With ten days to go, it seems pretty certain that the election will be decided by a very narrow margin--one very comparable, indeed, to George W. Bush's re-election in 2004, when the state of Ohio provided the margin of victory. That is the better case scenario: the worse case scenario is an election similar to 2000, complete with recounts, court fights, and a Republican legislature or two deciding pass laws awarding their electoral vote to Mitt Romney in defiance of the will of the electorate. Obama is more likely to win, but only to the extent that a favorite is more likely to win the World Series or the Super Bowl or the Wimbledon final. What the election will settle, however, no one has any idea.
Barack Obama won a stunning victory four years ago because so many of us believed he might put the United States on a different path. He is in danger of losing now because he has not been able to do so. The stimulus moderated the recession somewhat, but it ran out some time ago. The bailouts saved, but did not revive or transform, the auto and financial industries. Income disparities are getting worse, not better, and the rich are paying the same low taxes they were paying then. Worse, the Democratic House Obama carried into office is gone. Obama, in sharp contrast to Harry Truman, has neither made attacks on the Republican Congress--the most irresponsible in history--a centerpiece of his campaign, nor even asked the American people to elect a Democratic one. In that as in so many other respects, he has followed in the footsteps of Bill Clinton, who never seemed to care, after 1994, whether he regained control of the Congress, and who in fact never did. It only just occurred to me, oddly, that Bill Clinton was in many ways the President that Barack Obama wanted to be, and it's not surprising that he appointed so many veterans of his Administration.
The United States was ripe for a great change in 2008, but only the Republican Party was committed to bringing it about, by cutting taxes, cutting back government,2 and increasing corporate power still further. Their only real setback on those fronts has been the health care law, which is not yet in effect. They have also single-mindedly focused on their possible return to power without regard to the welfare of the electorate. Of all the appalling, pathetic things we have heard in this campaign, nothing quite compares to Mitt Romney's complaints that Barack Obama has not been able to work with legislators on the other side of the aisle. This indeed is typical of Republicans, who have been eviscerating government and simultaneously complaining about its performance for years. Romney did work well with the Democratic Massachusetts legislature because they, as Democrats, believed in government and wanted to accomplish things. Ted Kennedy blessed Romneycare because he hoped--rightly as it turned out--that it might become a model for national legislation. Romney viewed it as his ticket to national prominence. Now he is committed to its repeal.
I thought, as I have said, that if Obama won handily and even changed the balance of power in Congress, the Republicans might have to rethink their attitude. Now that that possibility looks very unlikely, I'm afraid we have nothing to look forward to but more of the gridlock of the last two years--or worse. The Republicans in the House might well decide not to raise the debt ceiling sufficiently now--what have they got to lose? They surely will continue obstructing every Obama appointment that they can, and I wouldn't be surprised if they filibustered his next Supreme Court choice. There will be no chance of the campaign finance reform that is desperately needed. The new system is already, it would seem, self-sustaining.
And if Romney wins?
I saw about an hour last night of the Frontline episode tracing the two candidates' lives in parallel. The segment on Romney's tenure as Governor was enough to bring tears to my eyes. He was a genuine moderate Republican who, for whatever reason, worked for the public good. The possibility that he might rediscover his inner moderate can't be ruled out, but I can't believe in it. Romney as governor was appealing to his constituency. Now his constituency is the Republican Party, and so it shall remain. He could be Andrew Johnson in reverse, reaching across the aisle to make reasonable compromises on various issues, but I would be amazed if that happened. Grover Norquist has already defined his role as signing the legislation that the Tea Party house has already passed, and I wouldn't expect him to deviate from it. Today's Washington Post, meanwhile, reports that the Republicans have so effectively gerrymandered the districts of their new members in so many states that the Democrats have no chance of regaining the House, even though they need less than 30 seats to do so and they are leading, if I am not mistaken, in generic ballot polls for the House. There is no parallel to the take-no-prisoners style of Republican politics in the Karl Rove era in the rest of American history.
The Democrats at this point are far more certain of holding on to the Senate than Obama is of holding the White House, but a Democratic Senate would not, in my opinion, block very much of what Romney and a Republican House would do. It isn't in them. We live in a country of increasing corporate power, centered in the energy, health insurance, and financial sectors. The public faces a choice between a little regulation and none at all. The economy has deep long-term structural problems which no one has any idea how to address. The foreign scene is really quite amazingly quiet, nothing at all like the situation that was emerging four years into the Great Depression in 1932. There is no emerging Hitler, but sadly, there is no emerging FDR either. In the coming weeks I will try to say more about the nature of our new country and our new world, including both its strengths--which do exist--and its weaknesses.