Lacking anything better to do as we await the results of the American People's Referendum On Our Future (TM), I thought I'd tell you why Anne Applebaum's column today is wrong on nearly every point. She lists five election day myths that are actually true. Thus, the fisking:
The Republican Party will benefit from some time out of office. Not necessarily.
The "not necessarily" gives this one away. Actually, the GOP will benefit from some time out of office, just as the Democrats did. Applebaum uses the example of the Torys' vicious infighting as a negative, but it has resulted in the rise of current party leader David Cameron, who was all but a lock to lead his party to victory before the financial crisis and still has a fighting chance now. Movements and parties need to be forced to confront the ways their ideas relate, or in this case, don't relate, to the contemporary world.
The Democratic Party will become more thoughtful and responsible when in power. History tells a different story here, too: After decades in opposition, the Republicans took control of the House in 1994, vowing to reform Congress. For a while, they tried. Then they gave up.
Well, actually, just because something's happened before doesn't mean it will happen again. The Democratic congress in the last two years has been much better than the Republican one before it, both in terms of important legislation passed and in terms of the weirdly vague "thoughtfulness" quotient, which reeks of creeping Broderism. For an example, pork barrell spending has dropped substanially.
A Congress and White House under the control of a single party will function more efficiently. This, as Bill Clinton can tell you, is manifestly not always the case. To cite another cliche: power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Without the need to make cross-aisle deals, the temptation to make bad decisions is great. Also, if and when the president becomes unpopular, Congress has an incentive to defy him, regardless of his party -- and vice versa.
Also false! Also, another great bit of writing with "manifestly not always." The Clinton example doesn't take into account that much of Clinton's majority was conservative Southern Democrats, many of whom became Republicans later in the nineties. Actually, many observers do expect government to be more efficient. I do like how Applebaum presents the polar decision that makes everything a choice between "bad decisions" and "cross-aisle deals," which is ridiculous on it's face. What will keep the government honest is the imperative to produce working policy; otherwise the Democrats will get hammered by the voters in 2010 -- indeed, even that might not be enough to prevent some losses. Applebaum's final point here undermines the whole idea: one party rule won't be efficient, but Congress and the president might not always agree, which would lead directly to Applebaum's theory of efficiency through gridlock.
If Barack Obama wins, our standing in the world will improve immediately, just because he's "different." There will, I am sure, be a brief moment of shock and surprise when the rest of the world learns that one of its most treasured beliefs -- "whatever happens, the Americans are always more racist than we are" -- is untrue. There will also be a good deal of rejoicing at the passing of the hated Bush administration. But reality will set in quickly as foreigners discover, along with American voters, that the American president isn't as powerful as they think, can't change everything immediately and won't be able to change some things at all. A President Obama would not be able to end the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, he would not be able to make the stock exchanges rise, and he would not be able to halt the recession right away.
I assume by different that Applebaum means "black." Anyways, I don't think anyone's arguing that Obama's going to usher in a golden age upon election, or on January 20 (except for conservatives who incorrectly assume that's what people on the left think). But he will improve our public image in the world immediately, simply by dint of symbolizing the American people's rejection of Bush and his policies. Also, it's a weird thing to say, but Applebaum seems to be arguing that the president can't end a war. But Obama is committed to withdrawing from Iraq within 16 months, and has the ability to do it. Also, I wouldn't be surprised to see the stock market go up if he's elected. No, he won't end the recession right away, but no one is expecting that.
After the election, we can finally stop talking about politics. No! This interminable political season will not, I'm afraid, be over so quickly. If Obama wins, every single one of his first moves will touch off debate: Not only will he be the first black president, the first post-boomer president and the first Democrat in eight years, he will be the first Democrat in office after Sept. 11, which makes all of his early security decisions crucial. By contrast, if John McCain wins, every U.S. polling organization -- along with the entire American political commentariat, as Slate's John Dickerson has observed -- will be utterly discredited. A lot of explanations will be required.
Who even thinks that? Jeez, Applebaum, set up those strawmen. Following her example, I'm going to write a piece discrediting the election myth that everyone believes Bob Barr will win. But I will note that no matter who wins the presidential election, every single one of his moves will be debated -- does Applebaum believe that everything a President McCain might do will be tacitly accepted? The "crucial" early security decisions is just the product of the foolish idea that Democrats somehow can't protect America. That's an actual myth that ought to be discredited. But hey, we can agree that a lot of pollsters and pundits will be embarrassed if McCain wins. But Applebaum is already ahead of the curve -- she should be embarrassed she wrote this column.
-- Tim Fernholz