After The Election
If trends continue in half a week's time there will be a president elect Romney. And then for the first time national attention will focus on what to do next. Up until now the problem on which many voters has focused has simply been: Obama or not Obama.
Whatever else he may have failed to accomplish the president succeeded in making himself the boundary of national life; in making himself the universal constraint, the question upon which all subsequent questions were contingent.
To most of those who will vote for Romney the question became how to elect anyone but Obama. This necessity forced the most unlikely combinations into the same political foxhole: libertarians, cultural conservatives, poor blacks desperate for a job, latinos tired of running from Mexico and having Mexico catch up with them. It even brought the odd radical pacifist into the mix.
But the probability is that by Wednesday Obama will be gone. And the fellowship will break with him. Yet his political ghost hover over the scene for time to come. His defeat, if it happens, will be by the margin of 52-48 or at worst 54-46. In basic terms, the Obama agenda will have only just lost; by the margins of history, a near-run thing.
Mitt Romney will inherit a nation divided and at war. At war not just with itself, but with an unacknowledged and newly resurgent foe, the radical Islamism poised to control large swathes of North Africa and the Middle East. From the Obama and predecessors before him, Wednesday will dawn on a bankrupt and debt-riddled America whose economy, founded on artificial pricing, concessions and entitlement cannot continue on that basis for much longer. It will emerge with a financial industry in a monopoly position -- and gorging itself to death with that power. Wednesday will come with unions still relying on pensions that won't be there. Phantom money that an aging population will be expecting from a younger generation that cannot or will not provide it.
All America will have when the smoke clears is a mere mortal of a president, perhaps of middling ability as historical figures go. An average politician coming upon an extraordinary time. How can he stem the tide? The probable answer is that he cannot.
Only America can if its spirit has not been mortally wounded in the years since 1968. And maybe even America collectively cannot. For there are some situations from which no escape is possible, which are truly hopeless. For reasons that God -- the God of Nature, or the God of History or Kismet if you prefer -- only knows, the situation may be constrained. There may be no way back and only a finite number of alternative futures realistically available to those who come upon the scene.
But since nobody knows what that will be, the only hope is that Romney, like many a bit character in the movies, can saw off the ropes that bind the half-conscious America; find the bucket of water in the corner and splash it on her face even while the heavy and ominous steps of the approaching monsters resound in the hallway outside. The difference is that unlike a movie there is no audience. We are the audience and we are in the movie too.
A few things are probably going to be true about the next scene. Providing she awakes to the bucket of water, America will spend most of the next reel on the defensive. Her injuries are too extensive to be shaken off in a moment. Even cinematic recoveries take a few minutes. And there are other characters to be freed.
So the first year of a Romney administration will be extraordinarily important, not for what he does, but what he attempts not to do. A President, contrary to popular myth, cannot do everything. He has a finite and non-renewable amount of power. Think of him as a man with a revolver holding only four bullets facing five men; or a kid with five dollars in history's candy store. What does each choose in the next minutes?
About all that can be done is make a start. Europe is in the next castle room with her face actually in the bucket of water and bound to boot. Is she still alive? Miss Nippon has apparently lost her mind and is absently writing a haiku in blood off to the side. And down in the basement, people are setting fire to the whole castle, beginning with the exits, with Miss China selling them the firewood at a handsome profit.
In this scenario the next scene might well be a quiet one. Instead of fighting the monsters advancing up the corridor, a newly freed America could barricade the door, or jump out the window to escape into the wilderness, to recover and renew her purpose. Mayhap to meet some holy man in a cave and plot her return to the castle hoping the find everyone still alive. Or perhaps she finds a spaceship in the desert and blasts off for Mars. However the future may be it will not change on the stroke of midnight on Wednesday.
The future is cumulative. About all that one can realistically hope for from Willard Mitt Romney is that he can buy another few years of rationality for America; another chance and by so doing, not turn things around but make it possible to happen. The complete cure is beyond his power. But the ropes, man! Quickly the ropes!
So let Tuesday come. And whatever comes through that door remember who you are.