A lot can change in four years. I got married, moved three times, had a child, had significant salary increases, and in the general sense, learned that a whole lot is possible. What I had in credit card debt I now have about half in savings. I only have one house instead of two. All things considered, to say that I'm better off than I was four years ago would be a gross understatement.
If I were the kind of moron who simply based my vote on my party preference or a four-year net gain/loss, obviously I'd go right to voting for Obama and be on my way. Since I'd like to think that I'm not a moron, it wasn't that simple at all.
In 2008, we were faced with a pool of losers on the Republican side, and two viable candidates on the Democrat side. With John McCain giving up every shred of integrity that he carried in 2000 (when he should have been nominated, and won), it was clear that we were going to have either the first female or black president. The guy with the funny name had the charisma of Bill Clinton and the symbolic qualities of a transformational leader, the likes of which we hadn't seen since the Kennedy's.
By mid-2010, however, it was clear that the president was getting a serious beat down. He started off strong with a continuation of the stimulus efforts suggested by Bush, and the various tax credits and cuts that it included, and then managed to get health care reform passed (only half of which I agree with). To his credit, he also finally got us out of Iraq. He wasn't getting much of anything else done, especially in areas of immigration, Guantanamo and deficit reduction. He didn't nut up and support gay marriage until it was politically convenient (when polls showed Americans favored it by a slim majority). In fact, I didn't feel like he was really standing up for anything, and he certainly wasn't getting anything done. Sure, you could blame Republicans who made it their platform to simply do the opposite of what the president wanted, but overcoming that kind of nonsense is exactly what you expect from a transformational leader.
With this disappointing performance in mind, I was ready for alternatives. Again, the Republicans produced virtually no one worth considering. I actually had some interest in Ron Paul, and I even voted for him in the primaries, because I generally agree with his overall ideology. However, I also think he would be the most ineffective president in history, because ideology isn't going to get anything through Congress, particularly when members of your own party base their positions on just being opposite of folks across the aisle. My hope is that Paul manages to have some lasting effect on the GOP, to wake up and realize that these clowns they keep fronting aren't going to win.
If it sounds like I'm apathetic, I don't mean to convey that. I think voting is critical at all levels, and especially at the local level. Do the research, vote for people who can do the job. People might be shocked to hear that I've been voting for the same Republican county commissioner for years, because he's kickass. Does the dog catcher catch dogs? That's how you choose who to vote for.
I never see political ads, because I have a DVR. Judging by comments on Facebook, I feel as though I'm the only one. That said, there are a number of issues that I simply don't consider when choosing a candidate. In fact, when you start to get into some of these issues, you can see why I reach the conclusion that I do.
First off, I ignore anything about jobs. I heard Romney say that he'll create jobs, but he also said that the government doesn't create jobs. In fact, I can't even say that I believe that a president can affect the short-term economy in general. It's true that a combination of factors can certainly have massive impact, but presidential intervention I suspect would account for little of it. For example, the mortgage crisis was a triple threat of failure: It was a combination of weak regulation of the lending industry, banks that were too loose with lending, and most importantly, borrowers who bought more house than they could afford and agreed to ridiculous terms. With that much blame to go around, a president can't claim responsibility for fixing it, let alone be blamed for it.
I strongly believe that the economy will continue to grow at a pace that matches the condition of markets around the world. The recession ended in 2009, and that is a fact. The recovery might not come as fast as people would like, but no president is going to change that. The more you interfere with a market, the more you risk turning it into a bubble. We've seen it with housing and higher education already.
When you take that stuff out of the equation, what are you left with? In no particular order:
I voted for Obama. While I desperately want Obamacare to be heavily revised, ditching the individual mandate in particular, he's closer to aligning with what I believe. He wants to spend too much, but at least it's not by way of warmongering. I might be naive, but I think without the pressure of reelection, he might actually stand up and fight for what he believes.
Romney, by contrast, has campaigned almost exclusively in the politics of fear. Instead of terrorism, this time it's the economy. Even his Web site is devoid of any real, specific plans. "I'll work with Congress" is not good enough.
I did consider voting for one of the third party candidates that are on the ballot in most states. There's a real question about whether or not that's "wasting" your vote, and I'm still torn on that issue. It's telling that most of them have Republican roots, and on social issues, most align more closely with Democrats. What I find interesting about that is that the alternative candidates actually seem to align more with regular people. Maybe it's just the people that I know, but I find that folks tend to be fiscally conservative and socially liberal, a position which seems inevitable with age and experience. Yet, the two major parties can't be these two things.
What I understand the least is how anyone could be so passionate about either candidate, whether it's for or against them. They're both assclowns in their own special way, but not to the extent where they're worth campaigning for them or spending all your spare time calling them socialists, elitists or out of touch. Some people literally hate one of these guys. I don't even have the energy to hate people I know, let alone people I'll never meet. When someone gets in my grill and says, "ZOMG how can you vote for Obama," my reaction is, "How could you care that much?" I also wasn't above taking Romney' s campaign money in the form of ads on my Web sites. October was not bad.
My other disappointment is in the way people allowed themselves to get sucked into the stupidity and propaganda. The polarization in Washington is obviously part of the problem, and for reasons I don't understand, people wanted to align themselves with that. Despite Obama's obvious failures that you could intelligently criticize, people went for the silly hyperbole instead. That's the route the GOP took as well.
2016 has to be better than this. If the two major parties can't come closer to the middle, we need a third viable option, and they have to market themselves in a way that cuts through the Republican-Democrat stupidity. In the mean time, no matter who is president, I can pretty much say for sure that the economy will slowly continue to recover, and the markets will drive the change necessary to not suck as much. In other words, a president isn't going to do that for us.
So will the president and members of Congress get the message that they need to come to the middle? I'm not optimistic, largely because the voting public doesn't want it. We get the government we deserve.