Friday, November 9, 2012

The Election Post

(My friend Adam M. demanded this post.  You can blame him.)

So, congratulations to my progressive friends, I suppose.  President Barack Obama has been re-elected for another four years.

A lot of liberals on the websites I read have been crowing that this election marks the victory of science and pragmatism over willful ignorance and fearmongering, or something like that. (I'll link only to the worst offender here.) But let's get real, people.  A "war on women"?  Bain capital?  The Obama camp was just as guilty of using ignorance and crazy fundamentalism as weapons in this race.  I know I sound like a know-it-all jerk when I say both parties suck, but seriously, guys: both parties suck.

I always thought Obama would be re-elected, because a) he was relatively successful, given his goals and where he started from, and b) the Republicans never had much substantive to say in response.

What surprised me was how close this election was.  This great article at Slate points out that only three elections in the 20th century had a popular vote tally closer than this one.  Less than three million votes nationwide separated Obama from Romney.  Both campaigns blitzed the ten battleground states with ads, rallies and get-out-the-vote operations, and ignored the rest of the country.

That being the case, I think it's foolhardy to try to draw sweeping conclusions about the "national direction" or grand ideological shifts from this election.  Neither candidate ran a national campaign, and as a result, neither candidate can truly say that they received the support of the nation in the election.  In a race where 121 million votes were cast (representing only 57% of eligible voters), 3 million votes signifies nothing more than the technical superiority of the Obama campaign, and possibly the advantage conferred by incumbency.  Unlike 2008, when Obama shellacked John McCain by 10 million votes, this time I don't think it can even be said that the nation "chose" Obama.  Rather, the Obama campaign chose - and wisely - which neighborhoods and counties to pursue.  The nation has spoken, but with a deeply and evenly divided voice.

The Slate article concludes with this sentence: "Close elections may in fact be a sign that nobody, on either side, is thinking big." I think the author is right.  Here's a small list of huge issues that were almost completely absent from the campaign:

  • Global warming, and the possibility that human civilization itself is threatened by it. (Obama claims to believe this, but acted curiously unconcerned about it.  Romney never denied it, but used a joke about it as the climax of his RNC acceptance speech).
  • How to integrate the 12 million undocumented people living in our country.
  • The war in Afghanistan (which is going terribly by the way).
  • Our falling national education standards.
  • A U.S.-dominated Middle East that is quickly slipping into radicalism and sectarian war.

Both Romney and Obama are surely aware of these issues.  Both were also surely told by their advisers that it was risky to talk about them.  Best play it safe and make fun of that guy who thinks women can't get pregnant from rape.

Of the four candidates for the presidency and vice-presidency, only Paul Ryan, with his radical budget restructuring proposal, could be accused of "thinking big" - and after accepting the nomination, he wasn't allowed to talk about that proposal.

Any well-funded politician can hire strategists to analyze the polls and maximize turnout in the battleground states.  It takes real statesmen to change the way a country thinks, propose a new direction, and then get people to follow him (or her).  I don't even know if I believe in statesmen anymore, but they didn't show up in this race.

Partly because of the problems that went unaddressed in this race, and partly because of the ones that were addressed, but inadequately (the debt, entitlements, abortion, gay marriage), I don't think America will be a great nation anymore by the time I'm old.  And maybe that's okay.  In my opinion, all the things that make this country a great place to live - our tolerant society, political freedom and economic prosperity - are seriously marred by the way we've exercised our national power around the world.  Maybe it's time for us to step down a notch, pay the real price for our luxuries, struggle a little bit, learn what it means to be a neighbor when that requires more than pleasantries and minor favors.

A lot of my hyper-conservative friends are posting that Obama's re-election is God's judgment on this nation.  Maybe.  I've come to believe that God's judgment is not vindictive, but restorative, in nature. "The Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son." - Hebrews 12:6

In the Old Testament, the two greatest villains were the Assyrian Empire and the Chaldean Empire.  They were fabulously wealthy and incredibly powerful, laying waste to kingdoms from the Persian Gulf to the Nile River.  Being human empires, both, in turn, fell.

Today, the Assyrians and the Chaldeans survive as distinct people groups in Iraq, Syria and Turkey - and nearly all of them are Christians.  They were some of the first peoples to convert to Christianity, and have held on ever since.  They still speak Aramaic, the language of Christ, centuries after the Arabization of the Middle East.

We should never confuse power or wealth with blessing.  Superpower or no, America's best days may be ahead.


  1. Well thought out post Joel!

    I agree with a lot of what you are saying about both parties ignoring the real issues and instead playing the sound bite game and accusing the other of not having a plan.

    It's also a relief to read a post about the election that's not crowing or bitter, so thanks for that!

  2. You can also blame Adam for bringing me here. :)

    Don't give up now! Organize! Our biggest political problem isn't weak politicians it's a weak and divided citizenry. Leaders reflect their followers not the other way around. If there are things you care about the only way they will be talked about and moved is through organized, aggressive, mass action.

    You speak about the immigration problem. The Tea Party has rallied hundreds of thousands of people through a campaign of racial hatred and xenophobia by being vocal and organized ( At the same time, the undocumented immigrant movement has pushed Obama into making an executive order granting temporary relief by also getting organized and getting arrested outside the DNC (

    If you care about those issues, and I assume you do, find people who are getting organized about it and sign up! Making an impact is all about creating relationships and talking to people. Posting online is thoughtful but it isn't useful on the ground and you don't have real people to refine your ideas with. Get out there and make something happen! Sitting and waiting for some politician to be your standard bearer is exactly what's fueling the political nonsense you're detracting! :)

  3. oh buddy. Quite the above post!

    You were right, Joel. Obama won. I'm not surprised either.

    Sometimes I was quite surprised about how similarly Obama and Romney thought about things. Foreign policy for one!

    And agreed. There are many good things to be brought about from America not being the world power. Humility.