After an ignoble, bitter and ruthless campaign unconstrained by anything vaguely resembling truth or decency, Barack Obama has won the White House for another four years. It seems a fitting punishment. Now he will inherit the chaotic mess he helped create.
Along with the keys to the White House, Obama gets a $16 trillion debt growing at $1.5 trillion a year, an economy teetering on the edge of a fiscal abyss and a nation deeply, perhaps irretrievably, estranged by race, sex, political philosophy and government dependence.
The status quo election shows our division, but it says much more. We no longer are "us." We have devolved into a nation of red states and blue states, of pivotal, electoral college "battleground" states and the rest of us, of states favored by the federal government and states ignored, we are us and they are them.
Despite those schisms, Obama has bigger, more pressing worries. In a matter of 50 short days, he faces the slow-motion airplane crash known as the fiscal cliff -- the toxic fruits of the Budget Control Act of 2011, the debt ceiling wars and failed leadership.
Oh, and then there are the host of Obamacare taxes about to be unleashed and the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts, or as USA Today puts it: "the expiration of almost every tax cut enacted since 2001, which could raise the average U.S. household's tax burden by $3,500. . . ." Extended jobless benefits are out the window and Medicare payment rates will be cut. There is not much good news.
The Congressional Budget Office says the tax cuts and across-the-board spending reductions will automatically slash the federal budget deficit by $607 billion, or 4 percent of the Gross Domestic Product, between fiscal 2012 and 2013 - and by $7 trillion over the next decade. "The resulting weakening of the economy will lower taxable incomes and raise unemployment, generating a reduction in tax revenues and an increase in spending on such items as unemployment insurance," the CBO says.
Economists are warning of a double-dip recession and some say the CBO report may seriously underestimate the fallout. Fitch Ratings last week warned that failure to act on the fiscal cliff, the debt ceiling and agreeing on deficit reduction would "likely result in a rating downgrade in 2013."
What is missing -- the necessary ingredient to head off the looming disaster -- is comprehensive, long-term agreement on deficit reduction, one that includes major tax and entitlement reform. The problem? Political philosophy. Republicans want spending cuts to address the deficit, although House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, says the GOP might accept new government revenues "under the right conditions." Democrats want more taxes, especially on the wealthy. It was a major plank of Obama's campaign and hard to back away from at this late date.
Will the mess be averted before "taxageddon" on Jan. 1? One camp says Obama and Democrats have no reason to bend on sticking it to the most wealthy; the other contends the Republican House could just step back and let the mess fall into Obama's lap, using it in a few years for the midterm elections. Both sides have signaled a willingness to do ... something. Exactly what remains unclear.
As president, you would think Obama, a dyed-in-the-wool partisan who has worked to divide -- think Obamacare -- would understand by now that he is president. His brave new world of equal outcomes and redistribution masquerading as equality and social justice must give way to the reality of cooperation and real compromise.
For their part, Republicans should be in the mood for introspection and compromise after Tuesday's election. If the GOP is to survive, it must begin looking inward.
Demographics and the tides of time are eclipsing the Grand Old Party, washing over it like a storm surge. It has not kept up. It has not raised a bigger tent or changed its image as a bastion for old, uncool white men. Worse, it has allowed tea party types and others flying its flag to chose idiots for candidates, idiots who come back to haunt their national efforts.
In January, when Americans finally begin paying attention to the fiscal cliff, when they notice their paychecks are shrinking, when their companies shut down, when unemployment shoots above 9 percent and they panic, they will not be happy.
Democrats and Republicans alike may pay the price.
Paul Jenkins is editor of the AnchorageDailyPlanet.com.