Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Status quo

We can already hear people wondering why the country just spent SO much money, and SO much time, on an election that ended up changing very little in the composition of the government. I would agree to some extent on the too much money part. In the end, most of the millions each side spent on campaign commercials probably just canceled out the other side's advertising. I would also probably agree that the campaign season is too long, and we should think about ways to shorten it.

I don't agree at all that the election changed nothing, however. Sometimes the most revolutionary events in history represent a preservation of the status quo. Our own revolution could be thought of in that way, as an attempt to preserve the colonies' ability to govern themselves. The Civil War was also revolutionary, even though all it did was preserve the existing Union. Or as Lincoln put it, that war served the purpose of determining whether government of the people, by the people, and for the people, could long endure.

I'm not going to equate the re-election of Barack Obama to the American Revolution or the Civil War, but still, there are some similarities between this historic event and say, the re-election of Lincoln in 1864, a contest whose outcome was also considerably in doubt at times, and which (merely) determined whether the nation would continue on the path the president set. The election of 1864 decided, at a rather inconvenient time in the midst of war, that we should keep following Lincoln's course, and that election therefore sealed our fate. It seems doubtful we would even have a country today had we not done that.

In this election, we might not have been testing our survival as a nation, but we certainly were determining whether we want to preserve and strengthen social guarantees like health insurance for all, as well as other New Deal and Great Society programs that assist the poor and the elderly. We were certainly deciding whether we want to preserve and strengthen financial regulation that will make our economic system more fair. And we were certainly deciding whether we want to do something to reduce inequality, and enforce civil rights for women, minorities and gays.

I have less confidence in predicting this, but in the end, the most important effect of this election could even mean the difference between choosing war or peace. The Obama administration has put us on a path to reducing violence and conflict in the world, while the opposition seemed poised to increase military spending and assert a more belligerent posture. Hopefully, we have chosen to reduce conflict.

It was well worth spending a lot of time and money (maybe not as much as we spent, but a lot was still justified) making the decision to maintain our present course. Anyone who says it was all for nothing is expressing a kind of sour grapes; an attempt to deny the revolutionary effects of a powerful status quo outcome.

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