Jonathan Chait at New York magazine has the most striking article about Washington politics I've read in quite some time, arguing that this election matters in ways that I hadn't imagined.
It seems natural to conclude from all this vapid, buoyant patter that neither candidate has a plausible blueprint to avoid political gridlock, and that, whoever wins, the stalemate of the past two years will grind on into the next four. President Obama would still likely face a Republican House, and President Romney a Senate in which Democrats can mount a filibuster. Yet all the signs suggest both candidates do have strategies in mind to prod the creaky machinery of Washington to life and effect the dramatic change they vaguely but ardently promise. In fact, shortly after the next Inaugural Ball—perhaps very, very shortly after—the great stalemate between socialism and social Darwinism will break open and likely turn decisively in one direction or the other.
For different reasons, the candidates cannot openly describe these plans to the voters. But the clues are everywhere.
The Obama strategy revolves around leveraging the “fiscal cliff” to force Republicans' hands. He says:
You might surmise from all this that Obama is simply living in a dream world. That is the conclusion drawn by several of the smartest liberal political analysts I know. I have a different conclusion: Obama does have a plan to break the legislative impasse and settle the long-term struggle over the scope of government. It does not rest on the GOP’s coming to its senses and thinking of the national good. The plan is the very opposite of naïve. And he can put it into effect even more quickly than Romney could enact his own plan.
There's a lot that Chiat predicts that I find troubling and disappointing, but I hope that at least that much is true.