No new conclusions, I think, can be drawn from the results of the national election, as it simply gave a faint endorsement of the status quo. The American people still like to believe in their president and trust in him: it is hard for an incumbent not to get re-elected. This is actually something to be grateful for.
But the change in momentum of the campaign was curious and needs explanation. Why did a strong Romney lead after the first debate disappear during the final two of weeks of the campaign, overwhelmed by a surge in the opposite direction? I suspect part of the phenomenon was a kind of willful avoidance of reality by some voters -- a doubling down on the idea that government can keep providing benefits by printing and borrowing money -- the way that someone deeply in debt might max out his last credit card by going away on an extravagant vacation. Irrational exuberance can do wonders to banish worries.
And when the second most popular search term for the Republican Vice Presidential candidate was "Paul Ryan shirtless," followed closely by "Paul Ryan abs," and President Obama made regular appearances on late night talk shows and radio shows, to discuss such weighty matters as the music on his iPod, one wonders about the sobriety of the electorate. We are, perhaps, too distracted by Facebook and Twitter to ponder the effects, on service of the national debt, of a return of historic interest rates of about 6 percent.
Romney also seems to have figured after the second debate that he had it locked up except for drawing in some moderate and independent voters; so he made a play for them, softening his attacks on Obama, downplaying social conservatism, and generally trying to appear non-threatening. In the third debate on foreign policy, he deliberately backed away from confronting Obama on Libya, not even to correct Candy Crawley's misrepresentations of the second debate. But when the Romney campaign itself stopped making their case for why it was essential to vote against Obama, the voters forgot that as well, and Romney just on his own began to look like what Obama claimed he was: someone who would strip away regulations and return the economy to its position before the financial crisis, while cutting government benefits besides.
Strangely, in this circumstance, Libya and Sandy became positives for Obama. If Romney was not attacking the Obama administration for its response to these attacks, then the Obama campaign had space to portray these disasters simply as attacks on the country, which he of course had no responsibility for. And everyone rallies around a President when the nation is threatened, especially when he is an athletic and youthful President wearing a handsome bomber jacket, and walking arm-in-arm with a state governor who formerly was his harshest critic.