their campaign money to excellent effect in getting out their vote on election day.
For Romney, a bitter pill to be sure. To come so close and then fall just a little short will haunt him for the rest of his life. But to a large extent, it’s his own fault — and the fault of conservatives and conservatism. In the end, Romney tried to offer warmed over Reaganism with a dash of 21st century conservative populism to the voters. They weren’t fooled — not enough of them anyway.
Conservatism failed Romney as much as conservatives did — perhaps more. Intellectuals on the right have been largely driven from the public square by revanchist social darwinists, fevered anti-science evangelicals, and paranoid conspiracists. Much of the right just doesn’t trust anyone who thinks for a living because that thinking generally leads to conclusions that don’t sit comfortably with those trapped in the echo chamber of right wing blogs, talk radio, and Fox News.
For example, when someone dares to point out that Mitt Romney’s tax numbers don’t add up, or Paul Ryan’s budget plan has a trillion dollar gap in it, or that Rush Limbaugh is a clown, there’s no attempt to debate, only an effort to shout down or smear the messenger. Such is not conducive to promoting the kind of intellectual ferment necessary for a political philosophy to refresh itself and deal with contemporary challenges.
Instead, the GOP mantra of the last 30 years of tax cuts, fewer regulations, developing a strong military, and advocating for smaller government was trotted out in new clothes, given a pretty sheen of new rhetoric, and promoted as “change.” The country was ready to give Obama his walking papers if the Republicans had offered a candidate who represented a break with the past, who promoted an agenda based on what America had become in the 21st century and not what she was in the 1970’s and 80’s. But this was not to be. How could it when much of the right has invested so heavily in fantasies of cutting government to the bone, destroying the social welfare state, emasculating the EPA and other agencies, while forcing its own concept of theocratic morality on the rest of us?
Perhaps most egregiously of all, the takeover of the Republican party by the hard right has meant that the very concept of conservatism has been corrupted beyond recognition. I think the greatest failing of the hard right has to be its total denial of what Russell Kirk referred to as the “voluntary community.” The idea of “community” used to be central to conservative philosophy. This is a manageable social element — one step above individual and family. In modern American, the term “community” necessarily includes progressive levels of government — from local, to state, to federal — each tasked with responsibilities that make modern urban civilization possible.
What local government is unable or incapable of doing, the state government steps in and fills the gap. What states cannot manage, or refuse to address, the national government takes a hand. No rational person believes that there should be 50 different air and water quality standards, or 50 different regulatory regimes that govern worker safety. Interstate commerce would come screeching to a halt if that kind of thinking ever took hold.
The modern right, however, isn’t interested in the traditional notions of community, which necessarily include government. There is a great big hole in the hard right’s vision of community where government should be. The state has a role to play as provider, referee, and enforcer of community laws and regulations. Every major conservative philosopher of the last 100 years has recognized this to one degree or another. But the fantasies about reducing the size of government to something akin to what it was in 19th century America persist.
The concept of limited government — not smaller government or no government — should be promoted. But “limited” government is too close to “warmed over liberalism” for many extremists. The idea that government should grow at all is an anathema to most modern ideologues who have hijacked the name “conservatism” and besmirched its principles in a reckless disregard for what used to be called, “the common weal.” Individual liberty is a fine thing and it is the primary purpose of government to defend and ensure that freedom. But individual liberty cannot exist outside of the community. Necessarily, we voluntarily give up some freedom in return for living in a civilization where we aren’t at each other’s throats. The concept is so basic to conservatism, it’s a mystery why those who call themselves conservatives reject it out of hand.
I have no hope for a return to sanity anytime soon for the political right — not when the right mistakes disgust with the Democrats for an electoral mandate as they did in 2010, or that all they will need to win the presidency in 2016 is to tweak the message a bit and nominate a “true conservative” — like Rick Santorum or some other religious fanatic. The disconnect between the right wingers and 21st century America is too great, their notions of what America needs so out of kilter with reality, that only near complete marginalization by the electorate might snap them out of their stupor. Even then, the purists will probably complain that all they have to do is nominate a “real” conservative and they will win in a landslide.
Poor, pathetic, wretched creatures.