Observations on the Election

What follows are some observations on the outcome of the November 6 presidential election and what it means for the future of Americans, especially remaining non-Hispanic Catholics who are serious about the religion.

The first thing to observe about the reelection of President Obama is that it confirmed what already seemed evident in 2008: middle and working-class whites are no longer a decisive factor in national electoral politics. They may constitute the backbone of the Republican Party as it currently exists, but they simply are no longer numerous enough to outvote blacks, Hispanics, women, youth and seniors. Except for the seniors anxious about the future of Social Security and Medicare, women who perceive the abortion issue as determinative of their “rights,” and youth who are going to be drawn to whichever candidate has the backing of most of the popular entertainers of the moment, President Obama’s victory was owed more to demographics than the state of the economy.

To the extent there was an overlap between demographics and the economy, it worked against Mr. Romney, probably even among working-class whites. Not simply is the white businessman, once the very symbol of American material success, no longer an universally admired figure. Mr. Romney was never a businessman in the sense of producing or selling anything. All he did was move money around – exactly the kind of “businessman” widely perceived as getting us into our current economic mess.

The second thing to observe about the election is that it would not have made a real difference whether President Obama or Mr. Romney won. With some differences in the plans both have seen enacted, both espouse government-directed health care. Neither was prepared to discuss monetary policy (they probably don’t even think about it). And most important, both are wedded to the notion of the national security state with U.S. troops stationed at bases all around the world ready to execute the will of the Commander-in-Chief, whether it’s the overthrow of a minor dictator in North Africa or the elimination by drone of a putatively potential terrorist in Pakistan or Yemen. On this latter score, we are probably marginally better off with President Obama. He has never been silly enough to name Russia as America’s “number one geopolitical foe” as if we were in 1980 instead of 2012. He has also resisted (so far) Israeli pressure to make war on Iran.

Could there have been a better election result this year? I don’t see how. There was never a serious chance that Ron Paul could secure the Republican nomination, and he would not have won if he had. The thought of his running does bring me to my principal observation.

Libertarianism is seriously flawed. This was exemplified by Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate in this election. The former Colorado governor was allowed into one GOP debate, was a national celebrity for twenty-four hours after getting off a very funny line, and was then utterly and completely ignored by Big Media. Serious Catholics aware of his candidacy couldn’t vote for him in any event because he is “pro-choice” and supports same-sex marriage. This is the trouble with libertarianism. In its purer strain it always ends in Randian moral anarchy. That is a way of saying that although historical Catholic social teaching holds that the best safeguard of freedom is the well-formed conscience of individuals rather than government institutions, the same teaching sees government playing a proper role in human affairs that libertarianism won’t allow.

That said, in an age when most members of society, including Catholics, not simply tolerate but expect government involvement in their lives – deciding who is married, how children will be educated, even whether someone will live or die – so that the power of the state becomes ever more all-embracing, and no likely Republican or Democrat will stand athwart that development, something like libertarianism looks more attractive as an instrument for political action than ever.

Something, I said. Anything that will limit the increasing power of the state would be a better way to put it. Envisioning the shape it might finally take must involve thinking beyond near-future electoral politics.

It must also take into account this reality: Christian politics and government would be the ideal alternative to what exists, and they would arise in a natural and organic way from citizens leading Christian lives. However, when so many already depend on the state as our ancestors in the Faith used to depend on God, few are disposed to undertaking that.

Many minds are better than one. I hope I have opened here a conversation readers and colleagues will want to pursue.

P.S. I don’t want it said I have nothing concrete to propose. Since Ohio has once again finally determined the outcome of an election, why don’t we spare the nation future quadrennial distraction by letting voters in that state do the job for all the rest of us from here on out? They can watch the TV ads.