I’ve just returned from my annual sojourn in Maggie Valley, N.C., where the autumn peaks of the Great Smokies present a Kodacolor image of glorious permanence and stability.

In such a setting, it’s nice to sit on the veranda and contemplate the real world as opposed to the world one perceives on television, the Internet and whatever other medium the 21st century has foisted on us as a substitute for reality.

So naturally, the first question that occurred to me as I topped the crest of the Blue Ridge and headed, ears popping, toward the Piedmont below was: “Who won the presidential election?”

I know President Obama was declared the winner, based on the popular vote and the electoral vote, and I’m not one to quarrel with numbers, since math is not my forte. I was equally prepared to go about my normal business under a Romney or an Obama administration.

But to me, the real winner is determined by asking the question: Who is better off after the election than before the election?

You decide.

When the Obamas returned to the White House after the vote count, they resumed life in a goldfish bowl, with every movement and expression liable to be recorded, examined and diagnosed by friend and foe.

What’s more, the triumph at the polls was being soured by events beyond the voting booth. The Northeastern storm was vastly overstaying its welcome. The people who once rejoiced at seeing the storm-driven rapprochement between the president and Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey were soon bitterly complaining about power unrestored, a shortage of gasoline and a lack of heat in the midst of bitter cold.

While the results in Florida were still hanging irrelevantly in the balance, CIA director David Petraeus confessed to an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. Petraeus was soon to testify before Congress about the deaths of an American consul and three other consulate officials in Benghazi, Libya. Charges were flying, alleging cold-blooded indifference and cover-up on the part of the Obama administration.

And then there was the fiscal cliff – a landmine planted in the economy by the president and his congressional opponents. It was a temporary bandage aimed at keeping the government operating without compromising ideological stances. Now the president must come to an agreement, before Jan. 1, with previously intractable political foes or watch the nation pitch into another deep recession.

And, oh yes, there was still civil war in Syria. There were bloody episodes in Afghanistan as the president was trying to carry out the Middle East equivalent of Richard Nixon’s “Vietnamization” of the dimly remembered war in Indochina. Iran had given no assurance that it would stop its efforts to build the nuclear bomb the president had promised he would never permit. Pakistan, with a nuclear bomb and a population larger than Russia’s, was somewhere in the no-man’s-land between friend and foe. China and Russia still saw themselves as global rivals of the United States and not as allies in the pursuit of peace and prosperity.

So the president faced the possibility that Benghazi would become his Watergate, Sandy would become his Katrina, Paula Broadwell would become his Monica Lewinsky (indirectly, of course; there’s no hint of marital misbehavior on the part of President Obama), and Jan. 1 would be his equivalent of Black Tuesday – the day of the Stock Market crash in 1929.

Contrast that with the prospects that confront Mitt Romney.

In the weeks before the election, the former governor of Massachusetts was traipsing the country trying to woo voters who seemed to be reluctant to embrace him despite the economic hard times that persisted on his opponent’s watch. He expressed his opinion on the Benghazi incident and was promptly slammed for using a national tragedy for political purpose. He casually expressed, in the presence of presumed friends, a personal opinion on those who depend on government entitlements. His comments about the 47 percent of us who rely on government aid in one fashion or another became fodder for the opposition’s attack ads. His private business practices became a subject of public discussion and controversy; he was faced with public demand for release of his private tax returns. He was criticized for (legally) stashing funds in Swiss and Cayman Islands banks, where they were sheltered from U.S. taxes. And he was ridiculed for installing in one of his residences elevators for his automobiles.

Throughout the campaign, he walked a tight rope between the conservative stances the GOP Tea Party adherents demanded and the more moderate stances demanded by a good chunk of the independents who would decide the election. To illustrate the delicate task before him, a key campaign adviser supplied the analogy that opponents would hang around his neck: After securing the nomination, he would erase his primary positions the way kids erase the lines on an Etch-a-Sketch and would start with a fresh screen.

What about now?

Romney can throw away his Etch-a-Sketch and be himself again. He can say what he wishes in the presence of friends without worrying about whether some sneak might record him, leak his remarks to the media and derail his political ambitions. His tax returns become his private business again. He can drive his car onto his home elevators without worrying about reaction from the folks in the subdivisions who live on concrete slabs. And he can nurse the memory of the first presidential debate, when he really did appear to be debating an empty chair.

He has a beautiful wife, an attractive family and enough money to keep him comfortable the rest of his life, even if the Bush tax cuts expire and he never goes back to running Bain Capital.

So who do you think won the election?

Readers may reach Gene Owens through email at WadesDixieco@AOL.com.

Gene Owensis a retired newspaper editor and columnist who graduated from Graniteville High School and now lives in Anderson.