By Taylor Armerding
— I hope David McCullough is right. The Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, interviewed on "60 Minutes," said he was disappointed in the campaigns of both President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, but declared unshakeable confidence that the nation is much bigger and stronger than any president.
His view is that the U.S. will not only survive, it will prosper and remain the beacon to the world that it has been for more than two centuries.
I hope so. But I'm not nearly as confident as he is.
People said this election was a tipping point. I agree. And things are tipping in the wrong direction, perhaps irrevocably. Herewith a few sobering takeaways:
- The transformation of America: Obama's first term is littered with broken promises - unemployment below 5 percent, cutting the deficit in half, closing Guantanamo, repealing the Patriot Act - but he appears to have kept one: the "fundamental transformation" of America.
This is not so much about "makers and takers" as it is about freedom. Freedom comes with great rewards, but also risks. The president's message throughout his term and the campaign is that freedom is not worth the risks, because somebody might end up with more than somebody else.
The message is not that government should provide subsistence support for needy people as a necessary thing, but that dependence on government is a goal to be desired.
Why else would millions more on food stamps be something to celebrate? Why brag about "expanding the safety net" when we should be asking why it needs to be expanded? Why else would he say, "government is the one thing we all belong to," when our founding documents say the opposite - government belongs to the people?
Vice President Joe Biden, in his debate with Republican candidate Paul Ryan, talked at the end about how people "just want to know that it's going to be OK," and that the way they would know it will be OK is that government will be there to take care of them.
The president, in his closing argument, kept saying, "We've come too far. We can't go back now."
And the voters agreed. It was a thin margin of victory, but those who want government to take care of them - either directly or through public-sector unions - now outnumber those who don't, even if it means bankrupting the coming generations. They can't go back now. They're much too comfortable having the president "loot the future to bribe the present," as columnist Mark Steyn puts it.
- Identity politics: No, not the kind that slices the population into white, female, black, and Latino, etc. This is different. Conservatives are never going to be able to match the intensity of liberals in contests like this because they view government differently. For conservatives, government is an important job, but it's just a job. For liberals, it is an identity. Losing an election is a bit like an existential threat - losing who you are. No wonder Democrats have a much better "ground game."
- It's the media, stupid: James Carville's famous "It's the economy, stupid," needs an update. Obama won because the mainstream media, even though it is not as influential as it once was, still shapes the thinking of much of the nation.
No Republican president with majorities in both houses of Congress for the first two years could ever get away for more than six months with blaming failures on "the mess we inherited." He would be relentlessly mocked if he were still doing so three and four years later. He would never, ever, enjoy love fests from the ladies on "The View," David Letterman, and Jon Stewart.
No challenger would have had to bring up the disaster in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans including Ambassador Christopher Stevens were killed in a terrorist attack that the president and his people insisted for weeks was just a spontaneous demonstration against a movie trailer. The mainstream media would have blown a Republican president out of the water. Instead, they gave much more coverage to Romney's comment about "47 percent."
A Republican would have been laughed out of office if he claimed that 7.9 percent unemployment and not enough job creation to keep up with the expanding labor force meant things were going in the right direction.
When Bush was president, the Washington Post called 5.4 percent unemployment a "jobless recovery." That's pretty much all you need to know.
- Obstruction is good: We've heard, endlessly, that things would be fine in Washington if Republicans simply stopped being such obstructionists.
So it was interesting to hear Democrat John Kerry, senior senator from Massachusetts and former presidential candidate, stumping for Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren in the final days of the campaign.
He urged voters to help her defeat Republican Sen. Scott Brown so she could help push President Obama's agenda. And, if "God forbid," the president didn't win re-election, she would be desperately needed to help "block" Romney's agenda.
Got that? If a Republican were elected president, it would be the solemn duty of Democrats to block his agenda.
So, Republicans should proudly obstruct Obama, more vigorously than they did in his first term. John Kerry has given you permission.
- Taylor Armerding is an independent columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.