Today's Election Is Not Especially Important

Just as we do every four years, we're hearing the mantra: This election will be the most important election in recent times, and if the wrong candidate wins, terrible things will happen to the country.

That's wrong. All presidential elections are important. But based on available information, this one will most likely be the least important one since 1996.

For example, consider the 2008 election. Imagine President John McCain managing the precarious Wall Street rescue, which depended on market confidence in the steady hand of the government. Or imagine him overseeing the auto bailout and pulling the country back from the several fiscal cliffs that would arise during his term.

Remember, this is the same John McCain who seemed unable to discuss any economic policy issue other than earmarks, and who impulsively decided it would be a good idea to have Sarah Palin a heartbeat away from the presidency. Think about that for a second and then try to tell me that this election is more important than the one four years ago.

Or consider the foreign policy dangers of a McCain administration, the fear of which drove my libertarian colleague Steven Greenhut to vote for Barack Obama in 2008. ("John McCain should not be anywhere near a nuclear trigger given his hot temper.")

Say what you will about Mitt Romney and Obama, but neither makes me worry about a voluntary economic depression or a nuclear war.

Or think about the 2000 election, which led the U.S. to invade Iraq. We don't know what impact this election will have on foreign policy, though in the Oct. 22 debate, Romney and Obama struggled to find areas of disagreement.

Of course, today's election will have policy impacts. A Romney win will probably result in a less progressive tax code, larger budget deficits and a larger military. It will also affect health policy, but because it appears Democrats will retain Senate control even if Romney wins, he is not likely to get the Obamacare repeal he has promised.

Romney and Obama would also make different judicial appointments, though Democrats have adopted a sort of strategic alarmism on this issue. The Supreme Court has had a majority of Republican appointees since 1970. And with the exception of the Citizens United decision, whose importance liberals vastly overstate, the court has mostly done pretty well by the left.

But these policy impacts of the election do not look particularly large compared with past elections. Universal health care might be riding on this election, or it might not; it was certainly riding on the last one.

Of course, today's election is important. But do we have good reason to assume that today's will be the most important election of our lives? No.

(Josh Barro is lead writer for the Ticker. E-mail him and follow him on Twitter.)

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

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