Now that the election is past and Obama got the win he earned, I’m reading posts by some of his supporters. “It’s a major victory”, they say, “a harbinger of things to come, an end to the Republican extremists, a new day for an ascendant Left, a mandate from the public”. I can see where they might see hints of that. Exit polls suggest that people are tired of the most extreme extremists and their loudly-proclaimed viewpoints, and that seemed to be all the GOP was offering during the primaries. Romney was a less extreme extremist, it seems, and he beat them back. Then, the Right made an avalanche of claims that Obama was an extremist — even a Stalin, a Hitler. (Not that anyone outside of their small camp bought into that – Obama was in European terms a Left-Centrist governing from the middle.) Several idiots who spoke of ‘legitimate rape’ lost — as they would have in any other election — and a handful of key opponents of global warming legislation lost.
Fact: Obama’s win was quite narrow – not as narrow as Bush-Gore or Kennedy-Nixon, but much more like those than like other elections. The nation is still tightly divided.
Fact: It hinged on super-high turnout of Obama supporters in urban areas in ‘battleground’ states, including a huge push for early voting – the much-discussed “ground game”.
Fact: the Republicans still have the House firmly in control, with nearly all of the main figures in their stonewalling, budget-bludgeoning tactic (most importantly Paul Ryan) still in place. The Democrats still have the Presidency, and still rule the Senate, but they are still well short of a filibuster-proof super-majority.
Fact: despite the unprecedented extreme unpopularity of both houses of Congress, people will vote their current representative back in, if that choice is offered. Incumbency is more than ever the despotic emperor of the electoral process. No matter how many billions the billionaires pump into challengers, the ins still hold all the cards if they keep a bit and bridle on their own mouths.
In other words, while a few of the very worst idiots are gone, the next four years are still the same sides with the same faces in the same places.
As to the supposed leftward ‘trends’ in the electorate, recall that this has been seen before. The leftward youth of the Depression became the supporters of anti-Communism in the ’50s. The young movements of the ’60s gave way to the Reagan Right of the ’80s. It is a matter of history that the young learn as they get older that things really aren’t as they seemed when they were young, there were actual reasons for much of what their parent’s generation was doing. Events like WW2, 9-11, and the Iran hostage crisis added trauma and fear to our national and individual lives; some such event will happen within each generation. They eventually grow up to get a personal stake in this world, and when that happens, there’s not enough substance in their practice to prevent “do your own thing” from morphing into “get what you can” in the presence of money.
Next election, the Democratic nominee is not likely to be an African-American, and that will have an effect on that great “ground game” Obama had in the hugely-black areas of the cities. Republicans are bound to do some repositioning, especially regarding Latinos. They will have to reposition on taxes, in the next few weeks, if we are to avoid the “fiscal cliff”. The faces will be different next times, with surnames that ethnic groups will recognize, and talk that will sound more moderate, or at least more rooted in scientific fact. The GOP won’t run all old white males next time out. Hopefully, they’ll toss all the Roger Ailes/Karl Rove types out for political incineration, though I’m not holding my breath about it. The next congressional election is in two years, an off-year election, which historically adds to the party that is not in the White House. And Republicans will surely work to improve their “ground game”.
What this all means is the Democrats have nothing to gloat about. They should be happy they have the White House, but that means they must spend the next four years delivering on their approach to fiscal responsibility and on rebuilding the financial structure, under new rules. It means managing the economy so that the low-wage workers‘ lot improves dramatically, and vigorously protecting the programs that attack hunger and poverty here and abroad. It means ending Bush’s foolish wars, even if events force our hands regarding new ones. And, as much as anything else, it means undermining rank-and-file GOP anger by actually listening and understanding the substance of their concerns instead of flaming out at the most warped side of those concerns.
The nation is still so tightly divided that some basic tweaking can mean the difference between winning and losing an election. This election has not changed that fact. So, for all you Democrats, it’s not time to gloat, or to think the tide has turned your way. It’s time to roll up your sleeves and open up your ears.