Money managers living in autocracies and other democracies still love America as a lucrative market and safe place to invest. Political observers, however, feel increasingly free to write off the place as politically dysfunctional, gridlocked at the top, and trapped in hatred and ignorance at the bottom.
Four years with a president as cool as ice running a government of conflicting fiscal and economic concerns has made it too easy for pessimists to overlook how much is changing—how decisively America is closing one era and beginning to play politics in a new one.
The Reagan Revolution is not coming back next week because it’s two foundation ideas—America can lead the world, and broad-based tax cuts can fix the economy—are not taken seriously by majorities at the top and at the bottom of American society. Furthermore, Obama has given those majorities sufficient reason to believe that competent, safe alternatives exist.
Romney Republicans will go down to the wire next week complaining about Obama’s apology tour and "war" against business. They’ll keep the Birthers and the Neo-Cons on side with their slogan “Believe in America,” with its cowardly unstated message that patriots have only one choice on the ballot. They could even win the popular vote, and the election.
Nevertheless, along the way to winning in this new era, think about all the Reagan family valuables that their "tin-eared" leader and his "idealist" running mate have had to send to Goodwill.
Moral relativists will argue that what politicians say to partisan audiences or at private dinners to their most important supporters can be Etch-a-Sketched away. Nevertheless, what they say to tens of millions voters in national debates should be recognized as what they’re really asking permission to try to do, what they’d have political authority to push Congress to support.
It turns out that today’s Republican ticket—the first since Nixon—actually isn’t promising to cut taxes.
Furthermore, Romney now promises to follow Obama’s modest foreign policy in the Middle East and offers no new strategic reason, and, now, no numbers, to support his earlier promise to increase the defense budget.
Of course, Republicans will remain reluctant spenders for a host of solid and controversial reasons. Nevertheless, on entitlements, education, research, and the environment, they’ll "reform" not eliminate, they’ll "save" rather than turn things over to the private sector. Somehow, they’ll even guarantee health insurance for those with pre-existing conditions.
Of course, events and radicals in Congress will test everything Moderate Romney the Second has promised. And profound differences between Obama and Romney remain to be settled next Tuesday. After all, simply not being another Ronald Reagan doesn’t mean his policies are mathematically, economically, or socially workable.
Whether Obama’s style turns off Washington insiders or not, his performance has changed the game no matter who wins.