I don’t know how it crept upon me, exactly, but I woke this morning gripped by election dread. Never mind that Barack Obama is going to win. Nate Silver now gives Romney a 13%-ish chance of winning the electoral college, and the spate of national polls that declare a tie in the popular vote are matched by the spate that read Obama-plus. Granted, it is baffling and unsettling that it remains that close. Romney turned in a tax plan everyone said was nonsensical, went to various sporting events and told fans what an owner he was, tied his dog to the roof of his car and made a video of himself promising to ignore half the country. Obama looked tired in a debate—tie! Evidently, the American people do not follow the news. Either that or polls don’t mean a damn thing, and anything could happen tomorrow.
So I am a little worried. It saddens me that voters might consider two candidates—the black child of a single mother who eventually became president, and the governor’s son who turned mere wealth into a fortune—and decide that the second one is what America is all about. I don’t get that, and I myself am a white guy. I’m Mitt Romney’s friggin’ wheelhouse—and I don’t have kids in school; I am disgruntled about my high tax rate; I do not receive government assistance. If anyone responds to Romney’s message of magically helpful selfishness, it should be me.
But the thought of a Romney presidency terrifies me. Not for what he would do—he would probably wreck the budget with tax cuts and deregulate us back to the 19th century, plus maybe start a war with Iran, but we basically did that for eight years and came out okay. Yes, the presidential administration that defined my early adult life tried most of the things the Romney administration promises to do, and yes it ended in economic collapse and deficits and Ke$ha. But the fundamental tenor of American life did not change. We became more self-pitying and pessimistic, but that just brought the country’s values more closely into line with my own.
So I am not scared of what a Romney victory would do to the country; I’m scared of what it would do to me. Like, I suspect, many of you, I am engaged in a continuous interior war with misanthropy. Misanthropy is a trap. It makes you miserable and encourages you to ignore opportunities in other people. The only thing worse than misanthropy is dishonesty.
I really, really hope that my worst judgments about People In General—the snap judgments I correct with my better nature, the indulgently self-pitying judgments about the weight of public ignorance—are not correct. That would be awful, because it would pit my will to honesty with myself against my will to happiness, and I know which one would win. Hope that the truth about people is not that most of them are proud, stupid assholes, because sooner or later you will find out.
I am sort of afraid that I will find out tomorrow. Sometime in early spring, I began to think of this election as a referendum on the American voting public. In the candidates, the choice between two kinds of person seems stark, but the choice between messages is even starker. Mitt Romney and the GOP insist that the best way to improve the American economy is to cut taxes on those of us who are doing well and offer less help to those who are doing poorly. They have produced no evidence that it will work—and they have actively opposed evidence that it won’t—but millions of Americans believe it, because it is what they want to hear.
I sympathize with that. I would like to believe that cutting taxes and social services stimulates the economy; I would like to believe that the best way to help people is to buy more stuff for myself, because then I would have more stuff. I’d like to believe that the poor are lazy, because then I would not feel as bad when I think about them. I would like to think that the 47% of the country that did not make enough money last year to qualify for federal income tax is dragging me down with their stupid disinterest in their own lives, because it would justify my impulse to ignore them.
I just don’t think it’s true. I certainly haven’t seen any persuasive arguments from Mitt Romney about it, and neither has the rest of America. The only thing his plans for the presidency have to recommend them is that they might excuse me from my obligation to everyone else. I would like to be relieved of that obligation, but I don’t think I am. In the race between my honesty and my misanthropy, honesty is ahead by a nose. I am scared because tomorrow everyone will vote, and it’s possible misanthropy could win.