This election feels different to me.
I know that probably every Presidential election probably has and will feel a little different, but it I can't shake the notion that so much is riding on this one, that there's more at stake than usual. And I don't just mean the usual stuff.
It's not just the our fiscal future. The economy is on the mend. If President Obama wins re-election or Governor Romney wins, I imagine this will continue to be true at least in the short term. The men differ as to how to continue that growth, but I'm confident we will recover.
It's also not just our wars and foreign policy. I think the Governor would go to war with Iran faster than the President would and I think the President has built a great deal of good will with the rest of the world that the Governor might not respect, even if he is his own sort of charming.
But there's a bigger issue at stake here and it started in the 1980's.
The long term Republican strategy has been, since the Regan Era, to push the Democrats to the center by pulling to the Right as hard as possible. It has played out in the marriage between the GOP and the Religious Right. It has shown in their embracing the "Party of No" moniker. It has played out in every aspect of Federal Policy.
It has also worked. The comparisons between President Obama and the late President Reagan are not without merit, not just because of what these men mean to their respective parties, but the fact that many of their policies could co-exist without argument.
And yet, the Republicans pull harder to the right, so much so that I think they have forgotten that the fringe is not the mainstream. Not all Republicans are racist, but they know they are playing to them and do not flinch. Not all Republicans are misogynists, and yet they continue to try to take choices out of the hands of women and put them back into the hands of a patriarchal leadership. They tout their charity, yet balk at the idea that Federal dollars can or should be used to help the least fortunate.
Many Republicans are practical, but to drum up support and get people to the polls, they have abandoned the middle-ground and mistaken the land beyond the pale as the high-ground.
The Tea Party, a group with entirely understandable goals at the first, were co-opted by the Republicans and became synonymous with these more single minded sorts. Congressman unafraid to speak their mind on what constitutes "legitimate rape" or to vote down bills to help Veterans under the pretense of fiscal responsibility have become the banner carriers for the party rather than more reasonable voices. And still, they charge harder towards the Right, even as a man who people were suggesting might carry the GOP to the white house one day, Senator Scott Brown, suggests there need to be more moderates on both sides.
But there is a chance that this momentum can be pushed back and that reason rather than party loyalty can begin to rule the Republicans. If Governor Romney were to lose this election, that would be a sign that the strategy isn't working anymore. It would be a crack in the plan that would grow to break it, that would cause them to re-think their goals and start turning up the volume on moderate voices.
And if Governor Romney won?
Life would go on. There would still be a United States in 4 years. But it would be a much different one than I would hope.
During President Obama's administration, we have seen significant strides in the realms of social issues. Women's equality and reproductive rights as well as equal rights for gay Americans have gotten better. There have been small steps towards a more mature America, one in which moral issues are left to the people who live with them rather than having the Government enforcing a single ethic in matters that are personal, not national, concerns and that risk to hurt no one.
And these need to continue. These need to expand. But were the Governor elected, he would not be their champion. Neither would those on the fringe who would have helped put him in power and who would feel free to dismiss the election of the first African-American President as a novelty and those tiny bits of progress as hiccups in what they feel is an unbroken line of Conservative Presidents intermingled with a few usurpers and pretenders to the office.
And with a younger, potentially marketable Vice-President in tow, there's the risk it could be 16 years before we get the chance to keep the ball rolling towards an America that has finally grown up and let it's citizens take responsibility for their own moral and lifestyle choices.
Just 130 years ago, you could not receive information about reproductive organs or birth control through the mail without it being a crime. About 90 years ago, you could not legally take a drink. It has only been about fifty years since it was fully legal for people of different races to marry under the law. It has been less than that since homosexuality was not considered a mental illness.
I say this because the cause of social progress and justice is not a swift one and any gains made need to be celebrated and, most importantly, guarded. But when we look at what the Republicans have to offer, ask yourself how many people who are on the right side of the aisle are in favor of us going much further? How many are against some, if not all, of the strides we've made? How many are against "big government", but have no issue with their elected officials writing laws that are designed to promote a single acceptable social standard rather than encouraging diversity, choice and personal responsibility?
President Obama has to win. Not just because he has the better vision for our financial future. Not just because he has the better shot at keeping us both respected by and safe from foreign powers. But because President Obama is much more likely to defend, even to promote, the positive social change in America that will benefit all of us, not just a few who felt that the pinnacle of Amercian culture was in the 1950's.
See you at the polls.