Published in the Telegraph-Journal 9th November 2012
After the disastrous first debate on October 3 in which he allowed Mitt Romney to establish a foothold in a campaign that otherwise was drifting inexorably in favour of the incumbent, President Obama had to confront the real possibility that he could lose the fast-closing election and be held to one term. There was a moment when it appeared that the Republicans could realize their ambitions and capture the White House despite supporting a candidate that had few defined policy positions on anything and many vague positions on everything else.
That first debate brought into sharp relief that Obama’s weaknesses were very real. The forcefulness of Romney’s performance made it clear that the president and his advisers would need to work overtime to reclaim the lead in the campaign with little time in which to achieve it.
Some Republicans felt that a winning trajectory had been established and became more voluble about the remaining time of the campaign. They boasted that this was the time when the Americans that had voiced their distaste with the status quo would give them control not only of the executive branch but both halves of the legislative branch as well. Immediately after that first debate, Republican confidence was at its highest level in the grueling campaign.
Of course, it was not to be, at least not for Republican hopefuls. At the end, it was not really very close. Not only was it a convincing victory for Obama, it was a crushing defeat for Romney and Republicans.
Even before all the ballots have been counted, Republicans have begun to offer explanations for the defeat, the implications for the country and conjecture about where the Republican Party would go from here. A common thread runs through this commentary: the election was a crushing defeat not only for the Republican Party but for conservatism in America.
It is not difficult to identify with the idea that rebuffing Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan at the polls amounted to a stinging rebuke of the Republican position on the limited competence of government and on the need to reduce its scope and scale. According to conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer, “the American experiment — the more individualistic, energetic, innovative, risk-taking model of democratic governance — continues to recede, yielding to the supervised life of the entitlement state.”
The proposition that the individual shrinks into dependency as government grows in size and power is still a fundamental belief among many Democrats as well as Republicans. Arguments about the role of government form the backbone of political discussion especially in health care, education, the environment and social welfare. Each issue has government regulation at its core. In a world where economic globalization is the horse that has bolted the barn, there is a growing realization that the America of tomorrow will not resemble the America of even one generation ago.
But the direction in which the world is heading is less likely to support the libertarian dreams of smaller government. As a consequence of the realities of economic liberalization, capital market developments, technological advances and demographic shifts, the United States is witnessing a breathtaking realignment of economic activity that has sparked deep fears for growth, jobs and wages. It has become clear that in an era of transformational change, government will be a necessary element of success.
The U.S. will continue to develop as a nation of opportunity for those who aspire to it. But its success will depend greatly on finding new ways to ensure that government has its place in maintaining a balance between its involvement in growth and prosperity, and its growing role in providing a regulatory framework to ensure social justice. It remains to be seen whether the Republican Party can reinvent itself to account for this emerging reality.