Postmortem: American Election 2012

messy and complicated

Image by magnaen.

It’s been one week since Election Day. By now, of course, everyone in the world knows the results of our Presidential contest. But despite all the hype lavished on Obama and Romney, the election was about a lot of other people and issues than just them.

In no particular order, here are my Top 9 results from Election 2012:

1. Pot is legal now.

Well, sort of.

Two states – Washington and Colorado – voted to legalize marijuana. Lots of other states had already given the OK to medicinal use, but this was the first time it’s been green-lighted for, ahem, recreational purposes.

This is a huge win, because America’s war on marijuana is incredibly harmful and serves little real purpose.

It’s harmful because we spend millions of dollars making police chase down a drug no more dangerous than alcohol. It’s harmful because we spend millions more keeping thousands of pot users and dealers locked up. It’s harmful because it creates yet another black market, feeding even more power to gangs foreign and domestic. And it’s harmful because it deprives our governments of revenue from taxing pot in a time when deficits are nearing a crisis point.

Of course, federal law still prohibits all marijuana use, full stop, so it remains to be seen how the Washington and Colorado decisions will play out in practice. If nothing else, it should give the court-watchers something to talk about.

2. Ohio’s Issue 2 was defeated.

Voters in my state shot down – by a wide margin – a law that would have handed redistricting power to a nonpartisan commission, away from the politicians chosen by those districts. Not entirely sure why this lost, but I think it’s because the ballot text was incredibly long and complicated. In the future, simpler may be better when it comes to explaining the issues.

3. Gay marriage makes a clean sweep.

Another big win: same-sex marriage was on the ballot in four different states, and in all four, it got the best possible result. In Maine, Maryland, and Washington, voters decided – for the first time in the nation – to legalize same-sex marriage. (Other states have legalized this in the past, but never by direct democratic vote.) In Minnesota, gay marriage remains illegal, but voters nixed a plan to put the prohibition directly in the state constitution. You take what you can get.

I think about one of my good friends from work, who recently conquered her fear and came out as a lesbian, whose mother still hasn’t forgiven her. When I think that someday – hopefully a someday not too distant – she could have the same freedom to marry that I took for granted two years ago, it makes me very happy.

Similar to the marijuana situation, gay marriage is officially unrecognized at the federal level (regardless of state law), thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act. But with public support for gay marriage past the 50% mark nationwide, equality is only a matter of time. The question is, how much time will it take?

Speaking of which…

4. We elected our first openly gay Senator.

I know next to nothing about Wisconsin’s Senator-elect Tammy Baldwin aside from that landmark fact. Who knows if she’ll make a good legislator? Not me. But it says something encouraging about our society that homosexuality is becoming ever less of a barrier to public achievement.

5. Puerto Rico wants to be a state.

Well, sort of.

A ballot question in Puerto Rico asked voters if they favored statehood. 61% of those who answered the question said yes.

However, hundreds of thousands of voters left the question blank. When you include those too – and why wouldn’t you? – only 45% of Puerto Rican voters actually want to belong to a state.

The path to statehood requires a majority approval by both houses of Congress, plus the President’s signature. This tepid response is hardly a mandate for action in D.C. Moreover, Puerto Rico leans overwhelmingly to the political left, meaning that the GOP-controlled House is unlikely to approve a 51st star on the flag anytime soon.

6. Ohio was not the Decider.

So much importance was ascribed to my Buckeye State, you’d have thought we were the only ones voting. (It certainly seemed that way from the ad onslaught we were subjected to.) But in the end, Obama got 332 electoral votes, meaning that even without his razor-thin win in Florida, he still could have sealed the deal sans Ohio.

Maybe next time, they’ll forget about us and put Indiana in the crosshairs. (Yeah, right.)

7. Nate Silver is mathemagical.

The major news outlets, including CNN, CBS, ABC, NBC, and NPR, all deemed the Presidential race a dead heat, absolutely tied, anybody’s guess. Meanwhile, conservative commentators of all stripes – from George Will to Rush Limbaugh to Karl Rove – predicted a Romney win.

They were all wrong.

Nonpartisan statistician Nate Silver, on his blog FiveThirtyEight.com, predicted an Obama win. That’s hardly unusual in itself. But check this out: he not only predicted the popular vote percentages both candidates would get to within 0.3%, he also correctly called which way all fifty states would go, before Election Day.

Silver was widely skewered before the election as a tool of the liberal camp. He may be taken a little more seriously now. When math and politics fight, math wins every time.

8. Elections are utterly ridiculous now.

Not that they were paragons of ethics and transparency before. But look: the U.S. collectively poured something like $6 billon into these elections. That’s billion, with a “B.” That’s twelve times the amount taxpayers spent on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting this year. That’s twice the cost of the entire Curiosity mission to Mars.

Let me say that again: by switching off this year’s political ads, we could have afforded two extra Martian rovers. Talk about win-win.

Moreover, because of new court decisions and new loopholes, rich donors can pour as much money as they want into any race they want, and they can do so anonymously. Want to try your hand at buying an election? You don’t even have to sign your name!

Beyond that, there’s the toll on the candidates themselves. Mitt Romney announced his exploratory committee for the Presidential race on April 11, 2011. Not 2012. 2011. He has literally been running for President for more than eighteen consecutive months. And that’s not even counting his almost-as-grueling run in 2008.

I’m no fan of Romney, but I wouldn’t wish that hell on anybody.

No sane person would subject themselves to that kind of torture. And when your election process rules out the sane candidates, guess what kind of candidates you get?

9. Second verse, same as the first.

After all that time and money, we’ve finally seen the new face of Washington.

And it’s exactly the same.

Sure, a few seats have changed hands, a few issues have been decided. But like it or not, at the 10,000-foot level, we are exactly where we were beforehand: a Democratic Senate, a Republican House, and President Barack Obama.

“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else — if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

-Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass

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