There is a lot to be learned from history.
And with the 2012 U.S. Presidential elections now in our past, I believe the campaigns have taught us a few new things that hopefully the new President and Congress can take to heart.
1. The American people don’t want finger-pointing and blame — they want bi-partisanship.
Nobody likes a government that is so polarized that it can’t agree on anything. Even during the Reagan (with Democrats having a majority in Congress during some of that time) and Clinton years (with Republicans having a majority in Congress during some of that time) things got done.
A Congress that can’t get things done demonstrates a significant lack of leadership and a spirit of good government among both parties in Congress. The people have spoken — they want that leadership and compromise moving forward.
Which is bad news for über-lobbyists like Grover Norquist, who arm-twisted Republicans to sign a pledge never to raise taxes — perhaps a good idea in an ideal world. But we don’t live in some ideal world.
2. Don’t repeatedly tell bald-faced lies on the campaign trail.
While both Presidential candidates were guilty of this, Romney’s lies demonstrated a new lack of subtlety and a seeming lack of moral fiber and character.
Whether it was his magical plan to reduce the deficit (with few details), his back-pedaling on universal healthcare (fine for Massachusetts when he was governor, but suddenly not fine when his opponent passed it on a national level), his false claims about bipartisanship while leading Massachusetts (not really true), or his assertion that Jeep was going to move all of its manufacturing to China (something he never even acknowledged was wrong, even when Jeep parent Chrysler told him it was a lie), Romney just couldn’t seem to keep from telling whoppers time and time again.
The American people are not stupid. Lie to us so often and about so many different things, and they catch on — Romney is a wishy-washy politician who will basically say anything to get elected.
3. Money can’t buy an election.
With well over $2 billion spent on the U.S. Presidential election alone, you can’t help but wonder where it all went. Any citizen could learn all they needed for free by spending a few hours researching on the Internet — each candidate’s positions, as well as a wealth of independent reporting that analyzed those positions and their basis in reality.
If a 30-second blurb on TV can influence your voting decision versus reasoned analysis and careful consideration of both candidates’ positions and platforms, then you are probably not someone who should be voting in the first place. And with so many Americans who just vote along party lines, it makes the sheer amount of advertising spending all the more ludicrous.
4. Your vote doesn’t matter (as much as you think for national elections).
Sadly, for all the “get out the vote” efforts we see in every election cycle, your vote probably doesn’t matter in the Presidential election. Because of the continued use of the arcane Electoral College, most states’ outcomes were already decided by the polls and their historical voting patterns. Unless you live in one of the ten states that actually do matter in most national elections — Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, Virginia, New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado, North Carolina or Nevada — you might as well have not voted.
Even when voters do cast their legitimate votes, we see an election can still be decided not by the people, but instead by the Supreme Court. In the 2000 Presidential election, the majority of voters voted for Al Gore. Yet he lost the election because he did not have the Electoral College votes.
And as the Supreme Court noted in its decision, you may think your vote counted — but it sometimes doesn’t register properly: “Nationwide statistics reveal that an estimated 2% of ballots cast do not register a vote for President for whatever reason, including deliberately choosing no candidate at all or some voter error, such as voting for two candidates or insufficiently marking a ballot.”
To understand more about why your vote doesn’t count as much as you think it does, I suggest this excellent article from Reason magazine.