Tuesday, November 6, 2012

And the Winner Is . . .

Sometime tonight, either early or late, we should know which candidate for President of the United States succeeded in amassing the most Electoral College votes. The media will declare him “the winner.” And most citizens will either joyfully or reluctantly agree.

But who is the winner in this election? Whichever man is declared the winner has a massive task before him; one that is complicated by unpredictable and almost completely intractable world situations and events, by almost certain domestic calamities beyond his power to prevent or control, by opposition from his past, present, or future political foes, by a public with a patience quotient of near zero, and by commitments made to wealthy donors and political factions that will tie his hands and force him to be inflexible. Who would seek to gain such a prize? Obviously, some do consider it a “prize” and seek it at a cost of millions and millions of dollars.

Only time will tell, or at least appear to tell, if the average citizen was the winner. A great deal of rhetoric has been generated in this election over the question of whether we are better off today than we were four years ago. Taken as a collective whole it seems hard to argue that we are not better off. The economy which was teetering on the edge of a financial abyss, is now improving monthly by most credible indicators.  But any individual, myself included, could make the case that they are not better off than they were four years ago. My retirement checks have been reduced each of the last four years and the projection is that reductions will continue for several years more even if the markets remain at or above their current level.

But “better off” is a rather amorphous phrase. Better off than what? Am I better off today than I would have been if the McCain/Palen ticket had won? It is impossible to know the answer to that. Am I better off today than I feared I might be when the financial world appeared to be collapsing around our heads? My answer is certainly, yes. Am I better off today than I would have been if there had been no government interventions;  if the “markets” had been allowed to “correct themselves”? Again, no one knows.

When the votes are totaled later today an almost equal number of “average citizens” will either feel that their situation in life is more secure, or will be fearful that things will go to ruin. Only time will tell whose fears (or optimism) is justified. But even time is not enough to “tell” conclusively. Historians and economists still argue over the benefits and harms wrought by the election of Franklin Roosevelt, in one case, or Ronald Reagan in another.

But there is another group of citizens who have invested heavily in this election. They will be assessing whether they have won or lost. That is the billionaires whose “generosity” has pushed political spending to its highest level in history. Their millions, given to create negative ads, have made media outlets clear financial winners in this election. Indeed, the media may be the biggest winners of all, at least for now. The benefactors who supplied the politicians with the funds to run their campaigns are hoping to be winners too. Some will be, no doubt. There were big spenders on both sides.

The only way the average citizen can hope to be a winner in this year’s contest is if the Billionaires are perceived to be losers; if they look at the millions they’ve squandered on twisted, lying, character-assassinating ads and conclude that it was money poorly spent. What are the chances of that happening? Miniscule to zero. Negative ads work, the political gurus tell us. They work in the sense that they suppress the vote. Seldom do they persuade someone to support a candidate different than their intuitive choice. They aren’t designed to do that. They are designed to convince voters that a candidate whom they previously thought was an honorable person is actually a devil parading as a saint.

It is a rather depressing conclusion that I come to; that there will be no clear winner in this election. Those who take pleasure in meaningless partisan victories (the Packers beat the Vikings; the Democrats beat the Republicans) will have a sense, if their side prevails, that they’ve won something. But those who are looking for real progress in solving the problems facing our nation and our communities will slowly arrive at the conclusion that not much has changed as a result of this election. The “haves” still have all that they had before; the “have nots” are still left wanting. The obstructionists will still obstruct, although they may be Democrats rather than Republicans this time around. The billionaires will recoup, in a mere few days, the 30, or 40, or 70 million dollars they threw on the gambling table. If their bet paid off, and their side won, they will add multiples of their original investment to their off-shore bank accounts.

But in the end, what will the nation have gained? And what price has it paid for those gains. What if a political party, or a billionaire, or a faction of voters, or a particular candidate, wins an election but loses its own soul? Or what would a man give in exchange for his soul?

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