Days before the 2012 election the website Infowars is compiling Twitter and Facebook posts from Obama supporters promising riots, assassination attempts, and all manner of mayhem if their candidate loses on November 6th. The question is obvious, what should Obama do in the immediate aftermath of electoral defeat?
The actions of Vice President Al Gore in the wake of the 2000 election taint American political life to this day. Gore’s refusal to graciously accept defeat cast doubt on the legitimacy of Presidency of George W. Bush for many Americans. The two-terms of the second President Bush were the most polarizing in the history of opinion tracking.
The backlash to the Bush years led in many ways to the ascendancy of Barack Obama, a man who compiled the most left-wing voting record in the U.S. Senate. Under Obama the partisan divide between Republicans and Democrats has only grown more rancorous as Obama pushed the nation to new depths of division.
It is not fair to attribute all of this civil conflict to the post-2000 election behavior of Gore, but it would also be foolish to insist that Gore’s challenge to the political system played no role.
Richard Nixon lost a closer election in 1960 (.2% difference vs. .5% in 2000.) With demonstrable voting irregularities in Illinois and Texas, and recounts that changed the verdict in both California and Hawaii, Nixon had a credible argument to make that the Kennedy team effectively “stole” the election. Nixon’s advisors urged him to litigate to the bitter end. Famously, Nixon conceded the election, writing in 1962 that to contest the election would “diminish the prestige of America” with accusations that the election could be stolen by ballot thievery. And so began a short-lived Camelot.
To be clear, Infowars is a suspect source. The site is run by a right-wing conspiracy theorist, and has a history of trending towards the outlandish. Yet, let us assume that the attributed quotes compiled are legitimate. Further, let us assume that at least some portion of those people quoted do intend violent reactions to a Romney victory. Given that rioting and looting have become commonplace in the wake of sports defeats, it seem altogether plausible – if not probable – that there will be some violence (likely racially charged) should the first black President lose a close race.
All involved should plan for the worst-case scenario.
The evening of November 6, 2012, around 11:00 pm Eastern, could be the defining moment of the Obama Presidency. A hesitant reaction (or worse) could propel violence. A swift and firm rejection of violence, which would necessitate a quick and clear concession, may ensure peace and civility.
It could be argued that Obama, because his term is both historic and because its termination could be racially-tinged, has a special obligation to decisively urge supporters to accept the election outcome. The potential for civil conflict certainly seems heightened.
Obama holds no extraordinary obligation. Every President has a solemn responsibility to protect the republic, its institutions, traditions and people. The importance of Obama fulfilling this responsibility may be greater, but the responsibility remains consistent.
Aspiring to the class of Richard Nixon should be a low bar. Let us hope that Obama puts his country before himself and his party should the electorate decide against him. Given his wildly partisan leadership, the brashness of his staff, and the protection of the media, it seems more likely that Gore’s 2000 behavior will seem statesmanlike in comparison.