So here we are. After the billions have been spent; after the terabytes have flooded the nation's inboxes; after the mailers, handbills and yard signs; after the nastiness, the prevarication, mischaracterization, misdirection and sniping; it all comes down to today.
There are three possible outcomes to this election: The president may squeak out a narrow victory; Gov. Romney may squeak out a narrow victory; or the governor may win in a landslide.
The last is at least possible and if it happens, it will tell much to anyone who has the wit to ask. A large, unanticipated margin of victory would indicate at the very least that the media was willfully blind to trends they didn't like, or saw the writing on the wall but told no one; silenced by their craven commitment to re-elect the president at all costs. Once exposed, such a betrayal of trust will be difficult to recoup.
There would be other messages in such a victory: the preference of a clear majority of Americans for a government that is smaller, less expensive and less indebted; the restoration of freedom as a prime principle of the Republic; and a return to the honoring of success instead of its demonization. These would be healthy developments but given the corrosive nature of Washington, progress on tax and entitlement reform, reduction in the size and intrusiveness of government and the rooting-out of the mania for mandates and rule by executive orders will have to be monitored with vigilance and enforced by the ballot. Rhetoric will no longer suffice; only deeds.
Of the two other possibilities, I would prefer the latter. A Romney victory would at least halt the slide of the Republic into the prison of debt. It would also provide a few years for voters to become educated on the values of individual effort, self-restraint and sacrifice that powered our country to greatness. We could do worse than returning these to virtues to see if they still work. My bet is, they do.
The former, a narrow victory for the president, will do little good and much mischief. It would continue the evolution of our polity into grievance groups and dependents and reduce government to a machine for dispensing favors in return for votes: think Tammany Hall on a national scale. How long our economy, to say nothing of our credit rating, can stand this drain is an open question; that a crash of monumental proportion lies at its end is not. In four more years, even our grandchildren's future will be mortgaged to the political expediencies of the moment.
If reduced to eking out a tiny margin in New Hampshire, Colorado and Nevada, would either candidate heed Thomas Jefferson's admonition to "avoid building grand schemes on narrow majorities?" Gov. Romney might. As his career in Massachusetts indicates, he knows how to reach across the political divide. With the president, auguries are not so good; both his "We won" dismissal of Republican input at the beginning of his term and the ongoing gridlock in Washington are indications that "compromise" is not part of the Obama lexicon. Expect continuing confrontation while he pursues a blinkered leftist agenda instead.
Is it possible, as some have suggested, that neither candidate will win in the Electoral College? Possible yes; it's happened three times in our past: the elections of 1800, 1824 and 1876. The first two were finally settled in the Congress, as outlined in the Constitution; the third, complicated by questions of Reconstruction, took months, and an extra-Constitutional committee, to resolve. Colorado, newly admitted to the Union that year, cast its electoral votes for Rutherford B. Hayes, who was eventually declared the winner.
Hopefully, we won't see that again. Instead, I think we'll have a winner by tomorrow morning at latest - barring a repeat of Al Gore's whiney-baby meltdown of 2000, which I also think unlikely.
What's also likely is a continuation of the intense partisanship of the past four years. We may be in a period like that between 1868 and 1898, which saw control of the White House and Congress alternate with almost every election, neither party controlling both branches for more than two years running. It was a turbulent time, full of invective, and it saw the nastiest presidential elections in our nation's history. The 1884 contest was actually referred to as the "Scurrilous Campaign," and featured charges of corruption, "slavery to special interests," illegitimate children and such colorful groups as the "Goo-Goos," "Mugwumps" and "Half-Breeds." Two elections during this 30-year period were won by candidates who did not win the popular vote.
So take heart. Even assuming the worst case, we've been here before and pulled through. We probably will again.
Probably. I hope.
Summit County resident Morgan Liddick pens a Tuesday column. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.