The Presidential Election Matters. A Lot.

Doug Mataconis is a smart political analyst, but I don’t think he makes a compelling case that it doesn’t much matter who wins the 2012 Presidential Election. He notes some areas of policy that he believes will be similar under Romney or Obama, and there is no doubt that in at least some cases he is correct. But I still find his basic conclusion unconvincing, for at least four reasons:

1. We. Are. At. War. Americans in uniform are fighting and dying overseas. I may be sensitive about this issue because I am from a military family and I have professional responsibilities to care for wounded veterans, but I have been continually amazed through the past decade how life in America goes blithely on while the 2% of families who members are serving pay the costs of these wars (admittedly, the other 98% did accept tax cuts with patriotic stoicism).

Can you imagine going back through American history, to 1972 or 1944 or 1916 and saying “Yeah, we are at war, but it really isn’t important who we elect as commander in chief?”. Of course it matters. If you don’t believe me, talk to someone who is serving overseas right now or learning to walk again at a VA medical center.

2. After 219 straight years of Caucasian Presidents, this country finally elected an African-American. If voters throw him out of office only 4 years later to return to the white norm, it will have a scarring effect on many people of colour for years to come. In contrast, re-election of Obama would redound positively in the U.S. racial atmosphere.

3. As Harold Pollack has pointed out, if Barack Obama loses, the Affordable Care Act is toast. In contrast, if he is re-elected, the law will be fully phased in by the time he leaves office and will probably become an enduring feature of American life.

4. The above point brings to mind of course the question of whether the SCOTUS will strangle ACA before the election. It could, but that still wouldn’t make the election unimportant. Come election day, three of the nine SCOTUS justices will be in their late 70s. ‘Nuff said.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. He served as a senior policy advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2009 to 2010.