Sophisticates, cynics, and moralists of all stripes long have held that there is not "a dime’s worth of difference" between the Republican Party and the Democratic one, and that elections might as well be settled by a toss of that very same dime. But the talk-show host or fringe activist who assumes such a flippant attitude toward partisan politics might check his beliefs against the events of the past week. Every day brings news that would be utterly different had Mitt Romney won the 2012 election. To answer the question Hillary Clinton recently posed to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in another context: The facts on the ground make all the difference indeed.
Even the dimmest New York magazine blogger ought to be prepared to admit that a hypothetical Romney administration would be subjected to far stricter scrutiny by the U.S. media than President Barack Obama has experienced. There would, for example, be no exercises in embarrassment such as the New Republic’s recent interview with Obama, in which the president desultorily hit softballs tossed by editor Franklin Foer and editor in chief and owner Chris Hughes.
Hughes served on the president’s staff and is a major donor to the campaigns and causes of the president and other Democrats. He used the fortune he won through the Harvard housing lottery to buy the creaky liberal gal, now approaching her centenary, and sent her to the clinic for yet another facelift (as well as for extensive masthead liposuction). Neither he nor Foer seemed aware that their White House interview with the president was a textbook case of campaign donors trading money for access to a candidate. Maybe Hughes can take up the topic at one of the New Republic symposia he regularly emcees.
60 Minutes sought to join in the fun with its highly publicized interview of Obama and Hillary Clinton. Anchor Steve Kroft has interviewed the president more than a dozen times on the most-watched news program in the country, and not once has anything been said during those segments that made headlines or advanced a story of importance.
Kroft has been so insistent on not making news that after his post-Benghazi interview with Obama his producers cut footage of the president continuing to suggest that the assault on the U.S. consulate might have been something other than a planned terrorist attack. The president "knows we’re not going to play gotcha with him," said Kroft, who made his name playing gotcha with used car salesmen and crooked lawyers, after the Obama-Clinton segment. Try picturing Kroft saying the same thing about President Romney.
There is also the question of priorities. The U.S. economy has been sagging for years, the deficit is vast, and entitlement programs are not prepared to handle the coming retirement of the Baby Boomers, so naturally President Obama’s top legislative priority is amnestying 11 million illegal immigrants. This would not have been high on President Romney’s agenda. But at least one can understand Obama’s logic. For him amnesty is, dare one say it, a gift to the Hispanic voters he credits with his reelection.
What is the GOP’s excuse? Immigration is not the public’s foremost concern. Nor is it at all clear that Hispanic voters prefer Democrats simply on the basis of amnesty. George W. Bush and John McCain both supported amnesty, and neither won the Hispanic vote. Hispanic support for George H.W. Bush cratered after the last amnesty in 1986. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Hispanics vote for Democrats because they agree with the Democratic agenda of taxing the rich and redistributing the money to the middle class and poor. Will amnesty change that? It strains credulity to assume Republicans would somehow benefit politically from colluding in the passage of Obama’s top goal. The president, not the junior senator from Florida, gets the credit—and the blame—for all that happens in Washington. Immigration reform is no exception.
Marco Rubio was not in Washington during President George W. Bush’s two attempts to pass "comprehensive immigration reform" in 2006 and 2007 so perhaps he missed how the immigration debate split the Republican Party between Main Street and Wall Street; weakened the alliance between the conservative grassroots and the GOP establishment (thus laying the foundation for the Tea Party); and provided a cudgel for Democrats and Latino activists to whack House Republicans for the thought crimes of intolerance and nativism. It was not a happy time. And though conservatives shell-shocked by the 2012 election now seem more open to a policy they rejected so heartily half a dozen years ago, the bad memories may soon return.
The president’s disinterest in the economy was once again evident when it was announced that Gross Domestic Product contracted in the fourth quarter of last year. The White House sought to blame the contraction on, whom else, the House Republicans, and used the announcement to restate the virtues of government spending. Far more important to the president than economic growth is his goal of creating, as he put it in his second inaugural address, a "world without boundaries" where the federal government actively guarantees not the equal protection but the equal exercise of rights. Translated into plain English, he wants your money. Here perhaps is the premier example of Obama’s reelection making all the difference.