Commentary

Why This Election Matters

This election does matter. Here are my six reasons why, in order of increasing importance:

Healthcare: We know with certainty that Obamacare will not be repealed under Obama, nor will it be implemented under Romney. That’s a difference of more than 1 in 10 people with or without insurance. That’s a difference of guaranteed inclusion on your parents’ health insurance when you leave college. That’s a difference of access to health insurance when you have a preexisting condition. This matters.

Financial Regulation: The Great Recession we’ve been facing was avoidable. It was the natural result of a financial market that had learned to outmaneuver public oversight. Dodd-Frank is a first step to restoring financial regulation, but it needs to be fully implemented. Republicans in Congress have fought this implementation tooth-and-nail, and they threaten to eviscerate the law if they win the presidency. This matters.

The Supreme Court: The next presidential term will probably see two new Supreme Court justices, and I’d guess those are the successors to Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anthony Kennedy. That’s a difference between a court split four-to-five, and one split six-to-three. Of the forty five people who have served on the Court in the last seventy five years, only four others have been as conservative as Thomas, Scalia, Alito and Roberts. For comparison, sixteen have been as liberal or more than Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan. We don’t need two more ultra-conservatives. That will have profound impacts on the capacities of the government, affirmative action, abortion, campaign finance reform, gun control, and whatever other issues arise in the coming decades. This matters.

Super PACs: The Citizens United decision blew apart our campaign finance laws, and this election is being reshaped by new excesses. Super PACs have raised over $189 million dollars – that’s roughly one-seventh of all campaign spending – and 77% of it is in support of Republicans. Just ten individuals have contributed more to the Republicans than all of the Democratic Super PACs combined. This is not a fair fight, but the real losers are all of the rest of us voters. If we do not repudiate those ten donors and all the rest of the Super PACs now, they will only learn to drown out our voices more and more in the elections to come. This matters.

Gridlock: The Democrats had sufficient majorities in Congress for only six months in 2009-2010 between Al Franken’s delayed election and Ted Kennedy’s replacement. For the other thirty-nine months of the President’s term, Republicans were able to block appointees, filibuster bills, hound Federal agencies, and agitate for the repeal of Obamacare. They killed the Dream Act and the American Clean Energy and Security Act. They took us to the brink of a government shutdown and a default on the debt. Throughout it all, their stated objective was to make Obama a one-term president by denying him accomplishments. All according to plan, Romney now hammers the president as a weak leader. If voters fail to repudiate this shameless strategy up and down the ballot, every Congressional minority from here on will act the same. This is the primary cause of our civic dysfunction, and we must end it. This matters.

Credit for the Recovery: Assuming that we get past the fiscal cliff this winter and that Europe avoids further destabilization, the foundation for economic recovery that Obama’s policies have laid will succeed. To be sure, the Republican fervor for austerity could weaken the recovery – but at some point in the next four years, the Great Recession will become history. This election will determine how that history is written. It could say that full recovery was not realized until the poor were kicked out of their safety hammock, liberating an elite class of Randian job creators. Or, it could say that the economic recovery was the result of bold investment in the future and steady support for the people of the middle class who were staggered by forces outside their control. That’s a difference between reinforcing and redefining the American Dream. This matters.

There are a lot of other issues in play this election, including the posture of war towards Iran, the fairness of the tax code, and our national energy policy. There are also a lot of other issues I wish were getting more play, especially climate change and civil liberties. But the bottom line is that you don’t have to believe that one party is all good and the other all evil in order to realize that this election matters a great deal. More than most. So, vote. Research the candidates and donate to your favorites. Go canvass in a swing state. This matters.

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8 thoughts on “Why This Election Matters

  1. Do you really think that this election will have any tangible effect on gridlock? I’m of the opinion that institutional changes — not just electoral changes — are required to really start alleviating ‘gridlock.’

    • Adam: I agree that institutional changes would be most welcome (and I plan to write about this more). But I don’t think that the electoral remedy is entirely ineffective — and in this case, since the obstruction strategy was explicitly predicated on being rewarded in this election, it could be exactly what is needed.

      I’d love to hear more about what institutional changes you favor!

  2. The election will make a difference on Obamacare, but not as much as you think. If Romney tries to repeal, Dems will frustrate the effort. The “financial regulation” that was put into place after the 2008 is full of Swiss cheese and a joke. We are headed for our next train wreck no matter who is in power. Romney would not nominate a truly conservative SC justice because at heart he’s a left leaning Republican. Besides, it was the SC that brought us Super Pacs due to their idiotic “money is free speech” decision. So look for zero change in the money in politics no matter who is elected. Gridlock will not change unless one party owns everything and that won’t happen (of course look at California and its fiscal mess for when the Dems control everything. That should work well). Don’t worry about credit for the recovery because the only recovery we are in is based in Bernanke flooding me system with printed cash and as we’ve seen in so many past bubbles, that works for a while, then it doesn’t anymore and what is left is worse than before. Heck, if I were a Dem I would WANT Romney to get elected because the next 4 years are going to be so bad.

    • Thanks for reading, murfmonkey. I guess I’m just a little more optimistic about our chances. I do disagree with a few of the things you said, but let me just respond to your larger point, which seems to be that elections can’t influence the course of events in a major way. Do you feel that way generally, or just for this election in particular? Do you think we would be in the same place now had McCain won? Looking back at the last term, I think it’s clear that health care reform at least would not have happened without the Democratic victories of 2008, right?

  3. Pingback: Obama’s Off-the-Record Interview | PolityMaking

  4. Hey Trevor – first, thanks for commenting on my recent post. You asked for my thoughts on this post… Hope you like what you see!
    Healthcare: No, I’ve not read the entire 900+ page book. I’m sure many have, but they have degrees and letters following their name that I do not. However, I’m quite sure that, while it will include people that don’t have insurance now, it will be like every other federally mandated program: a complete money-feast for providers. They are champing at the bit for this to begin, while all of my doctors say that we should be prepared for much worse care. I’m skeptical of the benefits of this program and know, first-hand, about the ‘free’ healthcare offered in the UK (where many still end up purchasing private insurance while paying the taxes for the ‘free’ insurance) and the stories I heard were not good.

    Since the repeal of Glass-Segall, the banks have gone hog wild. And why not? After all, you go to the best college, then work at GS, then become a ranking member of the government banking institution (whether at the Fed or within the government itself) so you can manipulate any legislation, then you go back to banking to take advantage of what you’ve done and retire rich. No? Doesn’t matter what the administration is, that’s the basics of how the financial sector is run. The mass creation of ‘wealth’ with zero intrinsic value is the reason we (the entire world, with the possible exception of a few countries that did not or could not participate in the mass run up) are in the position we’re in. First the banks merged with the investment banks, then co-mingled the money, then created securities that were actually debt, but somehow recreated as equities, then broke them apart, recombined the best of each with the worst of the rest and paid off the ratings companies (which are now publicly traded – how’s that for impartial?) to get AAA ratings so the safest of investments, like 401k’s and other retirement plans could invest in them, then they created ‘hedges’ by issuing CDO’s and the associated derivatives – all on the hidden market, with no regulation. One $100k mortgage – which is a DEBT, not an ASSET, became millions in associated securities.

    No matter what the regulations, since the banks (and every other special interest) are allowed to finance campaigns and put out (thanks to the SCOTUS ruling) ‘advertisements’ without disclosing the source of the funding, combined with the idea that somehow corporations are ‘persons’ with rights (and no responsibilities), there is little hope that the next bubble can be avoided. This one may well end up destroying the system we’ve created – if it hasn’t already. Trillions in investments – gone. Trillions in debt – financed by taxpayers who now pay that debt with taxes and receive ‘austerity’ in return. Yes, because we leveraged ourselves hundreds to one and had little to no cash reserves.

    Whoo. Sorry.

    I’ll be back for the rest – this a good enough start?

    • Thanks for the thoughtful response, prophet.

      Yes, it’s an open question about how efficiently the health care exchanges can be established. But, I know several people who have already materially benefited from the provisions of the law, and I’m optimistic. My main point, though, was that the two parties offered a meaningfully different path in this area. If Republicans had won, even this first step towards a fairer, more cost effective health care system would have been reversed and stigmatized.

      I agree with your assessment of the financial crisis, and also sometimes despair of the political power of moneyed interests. But in this election, Wall Street sided big with Romney. If the people remain indifferent between the two parties, even when one party attempts to regulate Wall Street and the other is financed by it, then we have no chance. The regulations so far may be insufficient, but Republican victories would have rendered Dodd-Frank a dead-end, rather than a first step.

      All I was trying to say is that even when we face so many issues whose solution seems politically impossible, even when both parties are full of problems, and even when special interests can shout louder than we can, our steady participation still matters. I think that’s probably something we agree on, else why would we bother writing like this?

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