The presidential campaign will soon be over, at least for a few weeks between the last recounts and the beginning of 2016 fever.
Soon I will be able to watch a music video without first wading through Mitt Romney’s unguarded musings about the “47 percent” or Barack Obama’s dangling participles about who didn’t build what. But before I wave goodbye to these happy memories, I’d like to pay tribute to my least favorite talking points of the 2012 campaign.
1. If you criticize or fail to support Mitt Romney in any way, you are objectively supporting Barack Obama. Some version of this argument is trotted out in every election cycle. It is probably not even true of most right-leaning people who literally plan to vote against Romney by casting their ballots for a third party: in my experience, those truly open to voting for the Republican ultimately will unless he no longer stands a legitimate chance of being elected. Most others would vote third party or not vote no matter what.
I’d take the argument more seriously if it typically came from conservatives and libertarians who would hold Romney’s feet to the fire once he is safely elected. As my friend Phil Klein put it in his ebook Conservative Survival in the Romney Era:
In the coming months, those of us who criticize Romney from the right will be told we should save it until after November, or else we’re just helping Obama. When we do so after the election – should he win – we’ll be told he deserves a honeymoon period and needs to rack up a few accomplishments first before moving to items on the conservative agenda. Eventually, it will be that we can’t weaken him before the midterm elections, and then later, that we have to loudly support him, or else he’ll lose reelection to an even worse liberal boogeyman (or boogeywoman) in 2016.
2. The Republicans are uniquely obstructionist and cruel for openly wanting President Obama to “fail.” Now that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has admitted that he has no plans to cooperate with a hypothetical Romney agenda, can we put to rest the faux outrage over Mitch McConnell and John Boehner’s opposition to President Obama’s?
Liberal Democrats who have been duly elected in their own right should not be compelled to vote for policies they oppose, presumably because they think said policies are bad for the country. Neither should conservative Republicans. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your country is work for the failure of policies you believe to be harmful.
Do you think the Center for American Progress is going to be any more eager to help Romney pass his policy proposals—or even win reelection—than Rush Limbaugh was for Romney?
3. Everything used to be nice and bipartisan. Speaking of what Newt Gingrich might call “pious baloney,” if I hear another tale about the allegedly friendly relationship between Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill, I’m going to lose my government-subsidized lunch. O’Neill’s son, the former lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, at least put this paean to the supposed golden age of bipartisanship in a much needed context.
First of all, the overrated Reagan-O’Neill deal on Social Security did nothing to address the program’s long-term structural flaws. They did more than most pols to deal with the retirement program’s problems, to be sure, but in the end the can was still largely kicked down the road, to use today’s most popular metaphor about entitlements. Maybe that’s the best you can ever hope to do in politics, but let’s not romanticize it, shall we?
Bipartisanship is itself overrated, especially in domestic policy. Sure, some positive things were accomplished by the two major parties from the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to the Tax Reform Act of 1986. The era before the two parties sorted ideologically and when pure Americans for Democratic Action civil-rights activists thought nothing of belonging to the same party as real, live segregationists and Klansmen wasn’t totally without merit. But bipartisanship’s recent track record—the Iraq War, the Patriot Act, the repeal of Glass-Stegall, TARP, Sarbanes-Oxley, and other disasters too numerous to mention—isn’t so hot.
4. Obama is a post-colonial extremist, red diaper baby, critical race theorist, etc. This probably won’t go away if the president is reelected, but is there anything less interesting than the theorizing about why Obama governs as he does? Obama is a liberal, and a fairly banal one at that. Unlike Bill Clinton, he had no prior experience adjusting to an electoral rebuke from an electorate to his right. Like Reagan, he usually relies on his personality to project centrism.
Yet there remains a cottage industry of explanations for why a liberal president has compiled a record of generally liberal policy positions, something akin to a discovery process as to why a quarterback is so taken with throwing touchdown passes. Some of these theories are indirectly related to Obama’s status as the first black president (certainly the Kenyan birther business applies here).
Ironically, Obama would probably be even more secular and more alien from most conservatives without his African ancestry. Many of Obama’s positive experiences with religion, along with his understanding that Christianity can be a progressive social force, came from the black community. This led him to Reinhold Niebuhr as well as Jeremiah Wright. The exit polls tomorrow are likely to reveal that many of Obama’s white supporters don’t go to church very often, if ever. This is a trend that is accelerating.
5. Everything was better back when the Republican Party agreed with the Democratic Party. Yes, Republican politicians—including the 2012 presidential nominee—and some conservative policy wonks once supported the individual mandate. The GOP of the Ripon Society wasn’t that far removed from President Obama’s policy agenda.
Behind this conceit lurks the idea that the liberal project shouldn’t even have its current ineffectual opposition even though it is clear that large numbers of Americans are in fact opposed to some aspects of liberalism. So much for small-d democrats. Roughly half the country isn’t going to vote for Obama; they’re entitled to a political party too.
Notice this only works one way. The people who say the Republican Party should return to the halcyon days of John Lindsay never pine for the Democratic Party of Grover Cleveland. In more contemporary terms, Republican enthusiasm for the individual mandate gets less attention than Democrats who advocated the premium support model for Medicare.
This isn’t to say that some disputes aren’t the product of, or at least exaggerated by, rank partisan opportunism. But while taking these trips down GOP memory lane, it would be nice to acknowledge that what would make Republicans more popular in Lincoln, Massachusetts might not help them nationwide.
W. James Antle III is editor of the Daily Caller News Foundation and a contributing editor to The American Conservative. Follow him on Twitter.