John Avlon for CNN: What's really at stake in election 2012

November 4th, 2012

By, John Avlon
November 4, 2012



The stakes in this election go far beyond just who takes the oath of office in January.

Each of us is faced with choices that will have huge ramifications in our nation for decades — and the choice is not simply about Democrats versus Republicans or even Obama versus Romney. The real stakes are this: The political strategies that prove successful in this election will be replicated far into the future.

Throughout this election cycle, we’ve seen hyperpartisan narratives resonate more than facts, total opposition embraced as a congressional tactic, and unprecedented dark money flow through our airwaves in an avalanche of negative ads.

If those forces are rewarded, we’ll see much more of them from both parties going forward. They will become the new normal.

If they are rejected, it may inspire a necessary recalibration and a renewed focus on finding ways to work together in Washington. This won’t be just because it’s the right thing to do; it will be because it is what is seen as practical and politically expedient.

When President Obama took office, the fiscal crisis was in full effect, but our nation was briefly united after the 2008 election. Then the partisan media started to try to repolarize the nation for their profit.

A relentless drumbeat of demonizing the president gave rise to all sorts of dark conspiracy theories, driven by the conviction that the first African-American president of the United States was somehow un-American. Hating Obama became a profitable cottage industry, with the publication of at least 89 different obsessively anti-Obama books — more than twice the number that were directed at President George W. Bush by the end of his first term. Unhinged ideas seeped perilously close to the mainstream, to the point that the gap between partisan narrative and actual facts seems cavernous and finds fellow Americans divided beyond reason.

This has real civic cost. A president who has presided over a doubling of the stock market is called socialist or even communist. A president who ordered the killing of Osama bin Laden is seen by some as secret Islamist-sympathizer. And perhaps most important, a president whose actual record leads respected nonpartisan political scientists at the VoteView blog to say “President Obama is the most moderate Democratic president since the end of World War II” is instead seen as a far-left liberal. A reality check is overdue.

This hyperpartisan reality distortion field has impacted Congress as well. In the past, we’ve achieved a great deal with divided government — ranging from the Marshall Plan, to the interstate highway system, to the achievements of the Reagan administration, to welfare reform and the turning of deficits into surpluses under President Bill Clinton and then-Speaker Newt Gingrich. But the current congressional environment has led to division and dysfunction, Super Committee fails and justifiably low congressional approval rates.

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