Looking forward to the uselessness of the 2016 election — March 29, 2014

Looking forward to the uselessness of the 2016 election

Some facts about the 2016 election:

* Probably most everyone you know has already figured out which party he or she will vote for.
* The actual person with the “(D)” or the “(R)” after his or her name doesn’t much matter. What matters is the party. Your candidate, when he or she is in office, will have to do what his or her party wants. Moreover, your candidate will probably *want* to do what his or her party wants, and it’s good that this is the case: if you vote for a Democrat, you know generally that this person will be in favor of expanding the welfare state — or will at least support welfare-state expansion more than will the candidate with the “(R)” after his or her name. The Republican candidate will praise the virtues of small businessmen, will demand that Obamacare be overturned, and will promise to cut your taxes.
* If you live in California or Massachusetts and you vote for a Republican, or if you live in Texas or Mississippi and you vote for a Democrat, your vote doesn’t matter. You may as well not vote in the general election. Your vote in the primary, though, does matter.
* The press coverage will be filled every day with lots of irrelevant personal details. If you thought the coverage of the Malaysian Airlines flight was absurd, you get to look forward to two years of nonsense, starting in earnest once the midterm elections are over in November. The twenty-four-hour news cycle isn’t going to fill itself.
* If the economy is doing well in the year before the election, you should expect that the Democrats will do well; if it’s not, you should expect Republicans to do well. This isn’t deterministic, of course, but it’s a strong relationship.
* Whatever party you’re part of will be right and good and logical and rational; whatever the party on the other side is will be wrong and evil and illogical and irrational. I say this for all values of “you” including “me”. I wish this weren’t so, but it is.
* Your party might well put forward a candidate who excites you into believing that This Time Is Different — that you’ll get the liberal or conservative stalwart you’ve always wanted, that the welfare state will expand to protect everyone or will be gutted and freedom returned to the people. In reality the government you’ll get is the government you had. There are many veto points in American government. And as our society gains institutions like a system of political parties or a military-industrial complex or a private health-insurance industry, those institutions make it harder and harder to change anything fundamentally (go read Skowronek on this point).

Consider all of these just rules of thumb, not truths handed down on tablets. But I think they’re all safe bets. I’m particularly sad about the tribalist aspects: despite my best efforts, we’ll probably end up thinking that the guy who disagrees with us about the Affordable Care Act is not only a bad candidate whom we can’t support, but is in fact the Antichrist, whose one and only hope in life is to take women into back alleys and perform coathanger abortions on them. Because that’s what They all want, right? To take away women’s hard-won freedoms. That is, when They’re not also trying to return black people to the back of the bus and keep poor people down.

Maybe few of us think this explicitly (though I’ve met a fair number of my fellow liberals who do); most of us do implicitly. How many of us believed that a Romney administration would be not only a bad one, but would in fact be a nightmare from which the country would never wake? If we didn’t explicitly believe this, then why did the election seem so fraught?

So maybe that’s another bullet point to add to my 2016 predictions:

* This election will be Very Important Indeed; maybe The Most Important Ever. This election will be a watershed: on the one side, a bright future for America; on the other, bleakness and a return to the dark ages.

I don’t entirely mean to make light of it. Elections matter. The re-election of Barack Obama in 2012 meant that the Affordable Care Act came into being; had Romney been elected, there’s a chance that it would have been overturned. If nothing else, President Romney would likely have done all he could to slow its implementation. Speaking only for myself, the Affordable Care Act alone justified re-electing President Obama. And inasmuch as I could only trust a Democrat to implement the ACA, I would have voted for anyone with a “(D)” after his name. And inasmuch as I live in Massachusetts, it doesn’t matter whom I voted for in the general. And to the extent that economic fundamentals determine who wins, my vote matters even less. Elections matter, but it’s good to have some perspective on where your vote fits in the grand scheme of things.

I’m just not at all looking forward to the entirely predictable course of the next 2.5 years. The last time around, I swore that I wouldn’t read the news in the year leading up to the election. Maybe I’ll be able to keep to that promise this time, and double down on reading books about things that matter.

Oh, whom am I kidding? I’ll do the same stupid things this time around that I always do.