“There is no significant difference between Republicans and Democrats, so the choice is meaningless.” This claim is trumpeted about by many political lefties, and by those crypto-righties, Libertarians.
Sometimes the difference between the GOP and Dems is quite stark – recently Republicans in the House voted to take money from social programs, like school lunches for the poor, and give it to the Pentagon. Not one of the Democrats in the House signed on for that one. And there is no doubt in my mind that Al Gore would not have waged the Iraq War, as Bush did, nor would he have gutted environmental controls… as Bush did.
Other times, it’s true, the distinction between GOP and Democrat… well, it’s not so obvious. President Obama used people like Timothy Geithner as a bridge, as conciliation to Wall Street, apparently to keep the big banks from panicking—a move that seems very Republican. Obama has so far failed to break up the big banks, a move sorely needed. When the President stated that he personally supported gay marriage, Saturday Night Live joked, “The President has come out… as a Democrat.” And I laughed at that one. It often seems to our impatient lefties that the President is bending over backwards for compromise, forever watering down the fulfillment of his promises.
But what matters more is Presidential Culture. A Presidential Culture is in part defined by appointees. Supreme Court? That’s an obvious one. But consider the Cabinet; consider a President’s choices for Secretary of Defense, for the State Department, the EPA, the Justice Department, Secretary of the Interior and so on. Each appointee makes decisions, makes hires of their own, makes thousands of “minor” decisions, and influences the American condition with tendencies based on their general point of view—a viewpoint which in some key way has overlapped with the President’s. Their decisions are a cultural watershed in their department, and add to the cultural watershed of the administration. While an appointee is not likely to be entirely incorruptible or consistent, the general trend of their decisions will be in line with the Presidential point of view, with his or her outlook; even to their personal taste for what feels right. Economic prosperity is not really something that trickles down; but Presidential culture is, it trickles down into the society, a watershed pressure nudging us gently one way, or another.
If you’re piloting a gigantic passenger liner across the sea, and you are at first headed due West from Europe, just turn the wheel one point to the south, or one point north, so little you can barely see the change on the wheel, leave it there for the trip, and by the voyage’s end that one point difference determines which continent you’ve gotten to–South America, or North America.
People on the left squirm with impatience at the President’s pace and his compromises, but, over time, the ship of state is gradually angling left. Newt Gingrich is patently absurd in calling President Obama’s course “radical”. It’s never radical. But the overall culture of his administration has a direction—one which will take us to an entirely different continent than Romney’s would.