Been thinking a lot lately what status the 2012 election will likely hold. Every election somehow ends up being thought of as “the most important election of our time” (by campaigns trying to turn out voters), but that characterization is not only lazy but boring.
2008 was a direction election. 2012 is not. I tend to think the direction of the country won’t change much because of this next election, to be honest. We’re moving (slowly) towards favoring less government and general austerity (that includes some tax increases), and we’ll continue moving slowly in that direction for a while.
This election will be about defining our political identity as a nation. I doubt it will be described that way, but afterwards it will be seen a such. Here’s why:
a) If Obama wins, the national political identity becomes “for four out of the last six elections the nation has elected a Democratic president, and won the popular vote in one of the other years (2000) and lost the other by 100,000 votes in Ohio (2004).” therefore we are a Democratic, center-left nation blah blah blah
b) If the GOP wins, the national identity becomes “3 of the last 4 elections we have elected a (Texas governor?) Republican to office, and if you consider Clinton a moderate that ran center to center-right during election years and Jimmy Carter a social conservative (he was born-again) then you can make a case that Obama’s election was a complete outlier and only the result of the turbulent economic collapse in late 2008. If you want to take it a step further, Obama and Kennedy could be said to be the only two northerners elected President since FDR (2 out of 16 elections)”
Ok, that was a mouthful. The point is this election will allow people to extrapolate very different ideas about our national identity based on who wins.
It doesn’t matter how valid each claim is. Identity is in the mind. There is a case to either see the nation as “mostly Democratic for the last 24 years” or as “mostly southern right-of-center for the last 60 years” based on who wins this next election.
2008 was a change of direction election, but until proven otherwise it was an outlier election that tells us little about what kind of (political) country we are at our core, mostly because of the extreme circumstances surrounding it (economic crisis, no incumbent, Palin, black candidate). 2012, on the other hand, will allow either side to make an arguably legitimate claim about our “true” identity.