As the crazy protracted carnival of the presidential election rolls forward with ever more outrageous rhetoric, spin, downright lies, and gotcha moments, it bears remembering whats on television usually has little to do with reality. For example, despite the blanket television coverage of the killing 129 Parisians by Islamist terrorists, the average Americans chances of ever getting killed by an international terrorist is lower than getting struck by lightning. In fact, Americans statistically have a greater chance of getting killed by disgruntled domestic reactionaries (for example, the shooter at Planned Parenthood) than they do by radical Islamists.
The U.S. political campaign is likewise filled with made-for-TV illusions. Journalists, believing optimistically that political campaigns, and their distorted coverage of them, do matter, focus excessively on the horse race of whos coming on and whos fading rather than on the issues or the underlying forces driving an election. Experts on campaigns in universities focus on these underlying forces.
It is certainly not out of the realm of possibility that the Republicans could win the presidency in 2016, although the last odds in Las Vegas that I saw on the election (a surprisingly good predictor of past elections) had the Democratic candidate 57-43 edge to win.
That is because changing demographics have transferred the intrinsic Electoral College advantage from the Republicans to the Democrats. Also, the Democrats have won the popular vote in five out of the last six presidential elections. This advantage will only increase in the future, as white males continue to shrink as a portion of the population. Also, Donald Trump seems to be hastening the Republican Partys demise by highlighting the immigration issue, which the partys establishment wanted to bury to avoid alienating the fastest growing minority in the country.
With birthright citizenship guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, if Republicans wanted to do something to stifle illegal immigrationor immigration periodthey should have done so a couple of generations back. Hispanics have become a growing political force in the voting booth. In other words, regardless of the merits of the immigration issue, politically Republicans seemed to be fighting a battle that has already been lostand shooting themselves in the head while doing so.
In Congress and the states, a trend opposite that of presidential elections has occurred; the Republicans control both house of Congress and more and more state governments. However, unfortunately for Republicans and the intentions of the nations founders, over time, power in the United States has shifted away from the states to the federal government and, within the federal government, from the Congress to the president. Thus, nowadays, we essentially elect an imperial president but then term limit him or her to eight years.
A presidents term can be effectively extended if he or she can get his chosen successor elected (Ronald Reagan was the last to do so in 1988; Bill Clinton almost pulled it off in 2000, except the real state-by-state electoral college election reminded Americans that we dont have a national presidential election). This reality conforms to the election experts conclusion that the presidential election is not usually between two candidates but is instead a referendum on the performance of the administration in currently in power. So voters really will be voting on Obamas record, not the Democratic and Republican candidates running in 2016.
What is that record? Both progressives and conservatives will be in denial when the policy record is examined, and it is found that the progressive Obamas record on major policy issues is similar to another recent presidentthe allegedly conservative George W. Bush. Obama was supposed to end Bushs quagmires in Afghanistan and Iraq. U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan, with the potential of re-escalation when the Taliban begins to again overrun the country (as it already has begun to do). U.S. re-escalation has already begun to occur in Iraqafter the Bush-created ISIS began to overrun that country and neighboring Syria. The president has begun attacking Syria and is under Republican pressure to escalate there as well. Obama, not learning anything from Bushs idiotic toppling of Saddam Hussein, overthrew Muammar Gaddafi in Libyaagain predictably bringing chaos, mayhem, and terrorist sanctuariesand is unbelievably is still campaigning for the ouster of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Obama not only continued Bushs illegal and unconstitutional drone wars in several countries outside of Afghanistan, but escalated them, creating yet more terrorist enemies for the U.S. to fight. Also, despite his determination to be a civil liberties president in the wake of Bushs expansion of the illegal surveillance state, torture, and abuse of constitutional rights, Obama continued many of the same policies, except for ending torture.
In budgetary matters, Bush spent more domestically than any president since Lyndon Johnson, and Obama continued the spending binge with his giant pork-barrel stimulus program to attempt to trick the country out of its Bush-induced Great Recession. During that recession, Bush bailed out too-big-to fail banks, socialized the AIG insurance giant, and finished socializing the failing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage lenders. Obama followed Bushs bailing out of sick U.S. auto makers with a round of his own socialismwith government take overs of Chrysler and General Motors. Combined with his massive domestic and war spending increases, Bush initiated huge tax cuts during a war, thus exploding federal budget deficits to record levels; Obama continued most of Bushs tax cuts but has gradually reduced the budget deficit.
Although during post-World War II presidencies, the American economy has performed much better during the Democratic administrations, perhaps the reason is counterintuitive. Contrary to politicians rhetoric and popular perception, Democratic presidents have generally had more conservative spending policies that actually slowed government spending growth as a percentage of GDP more than did Republicans and have had lower budget deficits than their Republican counterparts. Obamas lame economic recovery might have been better had he followed the more fiscally conservative policies of his Democratic predecessors.
To cover a greater percentage of the American population with health care insurance, long a gleam in the eye of Democrats, Obama did so inefficiently by creating the Obamacare monstrosity that created a government guaranteed market for insurance companies products by requiring near-poor people to buy such health insurance but not subsidizing the full cost of the coverage. Even if adding people to the health insurance rolls was a government responsibility, more efficient and less costly ways of doing it were available. But Bush didnt do much better in health care, creating the first new entitlement program since Lyndon Johnsons Great Society by adding a costly prescription drug coverage benefit to a Medicare system that was already in deep financial troubleall this to get political points with seniors, the wealthiest age group in the American population.
Bush continued the federalization of education, traditionally the responsibility of state and local governments, with his No Child Left Behind policy that rewarded schools for doing well on federally standardized tests. Obama continued this ill-advised federalization process.
So despite the political theater of overheated rhetoric by both political parties on the campaign trail and in Washington, when governing, both parties come up with similar policiesmostly detrimental to the country. Unsurprisingly, in a two-party system, the parties behave as do two giant companies when they are the only competitors in an industry (called a duopoly)they pretend to compete but collude under the table. This phenomenon happens behind-the-scenes frequently in Washington and will continue no matter who wins the presidency in 2016with voters becoming justifiably angrier and angrier. However, without systematic reforms that would require amendments to the Constitution, the voters will get more of the same.
|Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at the Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office.|
A candid reassessment of the presidential scorecard over the past 100 years, identifying the hypocrisy of those who promised to limit government while giving due credit when presidents lived up to their rhetoric.