11/09/2012 10:35 am ET Updated Jan 08, 2013


Others will and already are picking apart the election result and explaining why it happened.

The featured causes include significant increases in the number of Hispanic voters, the GOP's seriously declining share of that vote, the ubiquitous gender gap, extremism on the right, and -- perhaps owing to that extremism -- the inability of Romney, though he tried, to credibly embrace the center once the general election was upon him.

All are valid.

But the thing that most struck me about the election was not why it happened but rather the dominant emotion the result elicited. Other than in the immediate aftermath, it wasn't elation or exuberance. It certainly wasn't chest thumping or braggadocio. It wasn't even all that much score settling (though statistics and real evidence guru Nate Silver -- who called the Presidential result in all fifty states -- is clearly entitled to take a lot of names). Rather, on the extreme right, it was denial. And everywhere else it was . . .


The Europeans were relieved. The Chinese were relieved. The Middle East was relieved to the extent possible in that part of the world. Seniors and women were relieved, and so were all those people living on the coasts who just got hammered by Hurricane Sandy and don't believe "the jury is still out" on climate change and global warming. Even Floridians, where the vote is still being counted, were relieved, no doubt grateful that Ohio and Colorado put someone over the top and spared the rest of us a re-run of 2000.

So why was this the case?

The simple answer, I think, is this. Had Romney been elected, and certainly had he been elected along with a Republican Senate and House, the country was going to march to the beat of a radically different drummer. From an immediate fixation on drastic spending cuts to a resurgence of neo-conservative militarism, the future was not going to look remotely similar to the recent past. The country's foreign and domestic policies undoubtedly would change.

But, much more importantly, so would its priorities.

In a demand starved environment where austerity has failed wherever it has been tried, the new normal would have been, at the very least, a second recession or depression. The British demonstrate this reality in spades. In 2010, having jettisoned a government embracing reasonable Keynesian stimulus for one that denied its necessity, the UK cut spending and watched itself slide into another downturn from which it has yet to emerge. Nor have the austerians fared any better on the continent. Unemployment is at historically tragic levels in southern Europe, civil unrest is becoming a serious problem in Greece, and the absence of real growth is even now starting to hurt the inflation-obsessed Germans.

America, in contrast, has been a relative success story since Obama became President.

And this was not by accident.

The auto industry bail out saved Michigan and a large part of the mid-west. The early term Recovery Act pumped billions into an economy that was then on life support. It is true, of course, that the patient has only recently been released from intensive care. And she is hardly able to walk out of the hospital.

But she is no longer dying either.

The likelihood is that all this would have ended or been reversed if Romney had been elected President. However much he tried to convince us of late that a moderate heart beat in 2012's version of an otherwise extreme political body, Romney never wavered in his opposition to the stimulus. He falsely claimed it had failed but truly believed it should not have been adopted. Ditto on Obamacare, which he would have repealed. To bend the medical cost curve, which Obama bends with his state-based exchanges and best-practices panel, Romney's answer was privatized Medicare, which in the end could only bend it by denying care to those without the means to supplement their vouchers.

Romney was about ending the New Deal at home . . .

And resurrecting the Neo-Con Deal abroad.

How else to explain the unasked for increases in military spending. Or the fact that any Republican cabinet would have included their Secretary of State in waiting, John Bolton, one of the architects of Bush II's armada uber alles approach to foreign policy. Or the false claims that Obama's approach was to undertake "an apology tour." Or the GOP's xenophobic approach to immigration, where the first question asked any Hispanic (let's not kid ourselves here) would have been "where's your green card," in the hope that "self-deportation" eliminated the need for the nastiness now au courant in Arizona.

And then there was the Supreme Court. Which is likely to have three or more vacancies in the next four years. Romney wanted more Scalias.

Most of us do not.

So, at the end of the day, in a reprise of that old Alka-Seltzer commercial, the country woke up on Wednesday morning having been asked how it spelled relief. The answer was . . .