Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and his wife Ann Romney vote at a polling station in Belmont. AP photo
So, to everyone who's freaking out about the possibility of a Romney victory: I have a weird but unshakable faith in this country.
I know both whom I want to win, and whom I want to lose: this isn't a "lesser of two evils" election for me. Whatever flaws scar Obama's first administration (drones, cough, drones; watered-down Wall Street reform, cough), I find them proactively superior to Romney's. And no matter who wins, an invasion of zombie hordes is a long-shot outcome. (As Joss Whedon advises, you might collect canned goods and practice parkour, anyway; Romney's ahead of us on that score.)
Over time, we in the US tend to do OK. We've made serious mistakes as a country, sometimes dodging apocalypse or genocide by a combination of luck and sheer bloodymindedness. We've let our government take action in gruesome ways – internment camps, Vietnam, Iraq. And, as citizens, we've stood by while injustices rolled over other people's lives (this individualized list is too painful and too long to articulate).
But we tend to learn from our mistakes; we tend to correct them, as best we can. Our always re-enforced self-interest and offhand sense of fairness produces a kind of lazy arc toward justice. Frustration and outrage bring wars to an end ("We're still in Iraq? Why?"). Protest and disenchantment with pursuing a failing cause allow rights to expand ("I'm not going to get up off the couch to keep gays from marrying").
Romney's vision of the America in the rearview mirror is a comparatively lonely one. Nostalgia only beckons those who haven't seen progress. Women don't want a return to a time when they couldn't sit in a boardroom without holding a steno pad, or only have control over their bodies if no one knew about it. Black people don't want to roll the clock back to racial double-vision and divide. Gay men and women don't want to give up the simple gift of visibility (or even the right to serve in the military).
And however much a Romney administration might push for policies that inch us toward the past, such moves will find resistance. The No 1 force moving America forward is the inertia of tiny gains. But, by golly, those add up: there's a black man in the White House – and that can never ever be undone.
We're stubborn about hanging on to what we have – and that's why a Romney presidency worries me but doesn't unhinge me. Bad things will happen if he becomes president, no doubt – though much depends on his being able to push through the terrible, terrible policies he's apparently in favor of (unless now Etch-a-Sketched away). In fact, that might be tricky: the whole "repealing Obamacare" promise is, on its own, the kind of indolent campaign rhetoric that betrays just how little thought Romney has given to what actual governance and practical obstacles entail.
As for those worried about an Obama victory: you chill out, too. I'm not capitalism's biggest fan, but it's proven to be pretty durable. Warnings about how regulations will keep entrepreneurs from following their dreams and how "government handouts" will impoverish charities and lure the poor into indolence fly in the face of history and human nature. Tax rates as high as 90% for top income earners during the Great Depression somehow didn't translate into calling each other "comrade" and having options as varied as Brand A and Brand A at the corner store. Our growing acknowledgment of the need for environmental stewardship produces, if nothing else, new and exciting ways to dodge such regulations. And families keep trying to better themselves. I see proof of this every day.
The chorus of fear-mongering from the furthest right is as galling as it is rootless. The idea that Obama wants to institute socialism, or make America subservient to the rest of the world? This hyperbole indicates a lack of faith in one's own country so profound that it should scare people, not the warnings themselves. The people who prey on fear and hate are the ones most likely to mask atrocities with Mobius-strip logic: we had to burn the village in order to save it.
I don't believe these warning themselves, either, and I dThe GUAon't think I have reason to. You folks who worry about such things? I guess I believe in America more than you.
Ana Marie Cox is political columnist for the Guardian US. She has written about US politics for a variety of newspapers and magazines.