Saturday, September 29, 2012

Lopsided outcomes, why the presidential race isn't the only thing that matters here

Yeah, I'm going to talk politics again.

So, here's the thing, who wins the presidency is damn important to the future of the US.  It's a major choice that will affect the future of this country in extreme ways.  But it's a choice that sort of goes one way.

Mitt Romney asked a question that deserves an answer, are you better off than you were four years ago?  Since the "you" in question was directed at everyone in America the question becomes "Are we better off than we were four years ago?"

The answer is, objectively, yes.  America is better off than it was four years ago.  Barring a major unforseen collapse in the coming months the end of Obama's first term will be better than the end of the second Bush's second term.  But that's not saying much.  Four years ago sucked.  Being better off than then is a low bar to meet.  So, yes, we're objectively better off, but we should be a whole lot better.

And that's the thing.  Or rather the reason for that is the thing.

With all of the focus on Obama and Romney there's a missing of the reason why we're better than we were four years ago but worse than we should be.

Make no mistake, the race between Obama and Romney matters a great deal. If Romney were to get into office and do what he says he'd do the result would be catastrophic.  It wouldn't be the end of the world or anything, but the vast majority of Americans would be fucked over and this country would be diminished and damaged.  The choice between Obama and Romney has the potential for massive down side.  But the problem is, it doesn't have much in the way of up side.

If Obama is reelected, and that's the only change that is made, then the next two years will be like the last two years.  Things will get better, but they're do it at a crawl.  The debt will keep on going up because any reasonable plans to stop that will be shot down.  The rich will keep on getting richer, everyone else will keep on getting poorer.

Because the President is important, but important isn't the same as everything.  Necessary is not the same as sufficient.

When Obama came into office change actually happened pretty fast.  Early policies were able to turn things around.  The stimulus had problems, not the least of which being too small by every objective measure, but it did help.

Things got better pretty quickly but they still sucked because they started off so badly.

With the stimulus out of the way, too small though it was, the president moved on to healthcare and that was a massive headache I don't want to relive but while I will always have criticisms of the plan for not doing enough, it did contain a lot of good things.

And toward the end of that, something happened.  Specifically someone died and was replaced by a member of the other party and the age of the filibuster began.  Everyone does it when they're out of power, Democrats and Republicans alike.  But no one ever did it quite so much as it's done now.  Once upon a time it was just something used to stop a matter from coming up for a vote.  It started being used on everything, even on whether to start talking about things in the first place.

It is not a coincidence that improvement slowed at this point in time.  There was also the matter of political hostage taking.  Such as the refusal to pay unemployment benefits unless the rich got to keep their tax cuts.

And with slowed progress we moved into the 2010 elections.  Which are something else I'd prefer not to relive.

Now the Republicans controlled the House, and they used that to do all sorts of odd things.  I note that they got there by campaigning against the largest tax cut for the middle class in US history.  Not that they called the stimulus that.  Anyway, when they got there they voted for things that they knew had no chance of passing the Senate.  Letting insurance companies deny people coverage due to preexisting conditions was one.  Ending Medicare in any recognizable form was another.

In these past two years the Republican Party made no secret of it's goals.  It's goals were not to help the people or honor their ideals or anything like that.  No, it had one goal, clearly stated by one of it's leaders, that being preventing the reelection of the president.  Any attempt to put America back to work was shot down, and so, while things improved under the president, they did it agonizingly slowly.

And that's been the last two years, real measurable objective improvement, agonizingly slow pace.  So if one sees the choice as simply between Obama and Romney then it's a choice between two more years of real measurable objective improvement at an agonizingly slow pace, or abject catastrophe.  Lots of downside if you make the wrong choice, little upside if you make the right one.  It doesn't seem fair.

But if one broadens the scope, if one cares about the down ticket races, then there is a chance of a brighter future.  Getting the right person as president is necessary but not sufficient.  What really needs to happen if we want things to improve at a decent pace is fixing fucking congress.

Divided government only works if both sides are willing to work together and we know from experience that that isn't the case here.  Which means that if one wants more than averting catastrophe, if one wants to have actual progress toward fixing things at a pace faster than a snail, what will be necessary is getting congress out of the hands of Republicans.  I hope like hell that's possible, but I have no idea if it's at all likely.


  1. What does it mean to be better off, anyway?

    I make less, my healthcare is worse, I work longer hours (like WHOA), I live in a hovel that has CARPET in the KITCHEN, I have to drive rather than walking/bussing, but I'm pursuing my dreams and having a blast. Approximately none of this is attributable to Obama. I am grateful that preventive care is supposed to become free, which might mean that I can see a doctor at some point in the next six years.

    Often, I think that stalling politicians is a good thing. Not always - but I sure wish that my representative had dragged his feet a bit more on a lot of Bush's policies. And it's not as though Obama hasn't done his own foot-dragging in some areas. But it is horrifying that the reasons behind the Republican stalling seem to boil down to the desire to screw over the other party, rather than, you know, actual policy concerns.