More than a month has passed since our president handily won another four years in the White House. Obama succeeded because he united the concerns of social liberals, single women, young people, blacks and Hispanics, and lower middle-class workers. Together, these voters created a powerful political tide that not only kept Obama in power but also took my Washington State to new, uncharted levels of liberalism. Last week, gay marriage and recreational use of marijuana became legal in our state.
I voted for Obama in 2008 because he seemed an intelligent, good man with reasonable ideas. I disliked his stance on abortion, but the most pressing social issue was gay marriage, and he and I agreed on that. Furthermore, I didn’t like McCain’s philandering past or his VP pick, and I was fed up with a Republican Party that had retained power so long without addressing our country’s financial problems or fighting the erosion of traditional families. Bush had led us into a questionable war, expanded entitlements with his Medicare Part B, and tethered schools to impossible goals in his No Child Left Behind Act. On the eve of the election, it became clear that his reign had not prevented, and maybe even encouraged, the corrupt banking practices that were threatening our nation’s very stability. So I decided to take a chance on a Democrat, reasoning that the efficiency and humanity of the government was more important than its size. I hoped our nation’s first black president could raise national politics above partisan bickering to clean up Washington and solve the fiscal problems looming over our heads.
Obama failed to realize my hopes. He didn’t raise the tenor of our politics, and—though I know the banking crisis required extreme measures—he certainly didn’t solve our financial problems. Instead of reforming our tax code or entitlement programs, he gave us a healthcare legislation so vast and complex that no one has a clue what its real cost or consequence will be. That being said, he faced extraordinary challenges, even for a president. And in some areas, especially foreign policy, he seemed to do as well as anyone could have. All in all, I never hated Obama’s presidency, but I didn’t love it either, and I looked to Mitt Romney as the man who might be able to do what Obama could not. Romney had the financial know-how and a record of bipartisan leadership that made him uniquely qualified to lead our country through treacherous economic times.
As a Mormon, I’m sure I liked Romney more than your average conservative and felt his defeat more keenly. When I see his picture in the news, I feel a pang of regret. I think of what an exemplary and capable man he is, and I’m sad our nation passed up the chance to elect its first Mormon president. If he had won, I believe he’d have gone down in history as one of our greatest. So yes, I’m disappointed that Romney lost, but I’m not devastated. Moreover, I’m not mourning that Obama’s still our president; I don’t hate him personally or politically, and that’s how democracy goes—sometimes you get what you voted for and sometimes you don’t.
What I am devastated by is the larger political drama that took Romney down. For starters, I’m disappointed that our icon of hope and change resorted to vicious personal attacks to attain his goal. I cannot imagine a man more earnest, diligent and wholesome than Romney. His history couldn’t be any cleaner; his success in business and public service couldn’t be more glowing; his devotion to his family couldn’t be more obvious. That Obama and his allies convinced millions of people to distrust him is disturbing. My liberal Facebook friends disparaged him as “disgusting” and a “conspicuous consumer.” One asserted that Romney wanted “dominion” over all women’s bodies. Meanwhile, I didn’t see any personal attacks on Obama posted by a Republican Facebook friend. This double standard was apparent at the National Conventions too. The Republicans talked about the decent guy who wasn’t getting his job done, whereas the Democrats’ cheered people like Sandra Fluke, who asserted that Republicans want to take us to an “offensive, obsolete relic of our past.”
How did this strategy work? Was it simply because Romney’s rich? Was it reverse racism? Was it prejudice against Mormons? Some Obama fans seemed incensed that Romney opposes gay marriage, even though Obama opposed gay marriage until just six months before the election. Obama ran an ad that declared Romney’s “not one of us.” Another of his ads said a girl’s first time should be with a man “who really cares about and understands women,” a guy who cares about “whether you get birth control”—a girl’s first time voting, of course. And during the second debate, when Romney asked legitimate questions about the Benghazi fiasco, Obama looked at him with disdain and declared that Romney was being “offensive.” I think Romney was as bewildered as I was. He wasn’t ready for the tactic. He lost the exchange.
That debate moment became for me a microcosm of the election: Romney earnestly challenging the president on legitimate issues and Obama brushing him off by branding him as offensive. Voters were most concerned about finances, and they thought Romney was as competent as the president, maybe more so, in this area. And so, the pundits said, Obama’s job was to “disqualify” Romney—a job he did well. Last Spring, when he changed his stance on gay marriage, Obama turned the public’s gaze away from money. Though he didn’t campaign on his new stance, and though debate moderators never asked him about it, his flip was more than enough to rally the liberal base. Gay marriage also served as the perfect opening for resurrecting the issue of abortion rights. Romney and Ryan seemed clueless in combating this ingenious leverage of what they must have thought were stale culture wars.
This is where the political drama became devastating for me. I watched in frustration as nice people became irate that Romney and Ryan believe religious freedom is more important than free birth control. I watched in sadness as they crowed about a woman’s right to choose, as though a baby’s life weighs nothing compared to a woman’s convenience. Feminists renewed their war on Mother Nature: women are entitled to sexual pleasure without the bother of babies. And then there was the gay marriage issue, which worries me to no end, not because gay men are inadequate as husbands and fathers, but because they’re inadequate as mothers. My feeling that every child needs to know a mother’s breast, a mother’s voice, a mother’s touch, a mother’s instinct, a mother’s love—this is now an “offensive, obsolete relic of our past.”
No, I’m not devastated by Obama; I’m devastated by liberalism’s new bent. I’m devastated that a majority of voters see common sense as backward, family values as chauvinistic, wrong as right. Thursday in Seattle, gay couples celebrated their new marriage rights and potheads gathered to rejoice over their “coming out of the marijuana closet.” Just a few yards from our city’s seasonal ice skating rink, a Seattle Times reporter interviewed a father who had brought his young daughters downtown to witness “democracy in action.” The man showed off his ounce of marijuana, but virtuously waited to smoke it, since public consumption is still illegal. The crowd, perhaps encouraged by sheriffs who promised laissez-faire law enforcement, was not so high-minded, and the smell of weed wafted about our Seattle Center. Call me a party pooper, but I’ll think twice now before taking my children to ride up the Space Needle. I’m so old-fashioned I’d rather they learn about marijuana from a D.A.R.E. video than from inhaling Mary Jane on a family outing. You see, I want to protect them not only from secondhand smoke but also from the idea that this addictive, mind-numbing, accident-causing, death-hastening substance is a normal form of recreation.
As an adult, my paramount duty is to protect children. Most Washington voters, on the other hand, think their paramount duty is protecting our right to act like children. I keep wondering where all the grown-ups have gone. Is it our turn to hide in the closet?