One day to go and the heat is on. Nate Silver’s projections make it look like Obama is set to win but even he says it’s not a done deal. Polls in most of the swing states have the candidates neck and neck, sometimes leaning one way, sometimes the other. It’s a headache if you’re a politico that’s partisan enough to care one way or the other, but not so in-tuned to wishful thinking that you believe wholeheartedly in a blahblahblah victory.
Regardless of the outcome, whoever’s the winner will only be so by a small margin and that raises questions for how much influence they’ll really have over politics the next four years. It’s easy to forget the lackluster enthusiasm President Bush suffered in his first year in office, until 9/11 happened and the US needed a leader. Perhaps the most hotly contested president was Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876 who lost the popular vote to Samuel J. Tilden, but won the presidency when the Congressional commission awarded Hayes twenty disputed electoral votes. An informal deal was made, now known as the Compromise of 1877, whereby Hayes would keep his presidency but would, as his opposing party wished, remove troops from the south and “end reconstruction.”
Now why am I bringing this up? The chances of such a deal or even a tie in the electoral college happening are near ridiculous. But Hayes never had the respect he could have had as an uncontested winner, and in the current political climate, with the House and Senate looking like they’ll both be deadlocked again next Congress, presidential respect, legitimacy, and the knowledge of a clear winner, are needed to show where the country really wants to go. Without a clear direction, it’s difficult to exult the stagnation we’ll see in Washington for the next two or four years.
And, like when Hayes’ election ended Reconstruction after the Civil War before it could come to fruition, if the country goes with Romney and he succeeds in stopping Obama’s policies of the past 4 years, maybe we’ll never know what Obamacare would really have been like, how different it would be with the richest of us paying higher taxes; maybe our kids won’t know what we mean when we say Planned Parenthood and Big Bird. If the country goes with Obama, maybe we’ll never know what Romney’s specific economic plans are and if they would really be better, what China would really do if we declared them a currency manipulator, whether there could really be more compromise in Washington.
Of course, I’m also getting too ahead of myself. In less than 24 hours, the first polls will be closing. In two days (hopefully) we’ll know for sure. And in four more years (don’t you just love elections?) we’ll get to talk about this all over again.