Campaign 2012: The Report Card

Why the winners should listen to the reasonable arguments of the losers

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Illustration by Oliver Munday for TIME

Has there ever been a less gracious presidential loser than Mitt Romney? I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt during the campaign. I figured he was just dialing for dollars when he massaged the Boca Raton fat cats' fantasies about the lack of "responsibility" on the part of the 47% who don't pay income taxes. But it turns out he really believes that stuff. In a post-election phone call, he regaled his biggest contributors, the fattest of the cats, with the notion that Barack Obama won the election by giving "gifts" to minorities and young people. He also told them that the Republican primaries were ugly because there were too many debates, particularly those staged by CNN and NBC. As if Wolf Blitzer were responsible for the embarrassing displays of barbarity by the Republican audiences, like the booing of a gay veteran. As if Chris Matthews had invented the deathless term self-deportation. As if Brian Williams had asked Romney, "Would you be willing to make a $10,000 bet with Governor Perry about that?" As if Romney had offered anything noble or memorable in his vapid campaign.

And yet, unfortunately, Romney's worldview can't just be dismissed out of hand. Too many Americans agree with it. Their dismay has been flagrant since the Ohio results came in. Assorted patriots in states that get more revenue from the federal government than they kick in--I'm talking about you, Alabama and Mississippi--are circulating petitions to secede. Business owners are threatening to raise prices, like the fool in Florida who runs more than 30 Denny's saying he'll slap a 5% Obamacare tax on his menus, even though he has no idea how much universal health care will cost him and even though the statewide health insurance exchanges might actually lower the premiums that most small businesses will pay if the exchanges unleash the power of (regulated) market competition.

There are sore losers in every election. But the quality of the carping is different this time. The sense that a "traditional" America is being supplanted by something foreign--an amalgam of Greece and Kenya, perhaps--seems to have only intensified since the election. The fantasy that the Obama coalition supports "socialism" was raised, mournfully, by William Bennett, who cited a 2011 Pew poll. The poll exists. Blacks, young people and liberals all copped to more positive feelings about "socialism" than "capitalism." But I wonder, What do these people think socialism is?

I checked the dictionary. And socialism languishes there, just as it always has: "a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state." Is that what 49% of young people favor? I don't think so. If it is, count me on Bennett's team. That sort of socialism has been an utter failure, and regulated capitalism has been the greatest eradicator of poverty in the history of the world. But I suspect--and this would be wonderfully ironic, if true--that all those blacks and young people got their definition of socialism from Rush Limbaugh and the other wing-nut foghorns: socialism is when the government helps people out.

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