Don’t expect me to tell you in a post. It is the kind of question that prompts books to be written and I’m sure many will be. For starters, though, liberal columnist E. J. Dione of the Washington Post touched upon most of the issues in his column yesterday, so I’m handing the ball off to him for those interested.
Here I want to focus on a couple of things the election does not mean and one or two which I hope it does.
No Mandate: When about 121 million people vote and one side ends up with about 3 million more (about 2 or 3%), that’s just a victory not a mandate. The electoral landslide distorts the picture, revealing mostly that the Democratic organization was more effective than the Republican one in swing states.
This is not to say that the Obama win was not significant in various ways, just that “we the people” are too divided about too many things to really back any one thing, except perhaps higher taxes on the rich. That is not reflected in the vote as much as in exit polls, and the pre-election polls as well which have consistently listed a 60% plus approval rating. (*1)
Adding to the difficulty of interpreting this election are two things: Obama was strapped with the image of a do-too-little president given our still weak economy and high jobless rate, which would make the win seem even more significant except for this fact. He beat a candidate that even Republicans had trouble embracing, but could agree on no one better who was willing to run. This was the most curious election of my lifetime.
But Not A Split Decision: Trying to bolster their position, the Republicans argue that their winning more seats in the House indicates a basic “split decision” by the voters. What they neglect to point out is that this is more a matter of Gerrymandered districts they created when taking over a number of state legislatures in the 2010 elections.
Overall the Democrats received more votes for their congressional candidates this year. For example, in Pennsylvania, “although citizens cast almost 100,000 more votes for Democratic than Republican candidates for the House, partisan gerrymandering enabled Republicans to 12 of the 18 seats in the House of Representatives.” So, those increased House seats are not a true measure of support for Republicans. Just as the Electoral College overstates the strength of the Obama win, the House elections provide a misleading picture of Republican voter support. Read more here.
A Small Victory for Truth: I have often bemoaned the “post truth politics” of our time, but we haven’t seemed to reach “no-truth-matters” just yet. The Romney camp went with one lie too many and held on to it until the bitter end in Ohio. The Obama win there might have been clinched by the Romney team not only lying in a TV ad about Chrysler shipping Jeep production jobs to China, but maintaining that lie in radio commercials even after several newspapers and the head of Chrysler called it a falsehood.
As I pointed out in an August post when the Romney campaign was criticized for a total lack of truth in an ad, a Romney pollster responded: “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.” As I indicated then, this was a final blow for truth in politics. Distortions and lies have always been part of the political game, but this was the first time I had ever seen a campaign say we don’t care if others call our “facts” lies. In Ohio this position was taken to its end conclusion and seems to have backfired. I like to think of it as poetic justice: A campaign that lived by the lie, died by the lie. (And yes, the Democrats spun, distorted and lied, too, but not as persistently and consistently and never did they insist that external fact checks don’t count.)
The Hope for a Better Republican Party. I believe the Republican Party lost its identity during the G. W. Bush years because he ignored issues of overspending while fighting two wars, creating big tax breaks and creating a drug support program that, like the wars, was unfunded. That, and the Republican refusal to work with the president, rather than Obama ineptitude, is why we continue to run trillion dollar budget deficits.
The Republicans have complained about “tax and spend liberals” for decades, but G. W. came up with something novel. He was a no-tax and spend Republican, you might say the best of both worlds until one has to pay the piper, which is what we are doing now. (*2)
As many others have pointed out, this post-Bush party has developed its identity as the party of “no”. The Democrats are considered the big tent party, but the Republicans have developed a pretty big tent themselves. Anyone who dislikes Obama, big government and more taxes is welcome, including all the Tea Party folks who are the biggest naysayers of all. Some extreme examples earned primary victories over more moderate sorts who likely would have won Senate seats for the Republicans. It is generally believed that the Republican candidates defeated in the primary would likely have won enough seats to give Mitch McConnell the gavel in the Senate.
This is but one issue that has already begun to prompt soul searching in the Grand Old Party. Immigration is another. I do not know what that party will look like in upcoming months, but I think they will not be as easily labelled the party of “no.” That hasn’t worked for them.
Perhaps they’ll become the party of “maybe” and then maybe they can work with Democrats and actually accomplish something significant vis-a-vis our economic problems.
This, of course, if the Democrats don’t get too full of themselves and think they have a bigger mandate than they actually have.
(*1) President Obama insists he will not give ground on allowing the Bush tax cuts to end for the richest Americans, which I think is symbolically important more than anything else. Allowing their Bush era tax breaks to expire will only raise a fraction of the money needed to deal with our deficit problems. The key here is to break the hold of the pledge most Republican politicians have made to not raise taxes. Raising the bar for measuring yearly income for “the rich” to $500,000 or even a million would provide something for both sides and perhaps open the door for various other negotiations dealing with our financial issues.
(*2) Isn’t it curious how George Bush Jr. could not be found in the election landscape? He’s a political version of “Where’s Waldo”. Both he and his fellow Republicans obviously wanted it that way, acting as if he never existed. That being the case, it made it easier to blame Obama for everything and forget about Bush.