By Ibe Kaba
I know who is going to win the next election. Come the day after the elections in November, the next president of the United States is going to be….a millionaire male politician! And after the inauguration in January, in February your life is probably not going to be any different. If it is, it won’t be because of the ceremony in Washington the day before. That’s elections for you. In the immediate sense they don’t change anything. But in the long run, they change everything!
In that sense, this election is one of the most important in recent history.
President Barack Obama is very different from his challenger Mitt Romney (as Romney is from the president). No, I don’t mean their skin color. Not even because of political party. In most elections, this does not matter much. At many points in history, Democrats are more like Republicans and Republicans are more like Democrats. But it is in times of crisis that we as a nation make choices that have long lasting effects on the future many years to come. Ask the average person to name five former presidents and besides the immediate last, most would name George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt and maybe John F. Kennedy. And nobody but historians remembers Chester A. Arthur or Grover Cleveland, or that one was Republican and the other Democrat.
Not only because the aforementioned presided over a broken nation, but because their stance, indeed their legacy is the fruit we enjoy today. Had the voters made the other choice (for example, elected Stephen Douglas instead of Abraham Lincoln) it’s fair to say the America we know today would not have seen the light of day come March 4, 1861. And I for one much prefer the America that woke up that morning.
How does this relate to the coming election? Well, like in those times, I believe once again America is at a crossroad. For once I believe the political pundits when they sound the alarm, saying this presidential election is one of the more important in recent history. America is wounded, it is barely standing. As in the great depression, Americans are losing their livelihood, their hopes and dreams along with it. As in World War II, America is at war. (And others are looming.) The Conservative and Democrat divide is as stacked today as over slavery in 1860 and civil right hundred years later. Which in essence makes this a perfect storm for a monumental shift in one direction or the other.
Now voters need to decide which direction they think is best for the country to go. We need to decide this even before looking at the candidates. Unlike recent elections, this one is not about lesser (more personal) matter such as who is pro-choice or who is pro-life, who thinks America should let in 2 million “illegal” immigrants or 1 million “legal” immigrants. It is not about who believes all citizens have the right to own a hand gun and who believes certain guns have no place in the hands of civilians. These are important, but at the end of the day, they are personal matters. If you don’t believe in abortion, regardless what the government says, you are not going to partake in it. So really, who cares what the government says.
This election is about a very big,—I cannot stress that enough—big issue: the role of government in our society. This is the umbrella issue, under which you have all the other issues listed in the previous paragraph. And on this issue of the role of the government, the two candidates cannot be more different.
In one corner, you have Barack Obama and the democrats’ philosophy of a big strong government standing between the private (business) sector and the people. They believe it is the role of government to monitor and to a certain degree control the playing field. It is the government that can best safeguard the right and needs of ordinary citizens, they believe. In the last four years, this philosophy has been the launch pad for the government’s so-called bail out of Wall Street, for the countless attempts to lessen the burden on overburdened and underfinanced homeowners, the stimulus plan to provide government sponsored jobs such as in road and bridge construction projects, investment in green technology and countless other initiatives. And the granddaddy of them all: the Affordable (Health) Care Act.
Some argue this is the most active participation by the federal government into the everyday life of the people since the social security act. I tend to agree.
And since this active participation comes with a heavy pocket, the government needs more tax revenue. But this too, the democrats believe should come more from those at the top of the economic ladder and less from those in the middle and the bottom (even though the top 1% of rich Americans currently account for over 35% of the federal government’s income tax revenue, and the top 10% accounts for over 70%).
In the other corner is Mitt Romney and the Republicans’ philosophy of a small government, an “unleashed” business sector that will in turn stimulate the economy and improve the lives of the people. They believe the government needs to do less, and stand clear of the business sector in term of oversight and regulations, that the proverbial market can do a better job policing itself. To facilitate this, they believe in little to no tax, and if the government must levy tax, all Americans should share equal or close to equal responsibility. That is, not as a percentage of their income, but in actual dollars. For example, not that we should all pay say 10% of our income in taxes, but that we should all pay $1000.
There are other implications as well.
In the American system of government, the most the president does is suggest laws. The legislators (representatives and senators) make the laws through their votes (though the president could sign or veto it), and eventually the Supreme Court could stamp or scrap it. So yes, senate and state representative elections are also important this year. However, since Supreme Court justices have lifetime tenure, their appointment is even more important.
We have already seen the Supreme Court decide two monumental cases these past few years in the Citizens United and the Health Care Act. We are likely to see at least a couple more cases of this magnitude in the next four years. Maybe re-visitation of one or both cases above. With 4 justices leaning very conservative (i.e., republican values), and 3 leaning liberal (democratic values) and Justices Kennedy and Breyer in the middle, the next nomination and eventual confirmation could easily tilt the court unequivocally in one philosophical direction over the other.
This is more than a possibility, it is reality. Based on historical data, at 74, 76, 76, and 79 years old, four of the justices could retire or die in the next four years, given the president an opportunity to nominate candidates whose view of the constitution aligns with the president’s political philosophy.
Barack Obama or Mitt Romney? Democrats or Republicans, whose philosophy do you prefer? Whose philosophy do you believe will produce a better America? The environment is in shambles, the people are fearful, the world is in turmoil, we need a new economic paradigm, and these are just the problems we know. Hyperbole aside, this November election is the battle for the soul of America. Ten, twenty years from now, whose vision of America would you most like your children to inherit?
Photo: courtessy of Greater Mankato Elections