As you probably have heard, today is Election Day.
Well, at least it is if you are reading this on the day you're supposed to, Tuesday, Nov. 2. Actually, I am writing this on Sunday evening, while waiting for trick-or-treaters.
Writing this column early, of course, means I don't have to comment on the election's outcome, since its outcome hasn't come out as I write this.
Still, as a columnist, I have an obligation to my boss, and besides, if that crowd of pundits on Fox and MSNBC can blather on and on about politics, so can I, and I'll do it for a lot less money.
So here it goes.
The first thing that comes to mind about this election is that it illustrates the extremely fickle nature of the American people. That's not a surprise to anyone who has watched recent history. Every president I can remember, even Ronald Reagan, had public approval poll numbers that went up and down fast enough to give an astronaut motion sickness. Just about anything can fuel these roller coaster rides — military success or failure, sexy interns, slips of the tongue — but usually, the economy is the culprit.
Take our last three presidents, for example. George H.W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton, with a little help from Ross Perot, because of a recession. Remember “It's economy, stupid?”
Toward the end of Clinton's term, the so-called dot.com bubble popped, and the economy slowed down, helping George W. Bush to take the presidency. Then, as that Bush was approaching the end of his term, the economy really took a dive, and that dive was a big factor in the election of Barack Obama. Now Obama is in trouble because he hasn't ended the recession in two years, and people want to throw out his party.
As a people, we are fickle in large part because we have unreasonable expectations of our leaders. We not only expect them to solve our problems, but we expect them to solve them quickly. We don't know exactly what should be done, but we expect something should be done and we should see immediate results. And, of course, they are supposed to do all that without really doing anything that might be considered intruding on our freedoms.
If a president doesn't produce those results, he goes from being Superman to scum in short order.
Presidents and other politicians, of course, bring this on themselves with their promises.
George Bush promised us that all those tax cuts and deregulation would keep the economy humming forever, which it didn't.
Barack Obama made the same mistake during his campaign, promising immediate results through stimulus spending, and most people haven't seen those results as yet.
The result is an angry electorate, giving rise to the other big factor in this election, the Tea Party.
There isn't really anything new about this movement. There have been rebellions by “the people” all through our history, and they have showed up in a variety of ways.
The Tea Party is, in fact, reminiscent of the groups protesting the Vietnam War 40 years ago. Like the Tea Party, those people were anti-establishment and angry at both political parties. Their chant of “Power to the People” sounds an awful lot like the Tea Party's complaint that the government isn't listening to the people. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised that some of the 60ish Tea Party members were among the 20-something protesters back in 1969, although most of them have cut their hair since then.
Once the economy recovers, which I suspect it will, regardless of who wins the election, the Tea Party will disappear, just as the Students for a Democratic Society did when the Vietnam War ended. And even if it survives, it will encounter the same tendency that the Republicans and Democrats have to deal with now: the contradictory wishes of “the people,” who don't want government action, except when they do.
It wasn't all that long ago that people were demanding more action from the government in health care, the economy and the environment. Now, they have changed their minds and want less.
Consequently, it's a pretty safe bet that, whatever the voters decide today, they'll change their minds in the future.
It's just a question of when.