Is it really such a shock that Obama won?
By Bill Coffin
This is not meant to cheerlead for Obama or to cheer his victory. But this is meant to say that, like it or not, Obama is in the White House. And trying to overturn what has resisted overturning is proving to be a mammoth exercise in futility.
I spent much of Election Night watching the television, my Twitter feed and Facebook as friends, family, colleagues and contacts reacted quite differently to the results of the Presidential race. As it became increasingly clear that Obama had won, my folks on the left could not contain their jubilation. Over on the right, it was a mix of learned helplessness (among those who figured some time ago that Romney would not win), doom and outrage. One friend IMed me directly and told me to stop cracking wise about the election because if Obama won, his IT business would go under. Another simply muttered, “I can’t believe that bastard won.”
Was it so hard to see, though? Aside from any political wish fulfillment on either side, there were some pretty clear indicators that Romney had a hard road to climb. For starters, the New York Times political blog FiveThirtyEight had been calling this race for Obama for quite some time, now. FiveThirtyEight was the only polling site I bothered to look at late in the race because of them all, its math seemed to be the most reliable, and frankly, that’s all I cared about. There was a lot of polling out there that seemed to make one side or the other feel better about their prospects, and that’s not what polling is supposed to be about. Plus, polling itself is becoming ever more scientific and accurate. It’s not a crystal ball, to be sure. But it does a pretty good job of indicating broad trends, and on this race, FiveThirtyEight was consistently on the money. Those who felt the blog was on point knew it, too, and so last night’s results — which came in very close to what FiveThirtyEight predicted, by the way — came as no real shock.
I have been accused by some of our more politically active readers as being leftist, socialist, radical, and a few other terms. My personal politics and my professional politics are different things, believe it or not. I thought very long and hard over whether or not National Underwriter LIfe & Health should endorse a candidate, but ultimately, I decided to keep the publication neutral. If we had endorsed a candidate, however, it would have been Romney because his policies are clearly more favorable to life and health insurance carriers, agents, and many of its customers. So last night’s win for Obama is quite clearly a loss for the industry, especially those in the health insurance distribution system, and those who sell life products based on their tax advantages. Here’s the thing, though. And this is as much a reality check for the industry now as well as a comment on the industry’s political reactions for the past two years or so. And it is this:
None of this should be a surprise. As bad as all of this is for the industry — and make no mistake, this is bad — it is also not that surprising. The passage of PPACA and Dodd-Frank amid a Democratic supermajority was not much a matter of "if" but a matter of "when." That PPACA faced a House repeal was little more than a symbolic exercise in a Congress where the Senate wouldn’t even hear the motion, and the rest of Congress didn’t have even close to what it needed to overturn Obama’s veto on a repeal. The closest the industry has come to reversing its political fortunes lately was the Supreme Court hearings on PPACA, but even then, I was hearing from plenty of folks within the industry that Roberts was never going to overthrow that which Congress had enacted. The Court’s history just didn’t suggest it was really going to axe the individual mandate.
And yet, at every turn, I have seen many within the life and health business deal with these defeats and downturns with a sense of surprise, that somehow these results were unforeseen. The truth is, they were pretty obvious to see coming if one cared to look for them. And the only reason why that matters is because those who did see which way the wind was blowing gave themselves adequate time to prepare.
Now we have another four years of President Obama. And if political predictions hold up, the winner of last night wasn’t just determining the next President, he was determining the winner of the 2014 mid-terms and the 2016 POTUS race, since by then the economy will have continued its recovery (as economists have predicted, accurately, since 2009) and the incumbent party always gets the credit for that, whether it’s deserved or not.
This is not meant to cheerlead for Obama or to cheer his victory. But this is meant to say that, like it or not, Obama is in the White House. The G.O.P. has lost more ground. And trying to overturn what has resisted overturning is proving to be a mammoth exercise in futility. Better to accept what has happened, figure out how to strengthen one’s business regardless and look not to the next four years, but to the next 20 or 30. Insurance is nothing if not a business that is all about the long-term. And yet, our political reactions in the last four years have all been extremely short-term. No wonder why we haven’t gotten anywhere. And no wonder why some folks are in shock over last night’s results. No wonder why some folks are muttering that they can’t believe that bastard won.
But he did. And now we need to figure out how to live with that, how to work with that, and most importantly, how to profit from it. The last four years haven’t made it impossible to flourish. They have just made it tough for certain business models to flourish without innovating or reinventing themselves. Insurance has never been particularly big on innovation or reinvention. Under many circumstances, that is a great strength. In this political climate, not so much.