I think it's possible that history teachers of the future will tell their young charges that, however awful it is to be ruled by a network of mobile devices that have evolved a cruel, cruel artficial intelligence, things could be worse: they could have the government of the United States of the early 21st century. Taking a break from suffering the blows of their ill-tempered iPhone 5000s, students will shudder and concede the point. After, all, they'll admit, anything is better than a choice between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, who were deservedly despised even in their own day.
Well, that's my forecast, and I'm sticking to it. And it's a view of the future that is, I think, fairly well-founded in the contempt for the major party candidates shared by many of my fellow Americans. Bloomberg Businessweek/AP has a pretty good write-up on the disdain this year's voters feel for their designated choices:
Never have American voters re-elected a president whose work they disapprove of as much as Barack Obama's. Not that Mitt Romney can take much comfort — they've never elected a challenger they view so negatively, either.
Unless things change dramatically, this Election Day will mark a first, no matter who wins. The victor will be a sitting president with a slow economy, 8 percent-plus unemployment and an average Gallup job-approval rating below 50 percent. Or he'll be a challenger who isn't liked personally by a majority of the public and faces notable discord within his own party.
I think we can flesh that out a bit by pointing out that President Obama has presided over repeated downgrades in the country's credit rating, and every rating agency currently gives the United States a negative outlook. He also oversaw the economic policies that resulted in the United States dropping to 18th place — barely in the top 20 — in rankings of economic freedom. "Forward," indeed — to the brink and into the abyss.
Mitt Romney, on the other hand, given the very real issue of growing dependence on the state in this country, manages instead to make a poorly crafted and ill-founded crack about who does and doesn't pay income taxes. When the in-the-bag-for-the-other guy press predictably turns this into "Mitt doesn't like poor people," he fumbles his chance to turn the conversation serious and comes off as exactly the sort of clueless rich guy he's accused of being. Romney could stand two feet from the dart board and hit the pool table every time — and then wonder what all the fuss is about.
Let's not forget that the incumbent's signature achievement — Obamacare — has never been well-regarded by the American people. That would provide an excellent opening for Romney, if he hadn't implemented a nearly identical system in Massachusetts.
Foreign policy? Barack Obama can't be blamed for the fact that much of the world is bat-shit insane, but he can be brought to task when he incoherently insists, "our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech" even as he issues an ecumenical call for intolerance of intolerance as he did at the United Nations today: "[t]he future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. Yet to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see when the image of Jesus Christ is desecrated ..."
Most Americans don't seem to care that much about civil liberties, but Obama and Romney are both terrible in a due-process-free sort of way that's worthy of the same sort of disdain they've so thoroughly earned elsewhere.
Yet, as the AP article cited above warns, "despite disapproval, someone will win Obama-Romney." Yes, it's a contest between the two major-party candidates to prove to us that the other guys is worse. Just you wait. Some awful day, 2012 politics will be used to demonstrate that things could be so much more terrible.