For progressives, waiting for tonight's election returns is less a matter of giddy anticipation a la 2008 and more a cause of intense nail-biting. There is potentially more to lose tonight (or God forbid, in a couple of weeks if Florida, Colorado, or Ohio make a mess) than to gain. There’s health-care and regulatory reform, of course. But more than that, there’s the much-needed sanity that President Obama has brought to a politically fractious, often-unhinged Washington.
Looked at from a certain angle, Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign has been a grand experiment in whether it's possible to lie your way to the White House. Sure, all politicians stretch the truth like Play-Doh. They dissemble. They exaggerate. They tell the occasional out-and-out whopper. Traditionally, though, politicians tend to stick with truthiness, in the Colbert sense. Until now, there’s never been a presidential campaign built almost solely on a foundation of lies. Romney’s people have made no bones about it; his pollster, Neil Newhouse, told media at the Republican National Convention, "We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers." Strangely, that might have been the single most honest statement to come out of the campaign.
As the Prospect’s Jamelle Bouie noted earlier today, the most ludicrous ad of the election cycle has to be the latest from the conservative super PAC, Empower Citizens Network, that tries to sway African American voters to the GOP by pointing out that Abraham Lincoln was a member of the party. But that’s not all! Republicans also founded the NAACP, the ad informs us, and they voted for the Civil Rights Act.
When Chris Christie delivered the keynote address at the Republican National Convention in August, he had some choice words for President Obama. “It’s time to end this era of absentee leadership in the Oval Office and send real leaders to the White House,” Christie thundered. If he ever genuinely believed that Obama was an “absentee leader,” the New Jersey governor has certainly had a dramatic change of mind.
As "Frankenstorm" churns up the East Coast, it brings into relief the central argument of the 2012 campaign. Beneath all the minor squabbles and distractions, Obama vs. Romney is a contest between two starkly different views about the proper role of government. It’s Lincoln’s concept that informs the president’s approach: "The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but can not do at all, or can not so well do, for themselves,” the 16th president famously said.