Barack Obama, the eighth best president in American history. The Great Conciliator
[Explanatory note: The Institute of Election Analysis was severely impacted by hurricane Sandy. Located at the New Jersey shore near areas that were totally destroyed, it lost internet, telephone, and television service for exactly three weeks. Hence, the delay in posting this analysis.]
Barack Obama was re-elected to a second term as president. His electoral vote margin of 336 is 62.22%. According to the Institute of Election Analysis ranking of Presidents according to the average number of electoral votes received in all elections in which the person received electoral votes (see Greatest Presidents for explanation of methodology) combined with his performance four years ago, Obama’s average is 65.03%, the eighth highest in history, just behind Woodrow Wilson. Obama is the eighth best president in American history. The next four years should be good ones.
Obama won on a lower turnout than in 2008. He won with 63,561,902 votes (50.72%) to Romney’s 59,684,096 (47.63%) with independents receiving another 2,067,271 (1.64%). Obama received more than 50% of the vote. Nevertheless, Obama’s total is 6 million fewer than he received four years ago, while Romney’s total is about the same as McCain’s.
In 2010, when the voters gave the House of Representatives to the Republicans, they were trying to force a coalition government to deal with the serious employment and debt problems facing the nation. The Republicans, specifically in the person of Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, misinterpreted and misused the mandate to be a call to do everything possible to defeat Barack Obama by denying him any accomplishments on which he could seek re-election, no matter how much damage was done to the country in order to accomplish that task. So, even though the bad economy was Obama’s biggest handicap, voters did not hold him responsible for a crisis created by Bush and exacerbated by a disloyal, excessively partisan, opposition.
Obama did have an impressive record in foreign policy. He ended America’s involvement in the war in Iraq, was winding down the war in Afghanistan, and eliminated Osama bin Laden. He passed health insurance reform, a goal that had eluded the Democrats for sixty years, although this issue was presented by the Republicans as a negative.
Obama’s one failing was the lackluster economy: high unemployment with exploding debt. This is what prevented Obama from winning in a landslide.
Obama faced a formidable phalanx of institutional opponents, specifically the Supreme Court in its decision to permit super Political Action Committees to spend and raise funds in political campaigns while permitting their contributors to remain anonymous. This was to punish Obama for opting out of, and basically destroying, the publicly financed campaign system in 2008.
Religious people, in general, except for the blacks, were against Obama. The Catholic Church was a staunch opponent, using a detail of its anti-abortion stance to denigrate Obama’s Health Insurance Reform program. The rabid Zionists, among both Jews and Christians, hated Obama for standing up to Israel.
Obama won and he was probably unbeatable. But Romney lost, too.
Elections Have Governmental Consequences
Why Romney Lost
The Republican candidates in the primaries that chose Obama’s opponent agreed on one thing - everyone hated Obama. So, why was Romney nominated? Romney was perceived as the candidate with business experience who could solve the economic crisis.
That Romney, a multi-millionaire businessman, was a weak candidate was obvious to anyone who paid attention to the 2010 mid-term elections. Two years earlier, other millionaire businesspeople: Carly Fiorina, the former president of Hewlett Packard; Meg Whitman, the founder of e-Bay; Linda McMahon, the CEO of World Wrestling Federation; and Tom Golisano, to name a few, all lost their bids for public office. Political history is littered with wealthy candidates who lost, although sometimes they succeed. During times of economic hardship, the wealthy are usually despised, not admired.
Frequently, people who want to pursue political office conclude that they need to make money first. Often the pursuit of wealth requires actions that are political liabilities. More significantly, rich people often decide that they are smarter than other people and therefore should be the decision-makers for society. In fact, most rich people are wealthy, not because they are smarter, but because they care about money more than most people.
Romney proved this in his post-mortem after the election when he attributed his loss to Obama “buying” support among the young and others with government benefits. People like Mitt, who have devoted their lives to the pursuit of wealth, have zero understanding of people for whom money is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Mitt would be surprised how few people would really like to be in his shoes, although that is something beyond his powers of comprehension.
Romney, however, lost the election in the four months between locking up the nomination and the Republican convention. At a time when he should have been laying out a detailed economic program for tackling the serious job and debt problems, he took the easy road of just bashing Obama. This raised money and prevented him from offending any of the right-wing Neanderthals who have been the bane of the Republican Party since World War II, but it cost him the election. It also prevented him from running on his own record. He should have taken credit for being ahead of the curve on healthcare when he was Governor of Massachusetts, instead of promising to repeal Obamacare. That would have disposed of the health care issue early and allowed the candidates and the nation to concentrate of hammering out an economic recovery program for whoever won the White House.
Obama said that all men spend their lives either seeking the approval of their fathers or compensating for their defects. Romney did both. Romney’s father, George, was Governor of Michigan and ran for president in 1968. He was famously in favor of the war in Vietnam, but then changed his mind during the primaries. (Note: Mitt did not serve in the military during Vietnam, but was a Mormon missionary in France.) When George, Mitt’s father, was asked why he changed his position, he claimed that he had been “brainwashed” by the briefings he had received on a tour of Vietnam. George Romney’s campaign imploded after this episode.
So, Mitt Romney wanted to be president to win his late father’s admiration and wanted to remedy his defects by winning the Republican nomination. Romney spent his whole life planning how to win the Republican nomination. Romney made the classic amateur error of thinking that in order to be president he had to first win the Republican nomination, without understanding that winning the nomination is just something that happens in the course of being elected president.
Obama’s Birth Certificate Issue
Whether Obama was eligible to be president was an issue that could not have been handled worse by Romney. Again, he took the easy way, climbing partially on board the birther bandwagon and reaping huge financial rewards as a result; but it cost him some of his credibility as a serious candidate with thoughtful voters.
One of Obama’s geniuses is that he knows when not to fight too hard in his own defense. The allegation that he was ineligible to be president because he was born in Kenya (a complete falsehood), or that he wasn’t eligible because his father was born in Kenya (a blatant misrepresentation of the law), made Romney look ridiculous. Romney actually met with Donald Trump after Trump trumpeted the allegations of ineligibility.
Obama could have irrefutably quashed these allegations at any time: first, by revealing, with State Department documentation, the his mother obtained her first passport in 1966, when Obama was five. Also, Obama’s mother’s name was Stanley Ann Dunham (Obama). A gynecologist at the Honolulu Hospital was interviewed by the writer daughter of a friend from Buffalo during the week after Barack was born. She asked him if anything notable had happened that week, to which the doctor replied, “Stanley had a baby.” This quip made the rounds of the hospital staff that week. So, in a peculiar way, Obama’s birth was widely noted in Hawaii, beyond the mere newspaper announcement.
So, at any point, Obama could have definitively stopped the birther movement. That he chose not to shows that Obama understands the value of false accusations, especially ones that are refutable but border on the ridiculous. He understood that the birther movement made him look good and created a lot of sympathy for him with non-partisan voters.
Romney, whose own father’s eligibility to be president had been challenged in 1968 because he had been born in Mexico, should have led the charge against the allegations that Obama was ineligible to be president. Instead, while he said the president was eligible, he was also conspicuous in courting the support of the birther movement’s financial contributions.
Romney Blows the Convention
Now that nominees are chosen by the electorate, the political conventions are almost a relic of the past. The only real draw for the general population is the question of who will be the Vice-Presidential nominee. Keeping the choice secret at least gets people to pay attention to the convention and gets them to tune in once or twice, watch a speech or two, pay a little attention to the platform, focus in on the controversies and listen to the speculation about the candidate’s choice for Number Two.
Romney, fearing a floor fight at the convention, capitulated early and chose Congressman Paul Ryan, a complete unknown outside the beltway and Tea Party, three weeks before the convention. Now, there was really no reason to watch the Republican convention and few did.
Romney’s Defective Strategy
Romney’s strategy was to focus on the economy, but without giving any specifics about his program. In fact, he was nominated to help the country hammer out a job creation and debt reduction strategy. Leaving out the details was a fatal error. Even losing candidates have a governmental function. Even without the details, it was the bad economy that kept him competitive.
But here’s the dirty little secret about presidential races, they are about foreign policy. Romney thought he was doing a great job by preventing the discussion of anything but the economy. During the third debate specifically, that was supposed to be about foreign policy, some bimbo spin-meister from the Republican side said that Romney “won” the debate because he succeeded in doing what he set out to do, which was to turn the debate back to the economy and away from foreign policy.
However, it is easy to prove that presidential elections turn on foreign policy. There is only one commander-in-chief. Romney was running on a war platform, just like Bush II. He accused Obama of “throwing Israel under the bus”, promised to send the seventh fleet into the Persian Gulf, called for regime change in Iran and for arresting Iranian President Ahmadinejad. A vote for Romney was a vote for war. And just like Bush II, he lost; except by a big enough margin that the election could not be stolen. And that’s another reason Romney lost. Why would the voters support a foreign policy that they had already rejected, but was rammed down their throats with catastrophic consequences? Republicans face a serious structural problem; all its candidates have to pretend Bush really won in 2000.
Romney needed to use the third debate on foreign policy to show the nation he was not a nut job. However, with certifiably insane advisors like John Bolton, maybe that was not possible. Anyway, claiming victory in the debate because he avoided discussing foreign policy may have been a tactical victory, but it was a strategic defeat. Voters are entitled to, and demand to, know the foreign policy positions of the one person who can launch nuclear war, possibly destroying life on earth, and send soldiers to their deaths. Barry Goldwater’s statement to allow generals in the field decide whether or not to use nuclear weapons doomed his campaign.
Romney’s strategy was equally defective on domestic issues. He was like a car salesman whose five point program for the economy was like the selling points of a car. The only problem with his presentation was that there was no sticker price. Romney was running a religious, not a political campaign. Voters were asked to believe in Romney. Here are the five principles on which he will base the economic recovery. How much it is going to cost and who is going to pay, that’s a mystery.
With Obama, on the other hand, the voters got sticker shock before the election. As the campaign progressed, it became obvious to all but the most self-deluded that in order to cut the deficit, taxes were going to rise. Both Obama and Romney ran on platforms that included raising taxes; the difference was that while Obama was explicit about which taxes he would raise and by how much, Romney left voters guessing about the cost and the impact on their own pocketbooks.
The Race Issue
The South used to be solidly Democratic, but beginning with Eisenhower in 1952, with a big boost from Barry Goldwater’s opposition to Civil Rights in 1964, and on to Richard Nixon’s southern strategy in 1968, the south has gradually become solidly Republican, carrying the racist baggage that came with it. The Republican refusal to cooperate with Obama for the past two years in order to deny him a successful record on which to seek re-election was a disgraceful misuse of public power. That, combined with the deliberate voter identification policies to make voting difficult for the poor and young, to make long lines at polling places, put voters in a position of being asked to endorse undemocratic tactics in addition to damaging the country for political purposes. This was a program designed to appeal to people who hate blacks and basically do not believe in democracy.
A lot of the visceral hatred of Obama is simply because of his color. Because Obama is the first black president, his issue positions that enraged some voters were respectable cover for their prejudice. Romney never understood this. Just as Obama could do just about anything and still retain overwhelming favor among black voters, Romney could have and should have backpedaled on many of the absurd positions he took during the primaries because millions of voters were going to support him regardless of his positions on issues. Romney was never able to tack to the center. Maybe he did not want to.
Hurricane Sandy - The Icing on the Cake and a Personal note
The last two weeks of the campaign, the most important in any contest, were dominated, not by the presidential race but by Hurricane Sandy that walloped the mid-Atlantic and New England states. Hurricane Sandy was dangerous, not for its winds nor rains, but because of its timing and strength. At 946 millibars, Sandy had the lowest barometric pressure on record this far north. It was timed to make landfall at high tide on a full moon. For days in advance, the National Hurricane Center warned residents of New Jersey and New York, especially those living in low lying areas, to take precautions.
As the storm approached, Obama went on television and said that he had spoken to the Governors and Mayors and promised all necessary help. Romney’s response was “They’re in our prayers.” Thanks, Mitt. The storm forced both candidates to rearrange their schedules and even stop campaigning. After the storm hit, and the extent of the devastation became evident, Obama came to New Jersey to examine the damage first hand with Governor Christie at his side. Romney never bothered to show up.
For a candidate who called it “immoral” to borrow money from China to pay for domestic programs, the voters have a right to know if he considers it immoral to borrow money from China to assist in the reconstruction of an area devastated by a natural disaster. Romney made it clear, under a Republican administration, people would be on their own, no matter what the circumstances.
Had Romney won, it would have been another Bush sized disaster. Not just a war with Iran, but domestic collapse. Being president is not the same thing as being the CEO of a company. A company can go bankrupt or go out of business. Hopefully, the United States will never suffer that fate.
It was a very bottom line position for Romney to call for the abolition of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In theory, it sounds great to say, “Let the states make the decisions, they are on the scene.” But after living through Hurricane Sandy, not exactly at ground zero, but mid-way between Highlands, New Jersey, where there was 8 feet of water on the Main Street which destroyed about half the buildings in town, and Belford and Leonardo where there were buildings floating down the street (and this was on Sandy Hook Bay, not even the ocean), I can tell you that Romney’s position was not just wrong, it was absurd.
Two days after the storm, I stood in line for three hours to buy five gallons of gas for our emergency generator. The 8 ½ months pregnant woman who stood in line behind me, waited to buy 2 ½ gallons to put in her truck so she could get to the hospital if she went into labor (and when she got to the front of the line, there was an issue about whether she had enough money.) If you had asked anyone in that line what was the most important thing, they would have all said, get us our power back.
But, in fact, the most important task was getting the New York Stock Market, one of the major engines of the world economy, up and running after its first two day weather related closure in more than a century.
Two days after the storm, my wife and I looked out our window at New York Harbor and saw two, huge Navy vessels riding at anchor. We figured the government had picked up some chatter about some terrorist group that was going to try and take advantage of the weather induced chaos to strike a blow. But as we slowly recovered, the ships remained. Finally, it occurred to us that some of the coastal defense related electronic systems, radars and whatnot, (our house had been seized by the federal government during World War II to turn into a lab for the development of ship borne radar) had certainly become damaged by the surge and the Navy vessels were on station providing emergency radar coverage to the New York metropolitan area. After a little more than two weeks, they left.
If New Jersey and New York had been left to deal with the effects of Hurricane Sandy on their own, they probably never would recover. Anyone who has ever experienced a real natural disaster understands the depth of the destruction and the impossibility of self-recovery. It is really like war. Everyone suffered. Some much, much, more than others. But it was everyone. Your furnace doesn’t start? The oil company’s offices have been flooded. They are in worse shape than you. It is like the Russian matryoshka dolls, whereby trying to solve a problem just reveals another problem, possibly worse than the one you’re trying to solve.
After Hurricane Sandy had passed, friends and acquaintances from all over the country and the world contacted us to see if we were ok. We were. Now everyone who does not live here thinks the storm is over. For us, it is not the end, it is only the beginning. Recovery really means reconstruction.
The Polls and the Media
So, Romney lost. And he deserved to lose. He was behind in the polls throughout the entire campaign, with the exception of a brief bump after the convention and first debate. The Gallup poll was wrong, having Romney ahead by six points in the last weeks, and by one on the night before the election.
The exit polls of early voters showed Obama in the lead. Absentee ballot applications are a perfect predictor of turnout. If Obama was ahead with the early voters, then there would have to be a Romney landslide in the election day voters to win the state. The billions of dollars sloshing around the media are compromising the integrity of the political analysis, and this has potentially serious consequences for governance.
The voters did a great job separating the wheat from the chaff. They had a great leader who won an important victory. It was a watershed election in American history for many reasons. It was not so much Republican versus Democrat, but rather religion versus reason.