Election 2012: What no president can do

As I write this, I still don’t know who’s won the presidency. But by the time you read this, barring an Electoral College tie, you certainly will know.

Which means that while I’m still in suspense, you’re probably reading articles like “What Four More Years of Obama Means” or “What America Will Look Like Under Romney.”

So, here’s my dilemma: How can I discuss what’s on everyone’s lips if I don’t know the winner?

After all, it’d be foolish to underplay the results. As right-wing commentator Charles Krauthammer wrote in The Washington Post, the stakes this year are enormous:

“An Obama second term means that the movement toward European-style social democracy continues, in part by legislation, in part by executive decree. The American experiment — the more individualistic, energetic, innovative, risk-taking model of democratic governance — continues to recede, yielding to the supervised life of the entitlement state.”

A Mitt Romney victory, on the other hand, “could guide the country to the restoration of a more austere and modest government with more restrained entitlements and a more equitable and efficient tax code. Those achievements alone would mark a new trajectory — a return to what Reagan started three decades ago.”

While we often hear that any given election is the “most important in our lifetime,” Krauthammer believes that this time it might actually be true, because at stake is “the relation between citizen and state, the very nature of the American social contract.”

Let’s allow, then, that regardless of which camp you’re in, the ideological stakes are indeed enormous. But what about the personal stakes? Can we overplay those?

Here’s what someone wrote on this subject four years ago, right after Barack Obama won:

“It struck me that no matter who runs the White House  — even after a historic victory that my grandchildren will talk about — they still won’t be able to help me with the most important things in my life: how I raise and educate my kids, how I deal with my friends and community, how ethically I lead my life, how I give back to the world, how I grow spiritually, how I stand up for Israel and the Jewish people, how I live an eco-friendly life — in short, how I help my country by taking personal responsibility for my own little world.”

That someone was yours truly, in a Journal column titled “Yes, I Can.”

The point I was making is that no matter who ends up in the White House, “99 percent of our happiness is in our own hands.”

I wrote that “while we await universal health care, we should take better care of our bodies and our health and save the country billions.

“While we await a better education system, we should read to our kids every night and teach them the values that will make them productive citizens. 

“While we await government action to fight global warming, we should go green in our own lives.

“While we await a fix to the economic meltdown, we should learn to budget and spend within our means, and, for those of us who can afford to help, have the kindness to help those who have fallen through the cracks of our debt-ridden safety net.”

In fact, since I wrote those words, I can say that President Obama (just like President Bush before him) has had very little to do with my happiness, the mitzvahs I have done or the progress of my kids.

Said another way, for all the enormous importance on who wins the White House, the winner will never come to your house to help you raise your kids.

He won’t set your Shabbat table and ask your kids what they learned this week.

He won’t help you become a better husband, a better citizen or a better Jew.

He won’t make you call your grandmother, visit the sick, get on the treadmill or feed the poor.

He won’t help you fall in love and meet your soul mate.

This isn’t to say that presidential policies — like universal health care and tax increases — don’t impact our lives. They do. But the reality is that most of the important things in our lives have little to do with the government, and these are the things that usually make us the happiest and most fulfilled. 

Yes, the country will go in a different direction, depending on who wins, but we are always in control of our own direction.

It’s worth remembering all this as you jump for joy because your man won, or as you drown in your sorrows because he lost.

The winner in the White House has a lot of power, but he doesn’t have the power to make you a winner in your own house.