Election Day

Election Day 2014 – When Voters Noticed the Emperor Has No Clothes
[Note: This essay is one in a continuing series by ICCFA executive director Bob Fells focusing on various issues in our federal government. Although the subjects are political in nature, the approach is bipartisan in outlook, at least so far as that is humanly possible. The goal of each essay is not to persuade the reader to adopt a particular political viewpoint or party, but to illustrate why a knowledge of the system is important to protect our businesses, our homes, and our families.]

Name a day in the calendar that receives an incredible media build-up for months in advance, then is dropped from conversation just a few days afterwards. Some people may say Super Bowl Sunday, but I was thinking more of Election Day, the first Tuesday in November every other year. By this time, for those interested, all the talking heads and chattering classes on TV, radio, print and electronic media, have offered their takes on what happened this past November 4. Since I’m something of a political junkie I must admit that I watched, listened to, and read many, many analyses. Like most people, I picked out what I liked hearing, and dismissed the rest. But I heard very little that mirrored my own impressions of this past Election Day.

Two years ago this November when we last had a Presidential election, I concluded that the majority of voters had cast their approval for Big Government. Indeed, today so many people earn their living due to the growth of Big Government, directly or indirectly, that it seems almost foolish not to vote for candidates who promise to keep the good times rolling. But now I have to confess, as a result of this year’s elections, that maybe my conclusions in 2012 aren’t so simple. If voters were siding with “Government R Us” candidates in 2012, then what were they saying just a few weeks ago? Here’s my take on it.

I think it can be stated in non-partisan terms that Big Government is here to stay. Trying to reduce the size of the federal government, as Republicans tend to do, is like letting a few pounds of air out of your tires. That may be good to avoid over-inflation and premature wear, but we need inflated tires if we want our cars to work properly. Likewise, we can put the best motor oil in our engine but in time it will break down and need to be replaced. Same thing with government. The 2012 elections seem to pit the issue of pro-growth government against anti-growth government, and people unsurprisingly voted to keep their jobs and vote for the people who keep them there. Obama, the “you didn’t build that” candidate won, and Romney, the “send me the files on women” candidate lost. So why wasn’t the 2014 election results simply a repeat performance?

My take is that the focus of attention has shifted from government job creation to determining the role of government in our lives. The past two years have been tough on privacy issues and people wonder why the government has started spying on their email and on their cell phone calls. The answer is really quite simple: the government never did these things before because until recently none of us had cell phones or email to be spied upon. As with all technological advances, the question is just because we have the capability to do something now, should we? 

Life was simpler years ago. Not necessarily better, just simpler. What was moral was legal and what was immoral was illegal. All that began changing in the 1960s when courts and legislatures decided that legality was a government concern, and morality was a personal concern. So we began to see the legal/moral road diverge until today many people hold that if something they want to do is legal they don’t care if it’s moral. In the lead up to the 2014 elections we were told that the government spying on its people was legal and it was to protect us. But few voters felt protected by such violations of their privacy and, legality be damned, it was just plain wrong. 

So on November 4, it seems to me that voters no longer fretted about Big Government vis-à-vis jobs, but were very concerned about Big Brother. There’s a TV show called “Who the (Bleep) Did I Marry?”  This past Election Day a majority of those who voted seemed to be saying, “Who the (Bleep) Did We Elect to Run Our Government?”  It has been observed that the results were not really pro-Republican and anti-Democrat. I am inclined to agree with that assessment. 

Whether the issue is health care reform, immigration reform, or tax reform, there was a sense that the leadership had lost its way so it was time to “throw the bums out.” Whether we have merely elected a new set of bums remains to be seen. In the meantime, it’s worth considering whether a new paradigm has emerged. It’s not politically right or left, Republican or Democrat. That’s become so 20th century. The new paradigm might be expressed as “Be careful what you seek from your government” or “Do I really want the government to take care of me?” If there’s something to any of this, the 2016 elections could be truly revolutionary.