Results from Tuesday’s election were not just disappointing to those of us who love freedom and our founding principles because of who won and who lost, but perhaps more significantly, because of what the outcomes indicate how our culture has changed. Election outcomes provide a snapshot of us as a people and the ever-evolving nature of our culture, and this one does not portend favorably for our society.
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We learned last week that in politics at the national level, what politicians do doesn’t really matter. With a four-year record to run on, and some of the most significant legislative exploits of any president, the incumbent hardly ever referenced those “accomplishments.” And that’s understandable since the public views nearly all of them pejoratively. The majority of Americans are in worse shape financially now than they were when Obama took office, and the country is facing a fiscal crisis largely of the incumbent’s making. Yet actual performance, or what was done, seems not to matter to us anymore.
This was validated by the exit polling where the top issue of concern to voters was the economy, an area where the president has had poor job approval ratings. Yet the top reason justifying their vote for Obama was that they liked him and felt he connected with them more. It’s the classic Platonic dichotomy of form versus substance, emotion versus logic, or celebrity versus competence. And obviously form and emotion matters more to Americans now.
Apparently we no longer expect people to take responsibility for their actions. Rather than taking responsibility for our country’s economic malaise and attempting to do something proactive to foster a resurgence, all we’ve heard for four years is that someone else was to blame. We’re likely to continue hearing the same mantra for the next four years, along with “It was just much worse than we thought.”
It usually takes up to two years for new fiscal policy to have an effect on the broader economy. That said, the economic growth we had two years ago at 3.5% was most likely the residual affect of the end of the Bush era, while our current anemic 1.3-1.8% growth is clearly the new normal, and the result of Obamanomics. But I guess reduced accountability is to be expected as we evolve increasingly to a welfare state where more and more of us are willing to subsist at the expense of others.
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It seems as though it was a hundred years ago, culturally, but just 20 years ago, a sitting president was ejected from office for having broken one promise: “Read my lips. No new taxes.” But apparently we no longer hold our politicians accountable even for their promises, if they’re likeable and we feel like they “connect” better with us. The president has some lengthy lists of broken promises, and even Top Ten lists by category, all the way from promising to cut the deficit in half (he’s actually more than doubled it), to “unemployment will not go over 8% if we pass the stimulus,” (his average is over 9% over four years), to “I’m going to close Gitmo,” (yes, it’s still open). Our culture has devolved to expecting politicians to make promises and not keep them, and not holding them accountable for what they say they’re going to do. But that could be just the specious case for candidates who are “likeable.” Perhaps it’s more efficacious for politicians to make lots of promises, few of which can be kept. As one pundit said this week, “It’s very difficult to beat Santa Claus.”
It’s said that we get the kind of government we deserve, and apparently, we aren’t very deserving. No accountability or responsibility, no expectation to fulfill promises, likeability over substance, and “cool” over competence, writes a sad commentary on our culture.
Further, the election outcome disappointingly validates the efficacy of negative campaign messaging. The Obama campaign clearly thought the only way they could win was by “killing Romney,” as one internal memo worded it, or “destroy Romney” as Politico toned down the intent. The campaign portrayed Romney as a tax cheat, a mortal enemy to women, a felon, a liar, and the cause of the death of a steel-worker’s wife. The success of the politics of self-destruction and demonization modus operandi will clearly be the model going forward. Whether such personal attacks have any merit or not, clearly the model works.
Hopefully one aspect of our culture and society has not changed, and that is how we respond to challenges and temporary setbacks. Those of us who believe in our founding principles, must continue to educate, inform, and help shape our evolving culture. After all, our founding fathers were willing to risk their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor for those eternal principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. If we truly believe in them ourselves, we should be willing to do the same.
AP award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, and is a graduate of Idaho State University with a BA in Political Science and History and former member of the Idaho State Journal Editorial Board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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