Tuesday’s Election Winner Will Disappoint You

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney's supporters shouldn't get too high or too low: There's always the next election.

Dear Mitt Romney supporters: There’s something you need to know before you go into the voting booth on Tuesday: Your man might win, but he’s almost certainly going to disappoint you.

Stop smirking, Barack Obama fans, because the same is true for you and you already know it: There’s a great chance the president will be re-elected, but the odds that he creates the liberal utopia you’ve been hoping for? Almost zero.

None of this changes the fact that come Wednesday morning, half the country is going to feel jubilant and the other half is going to be muttering to itself about moving to Canada. Half of the country will feel like things are “on the right track,” and the other will be certain things are going to hell. We’re Americans: We don’t do our political emotions in half-measures.

Those emotions can be misleading, however. Because here’s the truth: In American politics these days, the victories aren’t quite as big as the winners would have you believe, and the losses never quite as complete as the losers lament.

How do I know this? Because folks, let me tell you something embarrassing: Four years ago, I found this video deeply moving:

Oh, dear. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. I’m voting for President Obama’s re-election this year, but man, that’s embarrassing to watch now. Four years ago—when I was already very much an adult man, thank you very much—it seemed meaningful.

And it seemed meaningful all the way up to President Obama’s first few days in office, when one of the first things he did was sign an executive order that Guantanamo Bay prison camp—the site of abuses, both physical and legal—be closed. I couldn’t have been happier to have the man as my president. But a conservative friend threw some cold water on my happiness: “I bet you a bottle of scotch Gitmo is still open a year from today.”

I still owe my friend the bottle of scotch.

Now: I’m still glad that Obama  beat John McCain in 2008. Gitmo’s open, but waterboarding’s over. We didn’t get the ideal universal health care bill we wanted, but we got something—and it was upheld by the Supreme Court. The stimulus bill wasn’t big enough, but it might’ve prevented a wholesale economic disaster. The president came out in favor of gay marriage, but he won’t actually do anything about it. In every case, it seems like liberals have gotten half-a-loaf. It’s tough to maintain your enthusiasm in such circumstances.

But that’s the way it goes. Events happened, and so did the Republican Party. Given another four years in office, there will still be unexpected events, and there will still be political opposition. The difference this time, perhaps, is that Democrats know better than to expect too much.

The same diminished expectations, though, will also end up holding true for Mitt Romney if he wins.

Things will happen over the next four years that he can’t account for now. And yes, he’ll have Democrats in the Senate to deal with. He’ll get a lot of what he wants, because presidents do. But he won’t get everything, and it’s certain that Republicans will get mad because they think he’s simply not trying hard enough.

Whoever wins this election will have won only that: This election. Yeah, Karl Rove used to talk about creating a 40-year Republican majority, and Obama supporters not so long ago dreamed of him reviving the Democratic dominance of the New Deal years, but we’re simply too polarized for that to happen anymore. The bad news: It means your guy is going to lose every once in awhile. The good news? So’s the other guy.

So losers: Don’t get too down in the dumps. And winners: Don’t get cocky. You won’t be happy for very long.