Something I think non-Americans must marvel at is the sheer length of the US presidential election. Today marks the end of a grueling two years (almost) of campaigning, debating, speechifying, demonizing, and obfuscating (if not sometimes outright lying) by a whole host of political characters. And some were real characters. (Herman Cain, where are you today?)
No doubt like many others, I feel exhausted just watching the election unfold over the past twenty months or so. I can’t imagine how exhausted Barack Obama and Mitt Romney must feel, here on the home stretch. I also honestly can’t imagine why they would want to put themselves through it all.
In the latest polls, Obama and Romney are running neck-and-neck (you can never overplay horse-race analogies when it comes to elections). They are both showing 49% support nationwide, though Obama seems to be ahead in the only state that really matters, Ohio.
This morning I watched as the first actual votes were counted on live TV in tiny Dixville Notch, New Hampshire – five votes each for Obama and Romney. For the overall results, I’ll have to wait until after the polls start closing at two A.M. Finnish time. I don’t expect to sleep a lot tonight.
To some it might seem that this election has been badly overhyped, portrayed as an epic battle to decide the very future of America. At least the campaigns are happy to put it into such stark terms. As a casual observer, I would have to say: yes and no. Or maybe.
It’s certainly the bitterest election of my lifetime. That’s a judgment call, of course. The 60s were a particularly politically divisive time, to be sure. But I was a kid then, and there was no talk radio and Internet to give a national forum to every “low information” citizen with a grievance, perceived or real, to pick at endlessly like a festering scab.
Since I don’t live in the States, and especially not in a swing state like Ohio or Colorado, I’m spared the onslaught of TV ads and robocalls flung at the voting public from both sides. Still, I’m feeling election fatigue just from all the political postings that fill my Facebook and Twitter feeds. To be fair, I’ve brought this on myself by choosing to follow certain tireless and prolific political sites. And I’ve posted my own share of unwanted and provocative status updates from time to time.
I’ve noticed that the political postings of many of my Georgia Facebook friends, who seem unanimously to support Romney, have slacked off in recent weeks. Maybe like me, they’re getting tired of it all. Or maybe they’ve become discouraged, as Romney has struggled to pull ahead of Obama. That’s my own spin, of course.
Or maybe they realize that since Romney will win Georgia anyway, and there’s no chance their postings will ever sway those elusive undecided voters in Ohio (the only voters who really count anyway), it’s pointless to publicly declare their strong disdain for Democrat Barack Obama. In Republican Georgia, that’s preaching to a choir that has long packed up and gone home.
It’s hard to ignore how poisonous the atmosphere has become. For example, a phone call a while back with someone in the States ended abruptly when our chat drifted to the rather staid topic of, wait for it, the Federal Reserve. Add “monetary policy” to the two topics that are traditionally too sensitive to be brought up in polite conversation – religion and politics.
Still, the atmosphere is surely nothing like that during the election of 1860, which resulted in half the United States deserting the other half, with the ensuing deaths of some 750,000 Americans. The US is not anywhere near that level of polarization, though some addled-minded blowhard somewhere is surely expecting another round of secession if Obama is reelected. I sure hope he doesn’t have access to guns (of course he has), or his own radio talk show (some have that, too).
Even many apparently sane conservatives are predicting dire consequents for the country if Obama wins. Obviously, I don’t agree. Likewise, some liberals see dark days ahead if Romney pulls out a victory. That’s based, of course, on Romney actually keeping half the promises he’s been forced to make trying to convince the Tea Party Republicans that he’s not, gasp, a moderate. There is still a chance that if he wins, he’ll ditch all that nonsense and govern like a reasonable person after all.
That’s the argument being made by David Frum in his recent endorsement of Mitt Romney. Frum, the George W. Bush speechwriter who so famously coined the phrase “Axis of Evil” in the propaganda campaign leading up to the US invasion of Iraq, is now considered a rare moderate voice in an increasingly extremist Republican Party. My, how times have changed.
One telling reason for Frum thinking Romney is the better choice is the fanaticism of his own party.
“The congressional Republicans have shown themselves a destructive and irrational force in American politics. But we won't reform the congressional GOP by re-electing President Obama. If anything, an Obama re-election will not only aggravate the extremism of the congressional GOP, but also empower them: an Obama re-election raises the odds in favor of big sixth-year sweep for the congressional GOP — and very possibly a seventh-year impeachment. A Romney election will at least discourage the congressional GOP from deliberately pushing the US into recession in 2013.” (Emphasis added.)
Wow. You could call this the “Mel Gibson ‘Lethal Weapon’” rationale, something like: “I’m way, way crazier than you are, dude, so you’d better do whatever the hell I say, or we’re both going down together.”
Call me old fashion, but given a choice, I always go with the least crazy bunch of folks. I only hope today that the good people of Ohio do the same.