M.D. Harmon: Preparing to hold off the statist juggernaut


Well, at least Big Bird is safe.

OK, that wasn’t all that funny. But there isn’t much that is this week, whose glorious achievements found their fitting culmination when TV commentator Chris Matthews expressed gratitude for a storm that killed more than 100 people because Hurricane Sandy seemed to help put his favored candidate in a positive light and thus aided in his re-election.

(Yes, he later apologized. One should not always tell people what one really believes, after all.)

Beyond that, there are lots of things to say about Tuesday’s election, some of them unprintable, but one of the most astounding ones is that if there was a battle cry that motivated voters all night long, it was this:

“Keep the bums in!”

After all, a record of adding $5 trillion in national debt, the collapse of the Middle East into jihadist hands and the weakest recovery from a recession since the Great Depression, resulting in polls saying a substantial majority of Americans are dissatisfied with the country’s direction, is worthy of a vote of confidence, is it not?

So, with regard to the makeup of the government in Washington, nothing has changed.

President Obama remains in office, the Senate is still in Democratic hands but not filibuster-proof (though Majority Leader Harry Reid says he has plans to fix that), and the House of Representatives continues to be led by Speaker John Boehner, a Republican.

Oh, some things will change over the next four years. It is likely that one or more Supreme Court justices will leave, with any replacement coming from the leftmost end of the bullpen bench.

That has significant bearing on religious freedom, gun rights, environmental rules, energy production and many social issues, but all of that is in the future.

What faces us now comes before Inauguration Day, and it’s tied up in two simple words: “fiscal cliff.”

I was asked this week if I could find any silver lining in the dark clouds that surround us, and there is one, but it is only a philosophical comfort. To cite the wisdom of Herbert Stein, the head of President Richard Nixon’s Council of Economic Advisors and father of writer Ben Stein: “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”

Trouble is, there’s “stopping” as in, “gently applying the brakes,” and then there’s “stopping by crashing headlong into a brick wall.”

It seems odd that voters kept the House in GOP hands. Along with the addition of a double handful of Republican governors, these are the bright spots amid the gloom.

But as the federal government asserts its power and influence in the coming years, and particularly as new and far more liberal Supreme Court justices are inevitably appointed, it would be surprising if these victories were sufficient to hold off the statist juggernaut. Rule-making remains entirely in Obama’s hands, and he has said in the past that if Congress will not agree to his wishes, he will bypass it.

With a tame Department of Justice entirely subservient to the Oval Office, there is no one to stop him.

Oddly, there were about 10 million fewer votes counted on Election Day 2012 than were cast in the 2008 election. Obama received about 69.5 million votes to John McCain’s 59.9 million four years ago, but this year he got only 60.7 million to Mitt Romney’s 57.8, according to the Powerline blog.

But John Podhoretz, writing in the online Commentary magazine blog, said that several million votes—absentee and military ballots, along with some provisional and challenged votes—are typically counted in the weeks after the polls close. While they won’t change the result, they could add to either candidate’s totals, so the discrepancy may not be as large as it now seems.

Nevertheless, how could Romney, with his superior (though still inadequate) organization, financing and debate performance, get fewer votes than the relatively unpopular and far less organized and financed McCain?

Powerline’s John Hinderaker speculated that because the campaigns concentrated on a relatively few swing states, incentives to vote elsewhere were lower, but others noted that in some states, such as the much-contested Ohio, total ballots cast were still lower than 2008.

My own guess is that people don’t vote when they are either satisfied with the current situation (hard to accept, but possible, I suppose—in which case they would have supported Obama if they had voted) or they are extremely dissatisfied and don’t vote due to disgust with the choices offered them or perhaps with the entire electoral process.

Obviously, such voters wouldn’t have helped Romney much, either.

And here in Maine, voters decided that the tax cuts and reductions in the rise of government spending (which is not the same as reducing government spending) implemented by Republicans who gained control of both houses of the Legislature two years ago were simply too much to bear.

So on Tuesday they returned Democrats to power by substantial majorities in both the Maine Senate and House. While they will still have to deal with Republican Gov. Paul LePage, it appears that Maine taxpayers, who once were the “Invisible Man” of state politics, may have achieved solidity briefly, but have become entirely transparent once again.

I do wonder if things might have been different if the GOP had not postponed the implementation of its tax cuts to 2013. If voters had noted their withholding going down in 2012, they might have been more inclined to keep Republicans in power.

By not giving them anything concrete in time to influence their votes this year, however, the GOP may have done itself—and the hard-working Mainers who counted on it for relief—no good.

That’s speculation on my part, of course, and now we’ll never know.

In the meantime, it’s only two years to the next election, and if anything is certain, it’s that liberals are already gearing up for it. If currently dispirited conservatives don’t start acting soon to match them, then the left will win by default—just like it has been winning for so many years.

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Are conservatives tough enough to fall back on the solid (indeed, eternal) principles that undergird their positions, get up off the mat and start swinging again? Or will they just give up?

That’s certainly what liberals would like them to do, isn’t it?

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a free-lance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at: mdharmoncol@gmail.com.


  1. Some people can see the forest through the trees – even after a whoopin’.
    Time to reaffirm the type of conservatism embodied by Snowe and Collins lest conservatists fade into the political void.

  2. Right now, Republicans, in their current iteration, are largely irrelevant. But it is not in anyone’s interest to have only one party doing the deep thinking and heavy lifting. Republicans sat on their hands and tried to run out the clock on the Obama presidency; that didn’t work out for them. If Boehner would like to have a majority in 2016, he is going to have to understand that his losses this time around were largely self-inflicted. If McConnell hopes to have a minority that can stop a Democratic steamroller in 2016, he, too, will have to give up his pugilistic posturing and start compromising.

  3. The major problem, as I see it, is that the GOP refuses to believe that they lost because of their obstructionism and failure to advance ideas that people see as valuable. They talk about Hurricane Sandy, Christie embracing Obama, voter suppression, stupid voters. Until they own up to the fact that their policies suck for most Americans, they will become increasingly irrelevant.

  4. An electoral triumph is not the same as a policy triumph. Obama has inherited his own mess and he will continue along the same lines. What shall we see? A double-dip recession? Flocks of unintended and unpleasant consequences springing from Obama Care. Unemployment climbing again? Tax increases without revenue increases? More Solyndras? Fresh disasters in the Middle East. Iranian nukes? Renewed terrorist activity? Trillions more in deficit spending? So many exciting possibilities.

  5. But seriously John, don’t you think Karl Rove could have found a better way to spend $325 million? Or is that what you mean by policy triumph not being the same as electoral triumph? Every time I heard a negative ad from American Crossroads or the Chamber of Commerce it made me more determined to vote. Apparently that happened in other places where lines were much longer than in New Sharon.

  6. Rodney: As you know I don’t have TV so I know nothing about the ads that stimulated your zeal. I take it there were no negative TV ads directed at Romney to offend you.

    What I mean by “policy triumph” is expressed by the ancient adage that “the proof of the pie (or pudding if you prefer) is in the eating.” An electoral endorsement, even if by 60% of the voters, does not demonstrate that, e.g., Obamacare will actually reduce health costs. Math—cruelly indifferent to the hopes and wishes of voters—will deliver the final judgement.


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