The mantle of victory

The party that wins the 2012 elections will claim a mandate on a range of policies, notably on taxes and the size of government. Of course, there is always a chance that the “winner” will not be obvious, and will be disputed, as was lamentably the case in 2000.

Republicans are expected to retain the House while Democrats, less assuredly, are favored to retain the Senate. But the race for the White House appears to be extremely close, and there is much bluff and bluster in partisan certitude. Public polling suggests that President Obama has a slight lead in battleground states, but polls show Mitt Romney is attracting more independents and enjoys an edge in voter enthusiasm.

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So the race appears to be close even though there is wide divergence between the path that America would take under a President Romney and the one it would take under Obama.

The two men have nearly polar-opposite proposals on energy, on the economy, on reforming the tax code and on entitlement reform.

Obama would implement his healthcare law. Romney wants to repeal it.

Obama touts his Wall Street reform regulations, while Romney wants to torpedo many of them.

Obama wants to raise taxes for families making more than $250,000 a year. Romney says he would cut everyone’s tax rate by 20 percent.

There is not much common ground. Obama and Romney both want to end the war in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, but differ on details. Both also want to pass immigration reform in 2013, but have clashed on legislation such as the DREAM Act.

The House and Senate elections are hugely important, but despite any consoling (and inevitable) spin to the contrary, the winning party will be the one that controls the White House. This election will be a referendum on taxes, healthcare, Medicare, the deficit and many, many other issues.

After the 2008 presidential election, Obama pushed back at congressional Republicans who were making their case on spending and taxes by telling them, “I won.”

It was sharp, but fair. And sure enough, Obama moved big pieces of his agenda through Congress. That dynamic changed in the wake of the Republican wins in the fall of 2010.

Politicians always say that the upcoming election is the most important of their lifetimes. Then they say it again four years later.

Still, it is hard to belittle that proclamation in 2012.