Now that the 2012 elections are in the books, President Barack Obama has earned another term in the White House with an impressive electoral victory of 332 electoral votes to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s 206. With President Obama’s victory, social media exploded with happiness amongst those who lean towards the Democratic Party while those who sympathize with the Republican Party reacted with bitterness and disappointment.
However, in the afterglow of the election, the expectations for the next four years baselessly swung to the extremes for both parties. Democrats began praising America for accepting the equality of all people regardless of sexuality, the acknowledgement amongst Americans that the rich should pay more, and extolling the basic promotion of freedom. Republicans once again retreated to their metaphorical bunkers – stockpiled with guns, ammunition, and canned goods – to shield themselves from the coming storm of socialism and demonization of those with wealth.
These hopes and fears are simply the product of euphoria and dejection caused by electoral victory or defeat which occurs every election. On the 7th of November, the day after the election, one of my professors asked our class what we thought of the result and what the next four years would produce. When a woman in my class raised her hand and said, to paraphrase, that now we could see the change and progress promised by President Obama in the 2008 election and that the scope of this change would be immense, my heart sank at her naivety.
Did this election result in a victory for homosexual rights? With Maine, Maryland, and Washington voting to approve of gay marriage and Minnesota voting not to ban it, of course it was a victory. But it is a fallacy to assume that such victories translate into actual nationwide gains. The American political system was engineered by our Founding Fathers to operate slowly and the system operates even slower with regards to social issues, as I have discussed in my personal blog. Social changes are often associated with generational differences, as typically each new generation has a more liberal view towards social issues. While the victory (and in Minnesota’s case, the defeat) of these ballot initiatives is a gain for gay marriage, strong Republican opposition will likely continue to stymie the progress of gay marriage recognition by the federal government.
The problem with looking at this election as an electoral landslide (which, should Florida fall Mr. Obama’s way, it could easily be considered) granting the president with a mandate for the social and economic policies and reforms sought by the Democratic Party is that such an outlook ignores the popular vote. By the New York Times count, Mr. Obama won a little over sixty million votes while Mr. Romney won about fifty-seven and a half million votes. The difference is a minuscule two and a half million people, just under the population of Chicago. Hardly enough to constitute a political mandate.
Regardless, the net result of this election is almost nothing. The Democratic Party now has fifty-three seats in the Senate, still below the sixty needed to defeat a filibuster, and the House remains virtually the same with just a few seats switching parties. Despite the high electoral margin of victory for Mr. Obama, Washington D.C. is virtually unchanged. Democratic bills proposed in Congress will still face Republican obstructionism and vice verse, because make no mistake, Democrats are just as committed to stopping Republican actions as Republicans are to stopping Democratic proposals.
The most meaningful impact of Mr. Obama’s reelection in the short-term is that the Affordable Care Act will not be repealed. This is hardly a gain, however, simply not a step backwards. In the long-term, the legacy of President Obama’s second term is likely to be on the make-up of the Supreme Court. With four justices over the age of 74, the president will likely make at least two new appointments. Justice Ruth Ginsburg has stated that she will retire during the next four years, ensuring that the President can replace her with another liberal justice. The other three septuagenarian justices are Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, and Stephen Breyer. Justice Breyer, as typically a liberal-leaning justice, could face pressure from the Democratic Party to retire in order to assure his seat is saved for another liberal justice. Justice Kennedy, often regarded as the swing vote on the Court, could go either way, as he has no ideological incentive to ensure that his seat gets taken by a liberal. Justice Scalia, a staunchly conservative justice, is likely to hold out on retiring for a Republican president.
However, regardless of the potential make-up of the Supreme Court, there is really no predicting what influence it will have on domestic policy. The Court has been unwilling to hear cases regarding gay marriage and equally unwilling to hear cases concerning the complete illegalization of abortion. This could very well remain the case even if President Obama appoints two new justices.
The economic realm will likely see no more transformative changes than the social realm. With the House still in Republican hands, we can expect similar drawn-out conflicts over budgeting and the debt limit. G.O.P. congressmen will continue to block any substantial tax reform which raises the rate paid by the highest income earners, Democratic congressmen will continue to push for the same capital gains and estate taxes they have sought for years, and both parties will shrink away from touching the deficit-fueling programs of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid while trimming the defense budget just enough to make imaginary claims of bipartisan debt reduction measures while in reality not making a dent.
Perhaps I will be wrong, although I personally doubt it. Should I be proven correct and we see a repeat of the previous four years, many will bemoan how the American system of government is broken. This claim is willfully ignorant of our own culpability in the problem. After all, should one pour sand into the gas tank of a car, can that individual blame the car for not running? Readers, if the next four years see little effectual change, don’t blame the constitutional arrangement of Washington D.C.; blame those citizens who continue to vote the same representatives and senators despite their compliance in the excessive stagnation of the American political system.