Post Election Musings

Yidi Wu, Editor-in-Chief

This past Tuesday evening, I watched newscasters with intent expressions color in the United States state by state as polling stations closed and results were tallied. Around 11:00 PM EST, President Barack Obama won his second four-year term with 18 electoral votes from Ohio. I sat, half-edited college applications in hand, and wondered, What now?

Obama emphasized unity in his victory speech, echoing the one he gave in 2008 as he said, “We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America.”

Later in the speech he peacefully offered, “In the weeks ahead, I also look forward to sitting down with Governor Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward.”

This is a staggering contrast to the negative campaign he ran, attacking Mitt Romney on everything from his personal taxes to his wooden demeanor.

Did the election unequivocally choose one of two broad paths for the United States, or has it only solidified an ever-widening divide? One of the most discouraging parts of Obama’s past term was the sharply partisan atmosphere of Washington, D.C., and the gridlock that surrounded Capitol Hill.

The two candidates disagreed on almost everything: the size of government, abortion, gay marriage, immigration, healthcare reform – you name it, and the two were almost sure to either differ or try to make you think they differed.

Obama won by 332 electoral votes to Mitt Romney’s 206, but his margin in the popular vote was much narrower: 51% to Romney’s 48%. While Obama’s supporters breathed a sigh of relief and congratulated themselves on their role in saving the country from a man who strapped his dog onto the roof of his car and vowed to make conditions so difficult for illegal immigrants that they’d “self-deport,” a little under half of the people who had voted in this election were deeply disappointed.

It is unlikely that they shrugged off the loss and prepared to staunchly defend the decisions of their newly elected president. The House stays solidly Republican, and Obama will face the next four years with a hostile House to contend with.

What decisions would they have to stand behind? Most Harriton students who take Government and Politics are not surprised to learn that it is not the President who holds the strongest sway in shaping policy, but Congress, and that the Justices of the Supreme Court occasionally play spotlight roles as well, and furthermore have no need to campaign for reelection.

Yet Presidents often characterize an age – recall Kennedy’s Camelot, or the much more recent Clinton years (which were as comfortable as his semantic hair-splitting was not), and Nixon’s furrow-browed boundary blurring or the blunders of Bush the younger. They are, however, more than mascots; they make calls that leave marks in lives and textbooks.

One such immediate decision to be made comes up in the form of the “fiscal cliff.” It includes the expiration of the Bush tax cuts on December 31st, which would increase taxes for most Americans, as well as end the 2% reduction in payroll taxes and long-term unemployment benefits.

Additionally, budget cuts that take effect on January 1st would reduce spending by $55 billion in the defense budget and another $55 billion in domestic programs. If President Obama cannot lead the Democrats and Republicans to cooperate and renew the laws that few members of either party want to see passed, the effects on the economy are predicted to be disastrous. Think Hurricane Sandy meets the coast of New Jersey.

As I curl up on my couch with a mug of coffee and a plate of cookies next to me to keep me motivated late into the night, I pick up my dog-eared paperwork, and pause to think of how the confetti from the victory parties have probably already been swept up.

Yes, politics somehow becomes sexy every four years: bumper stickers are affixed to cars, banners pop up in yards, and young adults awakening to the prospect of civic duty make phone calls and excitedly discuss presidential debates – but that is only the first step. After the election is won, you have a country on your hands.