It has been very interesting watching the aftermath of the election play out. There are a slew of post mortems every day—far too many to read. Most take as their topic some variation of the question, “What went wrong for the Republican Party?” Others look ahead and ask a different question: “How can the Republican Party expand its support among women, Latinos, African-Americans, and gays?”
I woke up too early this morning and as I was reading through some of these pieces I saw the New York Times report on Mitt Romney’sWednesday conference call with fund-raisers and donors. During the call Mr. Romney engaged in his own bit of analysis of the election results. His take was a bit surprising to me, but given his earlier unguarded comments about 47% of Americans being dependent on the government, perhaps it should not have been.
Mr. Romney did not blame his loss on his own unlikeability, his Party’s seeming-callousness about women and their reproductive rights, his calls for self-deportation of people here illegally, his untenable tax cut plans, his party’s four-year record of obstruction during President Obama’s first term, or general approval of President Obama and his performance thus far. No, none of these plausible factors figured into Mr. Romney’s analysis of why he lost.
Instead, he came up with this: President Obama won because he gave people gifts. He went on to specify: healthcare coverage, student loan interest forgiveness, free contraceptives, a path to citizenship for children of illegal immigrants, and oh-yeah-did-I-mention-healthcare?
At first I read this shallow, self-serving explanation with incredulity. Mitt Romney is a smart man. He is known for his keen analytical mind and ability to dig down deep into a situation and see opportunity where others see problems. I can understand how it would be hard to see the deeper truth of the results of this election: that he lost to a man he sees as incompetent. Voters chose President Obama because they saw him as better able to manage the country through the impending recovery than Mr. Romney, and that must have stung Mr. Romney.
Had Mr. Romney been elected, he had a bag of gifts of his own to bestow on the voters. His gifts were in the form of a 20% tax rate across the board and other goodies, mostly aimed at the upper income tax brackets. Rather than seeing Obama policies as the result of decisions about where and how to direct some of our national resources, Mitt Romney calls them “gifts” to voting blocks. His own “gifts” he sees as sound economic policy. I would like to know the difference.
The global economy has a life of its own. It rises and falls, expands and contracts on its own schedule. The President of the United States can affect this rise and fall around the edges, but he or she does not and cannot control the global business cycle. No matter who won this election, Obama or Romney, the national economy was going to get better. That is what it does.
In choosing President Obama, Americans decided they like his vision for who should benefit most from the coming expansion better then Mitt Romney’s vision of who should benefit most. THAT is what Presidents do. They shape national policy in response to economic trends and their policies affect who suffers most when things fall apart and who benefits most when things improve. You can choose to look at this picking of winners and losers as a bestowal of gifts, as Mitt Romney does. But if you do so, you must also admit that no matter who is in office, gifts are given.
President Obama did not win because he gave voters gifts. He won because more voters like his vision of who should benefit most from a rising economic tide than Mitt Romney’s vision. Mitt Romney’s policies would continue to concentrate wealth among the already-wealthy. President Obama’s policies will direct some our growing national resources to people further down the economic ladder. And it turns out that the American voters were able to compare the policies of the two candidates and choose the one that would benefit more people.
So in the end, maybe President Obama did win because he gave people gifts. But the gifts he gave were different from the ones Mitt Romney listed on his multi-millionaire conference call. The gifts President Obama gave were hope and fairness and it turned out that is what the voters wanted.