Windmills: A Post-Mortem Post

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The analysis has all been done and everyone has assumed his or her corner, but something has made me wait till the hubbub died down a little to put my thoughts in writing (briefly) on the outcome of the recent election in the United States. My prediction in the matter proved to be wrong. Actually, it’s about as wrong as I’ve managed to be about anything, ever, at least in writing. (I even had to issue a correction on a related post about Bob Dylan! Unprecedented!)

I have to suppose that the big-time pundits, like Michael Barone, Dick Morris, et al, can just roll over the next morning and dive right back in, but not so for everyone. Personally, I found myself deeply disillusioned in the wake of November 6th. I could blame it on the faulty analysis from people like those previously mentioned, but that wouldn’t be honest. Sure: I bought into the idea that Democrats were being oversampled in the polls, and that the turnout models being used were flawed by being based overly-much on 2008. Yet, my reasons for expecting Barack Obama’s defeat in 2012 went much deeper than any Gallup poll or punditry. Last year, during the GOP primaries, I fully expected that any Republican nominee ought to be able to beat President Obama (barring a credible third-party candidacy). I misjudged the center of gravity of the American electorate. And that’s a serious thing indeed and not one that this writer—insignificant though he may be—can just shrug off. Why should I have any credibility in the future?

With hindsight, there are reasons for all of it, but they are of limited comfort. I don’t blame Mitt Romney personally for losing; subsequent to getting the nomination, he ran what was probably the best campaign someone named Mitt Romney could have run, reasonably speaking. Even though he wasn’t my guy in the primaries, I came around to respecting him and liking him to a significant extent, despite my admission in the week before the election that he still seemed somewhat “soulless” and “a cipher.” Election choices are relative, none more so than the U.S. presidential election when you have two candidates and the choice between the two will determine so many decisions for the nation over the next four years. However, I was mistaken (as were others, including Romney himself) in presuming that the entire Republican base had done the same internal calculus and simply “gotten over” their dissatisfaction with Mitt. In the end, what was wrong with Romney was what was wrong with him in the beginning: he didn’t bring the whole base with him, and they didn’t all come out to vote for him on November 6th. That Democratic turnout would be lower than 2008 was something we all assumed, and it was true (if not to quite the extent anticipated). That Republican turnout would be lower was mind-boggling.

Still, I can’t say that that explains the loss. Where was the center? What is the center? How could the results of the Obama presidency be embraced by the country to the extent of asking for four more years of the same thing? (And he promised nothing new.) That is what shook me. I think it’s fair to say that it has shaken a lot of people.

The day before the election, in a grand little essay expertly predicting the result (a decisive Romney victory), I took stock of how I would feel if I turned out be wrong, if Obama did actually win. I said that:

[…] I think I speak for more than a few of my fellows when I confess that a Barack Obama victory this time around would be a major blow to the psyche, and deeply depressing. In fact, it would make me seriously consider disengaging, even permanently, from political matters. It would be more than just getting an election prediction wrong. It would mean that I fundamentally don’t get what America is about in 2012, where the center of the electorate resides, and where it’s going. If, after everything that has occurred under Obama’s presidency, and the choice they’ve been given, the American people decisively plump for another four years of this, then … well, I’m not much for tilting at windmills. There are, Lord knows, many other ways of using one’s energies to try and affect one’s fellow human beings positively. Politics should be only a small aspect of the average person’s life. Tossing it aside altogether shouldn’t leave such a vacuum.

I didn’t predict the outcome correctly, but I did predict my feelings in the event of an Obama victory correctly. I’m not one for tilting at windmills, and for the next four years, Barack Obama is one gigantic windmill. And the endorsement of his presidency by the American people is another windmill, one which may or may not be permanent. At this point I have to say I honestly don’t know where that center of gravity of the American electorate is located any more.

Politics doesn’t end. President Obama has a Repubican House of Representatives to deal with, and can’t get a single piece of legislation passed without their approval (although he can continue to find ways of using agencies like the EPA to enact his agenda without any pesky votes). There will likely be some form of trench warfare for the duration of his presidency, and no one makes much progress in trench warfare; you just count your dead.

I will continue to do my duty as a citizen and vote for the sake of my heart and my conscience, but I do not anticipate devoting a lot of time to counting the dead over the next four years. I use the phrase “counting the dead” somewhat jokingly, but those of us who believe certain things also believe that there are real lives at stake in some of the decisions made inside the Beltway, and that is what makes politics more than a game, and what makes the result of this last election more than a little soul-destroying. It seems like a time to focus on more positive pastimes than politics, and, as a writer, to try and conjure more light than heat.

Is there anything else to say? Lots. But I think all of it and more is said for me by this mournful version of The Times They Are A-Changin’, from none other than Bob Dylan, at the White House, in 2010.