A Post-Election SymposiumBy The Editors for FRONT PORCH REPUBLIC
The following is a series of reflections and ruminations on Decision 2012, courtesy of FPR writers-at-large.
Winnebago County, IL. Following Standard Operating Procedures, Republican bosses in Washington [and their lackeys in the conservative media and think tanks] will blame social conservatives for the defeats of November 6. If only the GOP could embrace same-sex marriage, they shall lament; if only the Party could shake off the dead-weight of anti-abortion fanatics; then hordes of gays and unaffiliated women would flock to the Elephant’s Standard, securing easy victory.
The real cause for defeat may be quite the opposite. The Romney/Ryan campaign was actually anemic on the social issues. GOP experts smothered Mitt Romney’s decent instincts (nurtured within Mormonism) and Paul Ryan’s thoughtful Catholicism (briefly shining in the Vice Presidential debate). The standard stump speeches of the two candidates avoided references to the defense of life or of marriage; and only rarely did the word “family” intrude. The official campaign statement on the Life and Family issues, buried in the website, was short and lifeless; an insult to voters focused on these questions.
In the end, the Romney-Ryan ticket was clobbered by African-Americans (93% for Obama) and Latinos (74% for the same fellow). Importantly, majorities of both groups are instinctively anti-abortion and opposed to the gay agenda. A real effort by the Campaign to raise these issues and lay out an alternative might have paid off in dramatic ways. This was not to be.
In truth, the Republican chieftains loathe the social conservatives, and wish they would go away. This voting block comprises refugees—believing Catholics and Southern Evangelicals (a.k.a. the Reagan Democrats) and their descendants—who fled the Democratic Party, as it became the political home of the Sexual Revolution. And these folks remain in the Republican equivalent of a refugee camp, never allowed on the Main Stage. GOP Oligarchs much prefer their old, pre-1965 alliance with Planned Parenthood and equity feminism, which blended seamlessly with their growing devotion to crony capitalism and the national security state.
Hillsdale, MI. The funny thing about presidential elections is how little they change ordinary life, sort of like the outcome of the World Series (especially if your team isn’t playing) doesn’t change anything. Only the advertisements and hype depart. I had a sour disposition (more than usual) the morning after Obama’s victory, the way a Yankees’ championship grates. If I had been rooting for Romney they way I follow the Phillies, I would have felt worse, especially knowing that the Spring Training for presidential politics is not months but years away. But the discovery of a large supply of much needed kindling at a neighbor’s home restored my spirits. Otherwise, the only change in south central Michigan was the absence of candidates’ lawn signs. Too bad bumper stickers are more permanent.
Part of normalcy in this part of the republic means living with bad roads. The ballot here included a number of initiatives, one of which proposed paying for road improvements with a city income tax. Hillsdaleans defeated the measure almost 3 to 1.
But to regard the presidential contest as borderline insignificant is foolish. The desire for a modest republic is not a statement of political fashion but a serious yearning for restoring authority to smaller and local polities where the consequences of policies will also be smaller and local. Federal policies are responsible for changes in town life that natives of Hillsdale have witnessed over the last fifty years, from the number of physicians in town to the dominance of national grocery and department stores. The effects of this election will likely not be visible locally for many years, even decades.
That is, unless, you need health insurance to make a doctor’s appointment. As providence would have it, the day after the election I attended an information meeting about the school’s new plan. It is hard to imagine that Obama Care will not change the terms of my health insurance. It is also hard to imagine how administrators in private companies or federal bureaucrats will ever respond favorably to my calls and emails when I inform them that generic Effexor does not remedy my mood the way real Effexor does.
Wichita, KS. My decisions this year regarding the election were a mixture of local and national concerns, and a mixture of strategic and expressive motivations. I live in a state which has seen a strongly libertarian/constitutionalist/Tea-Party-esque faction dominate the already dominant Republican party, with the result that Governor Sam Brownback will have almost entirely free reign in Topeka to privatize state services, cut education funding, and pursue an ever-lower income tax agenda in what I regard as a will-o-the-wisp pursuit of businesses and jobs which are purportedly fleeing our state in favor of Texas. Some have celebrated this move, seeing it as an important step towards recreating a Jeffersonian political economy. I could, perhaps, believe that if these moves had been joined by serious moves towards, or even just serious language about, issuing populist challenges to the power of interstate corporations, developing sustainable agrarian alternative markets, and increasing democratic participation. But instead, from the Koch brothers to our Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the line has been pro-corporate and anti-democratic. Hence, I felt the best I could do—beyond the contributions I’d make in time and money to different candidates—was to vote (in vain, as it turned out) a straight Democratic ticket in all local and state-wide races on my ballot, something that I’d never done before, if only to show moral support for the only organized opposition to Brownback’s pious but wrong-headed attempt to revolutionize our state government.
Insofar as the presidential election was concerned, I knew that Kansas’s electoral college votes would, of course, go to support Mitt Romney; this gave me a certain degree of expressive license. If I’d lived in a swing state, my choice would have been harder. I find President Obama’s expansion of executive power, his murderous drone war in Pakistan and Afghanistan, his dismissive attitude towards the terrible costs of our endless war on drugs, his weakness in the face of the rapaciousness of Wall Street, his support for the invasive HHS contraception mandate, and his basic lack of concern for our civil liberties to be appalling . . . but I also know that a President Romney would, with the exception of the HHS mandate, probably adopt every single one of these postures, and moreover likely go along with a Republican agenda which aims to defund, repeal, or destroy the limited number of genuinely good things which Obama had, however partially, managed to accomplish. Being spared the burden of casting a vote for president which might actually matter in a statistical sense, I instead went with Jill Stein of the Green Party. The Greens have many flaws, to be sure–I’m still waiting for a genuine Christian Socialist, Red Tory, or Solidarity movement to emerge in the U.S. But until that ever happens, the Greens are at least giving voice to those who defend environmental sustainability and local democracy, opposing the dominance of Wall Street’s finance capitalism and providing the space and resources towards building cooperative alternatives instead. As a left communitarian, the Greens are probably a natural home for me, culturally conservative though I may be, and it was a pleasure to be able to write in a vote for as honorable a representative of those views as Stein.
—Russell Arben Fox
Kentucky. Being ruled for four more years by the son of a Marxist foreigner distresses me less than one might expect. After all, since I seek to preserve my people’s identity, faith, and historical memory, I must accept that the American system itself aims — by hook or by crook — at neutralizing my voice. A Romney victory would not have changed this; indeed, what worries me is that well-meaning folk afflicted by Obama will remain duped by the good cop/bad cop routine of Republican and Democratic elites. For my part I don’t lament the GOP’s failure to vanquish the enemy; the GOP is the enemy. True, here in Kentucky it’s typically Louisville Democrats who openly delight in any perversity whereby those who settled this state can be made to roll over in their graves. But the Republican leadership too celebrates “creative destruction” as the preferred path to a Brave New World of bigger corporations and better consumerism. Thus by feeding Christian patriots the lie that their participation in the system is meaningful, the Republican Party is a relief valve for liberalism.
Every loyal Kentuckian needs to look reality coldly and squarely in the face. Most obviously, our conception of freedom demands that unborn children live; the conception endorsed this week demands that their mothers be permitted to kill them. When a political community’s members have mutually exclusive understandings of basic principles there is in fact no community; liberal politics is war by other means. For the long run I see only two possibilities. Either the system will break apart, or one side will eventually wipe out the other via conversion, demographic replacement, and/or coercion. Barack Obama didn’t steal the election, and ultimately he’s not the one who hates you. Your neighbor hates you.
Saint Davids, PA. I’ve written elsewhere on John Courtney Murray’s read of the underlying unity of America as a commitment to (1) technological secularism and (2) the cult of freedom. Looking back at the election cycle, I’m still surprised at the rather limited range available. Yes, there were differences in policy, and certainly differences in some social issues, but we were presented mainly with a choice between two rationalistic and technological plans for securing a very truncated range of goods. As Murray suggests, the entire conversation remained “suspended over a moral confusion; and this moral confusion will itself be suspended over a spiritual vacuum.”
Not knowing what we’re for, our politics continues as a choice between various schemes by which to expand control and our comfort, but not much about attaining our good.
—R. J. Snell
Rock Island, IL. I’m not above inviting correction on this matter, since, never having struggled with insomnia, I don’t read a lot of political theory, political commentary, or political reporting. My interests naturally lead me toward life’s larger problems, such as why the shampoo and conditioner never run out at the same time, or why Sensitivity Workshop Leaders aren’t ranked first among murder victims in college towns.
But it does seem to me that if you invest too much power in the executive office, which we have, you will come to expect too much of the president, which we do.
And coming to the end of an election day is very much like standing on the second tee after everyone in the foursome has carded a triple bogey: it’s a fresh start! We’re going to turn this thing around now!
But hackers never turn anything around. They don’t have three birdies in the bag to erase the triple bogey they started with. You can resolve to play serious golf all you want, but if you’re a hacker you’re going to hack your way around to a BIG number at the end, where waits nothing more than a Miller Lite and a soggy wiener.
A little meditation on stewardship will help clarify the role of the chief executive. We all know, or should know, that ecological health comes about only by care, vigilance, affection, restraint, and the slow work of time. One mistake, one error in judgment, one act of violence against nature can erase in a moment all the work of careful stewardship accumulated over centuries.
This, I think, is instructive in the political sphere: we won’t come to political health overnight, or over four years, or over eight. But we can come to grief pretty quickly. The war in Iraq is a case in point. The damage done by revenge, by reflex, by whatever, is long-lasting. Remediating the damage may be the work of decades. The good a president can do is small compared to the harm that stands poised at his fingertips.
The truth of our political condition is this: we live in damage, and the damage is a million miles around. It is so ubiquitous we can’t even travel outside it.
Or, to put it more bluntly, the country is not so much broke as broken, and no one in power knows how to fix it.
We learn one thing from every election: that being electable apparently means you’re incapable of playing even a reachable par-five in four strokes, that you’re unfamiliar with care, vigilance, affection, restraint, and the slow work of time.