Quote of the Day: the Big Issue at Stake in the 2012 Election

Our political Quote of the Day comes from CNN’s John Avlon, who outlines what’s at stake when voters go to the polls tomorrow to choose between President Barack Obama and his Republican opponent former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney — and when voters elect a new Congress.

The bottom line, Avlon suggests, is that the vote will be a judgment on the trending towards hyperpartisanship — which I would actually call mega-partisanship. Will it be rewarded and encouraged to grow, or be seen as something that means detrimental political consequences?

But first, a bit about the emerging political context:

As of this writing, both sides are saying they’ll win, but a variety of polls yesterday largely showed an extremely close race with President Barack Obama edging ahead or tied nationally and holding slim but stubborn margins in key swing states. In recent weeks, partisans on both sides have begun to question the veracity of polls that showed their side behind — but never question polls when it shows their side ahead. This has been most notable on the Republican side where the New York Times’ Nate Silver has come under fierce attack for consistently indicating that his polling model shows Obama would win by a big electoral college margin.

One barometer of where the campaign is can be seen in the viewpoint of analysts who aren’t considered talk radio or ideological cable show political celebrities. And, yesterday, San Diego’s Samuel Popkin, one of the country’s most respected political scientists who penned a book that has become a new Bible for political junkies, weighed in on his Facebook page:

Writing a premortem of the election today. It would take me weeks to explain if Romney wins so why wait? I’m confident nobody at Fox will be attacking Nate Silver Wednesday. All serious analysts combining state and local polls have independently arrived at similar conclusions state by state.

So the conventional wisdom is starting to evolve that it’s more likely to be Obama than not. Why does it matter who wins? There are some issues that go beyond actual policy — issues that will help define what kind of country the United States will be as it hurtles further into the 21st century.

Avlon recounts the history of the past two years and the GOP’s position in dealing with Obama. He notes what I’ve also noted here often:

Too many conservative members of Congress took Rush Limbaugh’s 2009 anti-Obama admonition — “I hope he fails” — to heart. They argued that confrontation rather than cooperation with the new president was the best strategy. Thanks to Obama’s unwise overdelegation to congressional Democrats on the stimulus bill, their approach was validated, and so an economic recovery effort that was one-third tax cuts passed along stark partisan lines. A pattern was established.

Indeed, I’ve long contended that on many matters since Obama was elected if you listen to Limbaugh and his suggestions, you’d have a good idea of what would come next from the Republican leadership. I call this the “talk radio political culture” that has come to set the tone — and in some ways the agenda — of our politics.

And here’s independent voter Avlon’s Quote of the Day:

If Romney is elected president, Democrats will likely decide to follow the apparently successful path of the Republicans in recent years — play to the base with fear-mongering claims, demonize the new president from Day One, and obstruct his agenda in Congress.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, has already announced that he will not work with a President Romney, taking a page from his Republican counterpart, Mitch McConnell, who pledged that making President Obama a one-term president was his No. 1 priority. Republicans will complain, but they will have their own precedent to thank. The result will be all-but-guaranteed gridlock and division over the next four years.

The reason is clear: putting aside any issue of specific policies, a Romney win would mean that a political template has now been created that the Democrats will clone and later on Republicans will re-clone. This will be the way it works from now on in American politics. MORE:

If Obama is re-elected, it will send the message that all the hyperpartisan distortions, the intensely ideological congressional obstruction and the flood of dark money didn’t work.

Republicans will have to confront the fact that these extreme tactics backfired by alienating the moderate majority of Americans (and interestingly, Obama currently leads among moderate voters in key swing states like Ohio by nearly 20 points). This will alter the landscape of the next Congress and shift the incentives back toward working together on a more bipartisan basis. It might even help re-center the Republican Party going forward, something I would sincerely like to see because it would be good for our democracy.

America needs to break this fever of hyperpartisanship. The day after the election, we will have to start healing as a nation. Members of Congress will be confronted with a fiscal cliff and serious questions about how to deal with taxes, spending, the deficit and the debt. If they feel that extremism and obstruction have been punished by the voters, they will find a way to work together. If either party feels it has achieved an ideological mandate, it will be tempted to play chicken with the fiscal cliff.

The stakes are so high because they cut to the heart of the American experiment. We cannot continue to allow extreme partisan distortions to define our policy debates and paralyze our capacity for constructive self-government.

He goes on:

We need Washington to get the message that I’ve heard from swing voters so often on the CNN Battleground Bus Tour — stop fighting and start fixing. Find a way to work together, especially on our long-term economic problems. That means both parties agreeing to compromise on issues of taxes, spending and entitlement reform — a balanced bipartisan plan to deal with deficits and debt. It will require putting the national interest ahead of all partisan special interests — and we won’t be able to do that until this fever breaks.

But I’d take this further.

There’s a second big, subtext issue at play in Election 2012. I dealt with it partially here and here: it’s the issue of whether truth in political primaries and in campaigns matters at all any more or whether we are in a new era where truth is oh, so 20th century.

In his shifts during the primary campaign, his running away from his moderate positions held during his first two years as Governor of Massachusetts, his lightning move to the center during his debates with Obama, Romney has shown a truly breathtaking willingness to walk away from, try to talk his way out of, or deny his past positions. If Romney wins, he’ll be declared brilliant; if he loses, ham-handed.

The supreme irony is that this was supposed to be the year when conservatives insisted on and got a nominee would would proudly articulate conservative principles, run on them, and prove how Americans embraced them by being ushered into power by excited voters who took advantage of a REAL choice.

Instead, a stunningly new standard of truth as relative — as in a relative you deny exists, even though he most assuredly does — has been on display.

Rather than run as a proud conservative, once into debate season with Obama, Romney became either the stealth conservative (was he must talking more centrist?) or the moderate fleeing from what he had said he advocated for years and to Republican primary voters (was he just saying what he had to to get their votes?).

The New York Time’s Maureen Dowd bluntly writes:

Even some of Romney’s own campaign advisers confess they don’t really know who he is. Is he the pragmatist who would curb Grover Norquist, John Bolton and Dan Senor, or the severe conservative who would let them run wild? It’s sad when you are hoping someone is an opportunist and a liar.

The flimsiness of American political ideology and all of the noble sounding breast beating it entails became clear as it emerged over the past few weeks that most conservatives didn’t care about Romney steadfastly and proudly making the conservative case: they wanted above all for Romney to win. Articulate arschmickulate, as long as Romney can kick Obama out of the White House…

Americans have been accustomed to politicians fudging the truth for centuries. Sunday TV pundits often get that smug look on their face when they talk about a politician who fudged the truth or wiggles around on previous policy positions. It’s like, Oh, he’s a squirrly, little rascal, isn’t he?

But Romney’s hasn’t merely fudged the truth during his campaign: at times he seemingly opened a whole new chocolate factory…

The new bar set during the campaign is that truth seemingly doesn’t matter and no one can do anything about it: you can deny a position, even if you held it; you can run an ad about Jeeps jobs going to China, even if auto CEOs insist it’s not true and almost gleefully run it over and over. If the media complains: so what? If fact checkers say you’re wrong, who died and made THEM boss?

So if Romney wins yet another template will be set:

  • Republicans and Democrats know they will be able to discard past positions with no real consequences from the media or voters. If they run to the left or right during primaries they no longer have to nudge their way back to the center, they can just turn their past assertions off — CLICK! — like a light switch.
  • There will be no standards in political advertising at all because ads with patently, demonstrably false assertions can be run over and over and over.
  • The mainstream media and new media sites that do reporting and not just opinion will be effectively neutered in any watchdog capacity. If there are no consquences, where is their clout?
  • In discussing my post about the Jeep commercial, Mark Kleiman correctly notes that I view “lying as a moral issue, a character issue, not just a story about campaign tactics” and he points to “the connection Orwell drew between systematic mendacity and tyranny: ‘Freedom is the right to say that two plus two equals four.’”

    On the other hand, The Huffington Post’s Howard Fineman makes it clear that as a reporter there is no angel or devil in the Obama-Romney campaign story:

    The central, enduring image of the 2012 campaign took place on a “town hall” stage on Long Island, where the two men circled each other, stood toe-to-toe and talked over each other: two Harvard Law School graduates acting like WWF warm up acts.

    To give some sense of nobility to what was essentially a dirty ground war, the two men painted their clash as a matter of grand philosophy: between Jefferson (Romney) and Hamilton (Obama); between the free market and the idea of federal government.

    The truth is that both of them–and most voters–knew that the dispute was really more a matter of math: how to cut the federal pie. It has been a good ol’ American war over Who Gets What. And both sides know where this ultimately will end: on some kind of compromise over taxes, spending and entitlements to show the world that we’re plausibly committed to managing our finances.

    The president expressed willingness to do a $4 trillion, ten-year debt-reduction deal (with a ratio of $2.50 in spending cuts, including Medicare, to $1 in new tax revenue). Republicans couldn’t deliver, so Obama backed off. On the campaign trail, Romney joined the “severe conservatives” and refused to endorse even a $10-$1 deal. It was hardly a Profiles in Courage moment.

    Democrats doubt that a President Romney would try to change course, let alone take on the GOP Tea Party. But the man is devoted to spreadsheets, and knows the deal called America won’t “pencil,” as they say in his world, without new revenues.

    Meanwhile, he and the president spent the last, storm-tossed days of the 2012 campaign calling each other names in and around Ohio: something about Jeeps and who was telling the truth and where they are and will be made. (Answer: Not Romney.) It seemed a fitting finale for a presidential contest that never got off the ground.

    So there’s no angel or devil here, but the outcome will have consequences.

    Even without a confirmed angel or devil, the election results will determine whether in terms of hyperpartisanship and truth American democracy winds up in a 21st century purgatory.

    sign graphic via shutterstock.com

    12 Comments

    1. I think truth is toast. Unless America has a knowledge revolution, politicians will no longer ask how much they can stretch the truth. Instead, they will ask how big of a lie can they get away with. That is the trend I see.

      As for the partisanship…a Romney win will put the Senate into blockade mode. Romney will not be able to get anything past the Senate. If Obama wins, the TP controlled House will continue to block any tax hikes, pretty much killing our chances of coming to any agreement there.

      The TP has no interest what so ever in allowing a tax hike. They have been sent there to make sure that taxes and government are reduced.

      If Romney wins, the Dem controlled Senate will be looking for payback.

      It aint going to get easier folks.

    2. Shannon touched on the real problem: it’s the Congress. I don’t think we’ve seen a Congress this dysfunctional and worthless in generations, perhaps even before the civil war (when folks were caning each other on the floor of the Senate).

      Obama v. Romney is important, but with no discernable movemeny in the two Chambers, especially amongst its leadership, the country is still screwed.

    3. The results of this election will be so close that the winner will have no mandate and the Congressional tactics of blockade will continue. However, Washington will work out an answer to the fiscal cliff or kick it down the road.

    4. I not a big fan of the “mandate” theme. Winning is winning. If a majority of the states support you, then you automatically have a “mandate”. The winner always finds a way to claim that they have been giving a mandate and the loser finds a way to say they have not…and nothing gets done.

      I have only one hope…Obama cannot be re-elected and that may make moderate Republicans a little more apt to fight for compromise with the TP. Things can get done if the moderates are more worried about our country than they are in hurting Obama’s “legacy”.

      but again… I doubt it.

    5. Actually, I disagree with you guys. I think if Obama wins, even if he wins an electoral win and loses the popular vote, that it will invalidate the claim that big money can simply buy the election. The Republicans are betting virtually everything on that one supposition. If the voters deny Romney the White House, it will tell Boehner & Co. that they can not simply obstruct their way into causing a failed administration and get rewarded for it. That, in and of itself, won’t end partisanship, but it will embolden the moderates to come back with a fury and make the term “extreme” the pejorative, instead of the word “compromise”.

      That has already happened in Massachusetts. Scott Brown is running on the claim that he is the second-most bipartisan (non-partisan?) senator in congress.

    6. Rcoutme, GREAT point re: buying elections.

      Media outlets ought to get o their hands & knees and thank all the SuperPACs for saving their balance sheets this year.

    7. I disagree with your disagreement RC :)

      Republicans know one thing…Romney was a failed candidate that got lucky in the first debate. Had Obama shown up, this thing would have been over a long time ago. They do not believe that Romney is one of them and only rallied behind him because it looked like there was hope after the first debate. This campaign season has changed nothing. It may prove that a ton of money can’t put a terrible candidate in the WH, but Reps will have better candidates in the future.

      Another thing I have been feeling from Rep commentators is that they feel that the Rep nomination process was very very damning for the party in general. The next nomination process will be different and the winner will not come out wounded like Romney.

      I think 2016 will be nothing but a run up to a Bush/Christie ticket.

    8. ” But Romney hasn’t merely fudged the truth, he has seemingly opened a whole new chocolate factory” Great line, and very true!
      I agree with you Barky that the real problem is congress. I do not think you will ever convince” Boehner & Co.” of ANYTHING if Obama wins. ” They will continue to block every move Obama makes to guarantee a failed Democratic administration. The people be damned and the hell with the nation. This is how they thought before and I doubt their thinking will improve with Obama in charge once more. They HAVE to be certain Republicans reclaim ther White House in 2016, and to that end will be the most difficult people to work with since ..well since the Republicans of 2009.

    9. I think Boehner is actually reasonable. The problem is that the TP is effectively running the House. Boehner is just a figurehead, along with his lapdog Cantor.

    10. Hi Shannon. I thought Boehner was reasonable at one time too…until he went balistic on natl tv over Obama wanting to tax the wealthy. ( you remember..that PLEDGE they all signed) He acted like a spoiled child who didn’t get his way, not a man willing to compromise on anything. He has clout along with Cantor and can make Obamas life a living hell. But to be sure..the radical Tea party will not be cooperative.

    11. I think Boehner is frustrated by the TPers AND Obama (who I think is disingenuous), and likewise Obama is frustrated that his hopes and promises were unrealized (although they were unrealistic), did he really believe all that stuff. I think he really did, it’s called inexperience. Throw in congress and you have chaos.
      Not new, DC has fooled a lot of people and sobered the rest.

    12. It is quite possible SK, but I have a feeling that his majority leader position is a bit dependent on the TP.

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