|Obama and Democrats back in fighting trim.|
It has long been a political axiom of mine the Republicans, particularly of the rabid right wing variety will crawl through glass to get to the polls. That explains their often puzzling political success in recent years. They can easily dominate primary elections and produce candidates so bizarrely out of the main stream that they can’t win election—which is pretty much the story of Democrats keeping control of the Senate and picking up two extra seats (thanks to the Maine Independent who will likely caucus with them.)
In tight general elections that “enthusiasm” has given them the edge over Democrats and progressives who often can’t be inconvenienced or who refuse to turn out for candidates who disagree with them on a pet issue.
The early call for this election, going back to the disaster—for Democrats—of the 2010 mid-terms was that given a still terrible economy and the disdain being voiced for the President by many liberals who were either disappointed he had not achieved more and lived up to expectations or who were angry about not cleanly and quickly getting out of the Bush wars, was that Republican enthusiasm would swamp Barack Obama.
Then the Supreme Court handed the Republicans the gift that keeps on giving—the Citizen’s United ruling which opened the floodgates of corporate and fat cat mega bucks into the “independent” Super Pacs. Those Pacs would buy enough negative attack advertising to bury Democrats, whose own donors seemed unenthusiastic.
Last night’s Electoral College landslide—303 to 206 with Florida still out but likely to fall blue—and narrow absolute majority of the popular vote flipped those expectations on their ears.
It turned out that there was no shortage of Democratic enthusiasm for the President. Quite the contrary. He held the 80% of the vote of non-whites that he got in 2010. He benefited from a significant gender gap as his lead among women more than made up for his deficit among men. Young people—supposedly disconnected from the political process and disillusioned after flirting with the romantic notion of Obama in ’08—actually turned up in even greater numbers this time. And, despite being hammered as a secret Muslim, for supposedly being born in Kenya or elsewhere, and as simultaneously a Communist and the new Hitler, Obama slipped by only 3% in his weakest demographic—white men.
How did this happen? I have some thoughts, a couple of them even fairly original.
First off, the President should send thank-you notes to the Occupy Movement. It was surely an unintended consequence as many Occupiers have been stridently against being “co-opted by electoral politics.” They did not want to be the Tea Party of the left or be turned into a faction of the Democratic Party. And they weren’t and aren’t. But the Occupy Movement managed almost single handedly to shift the national conversation after obsession with budget balancing and austerity—the Republican game—to the power of Wall Street, income inequality, and the empowerment of ordinary people to stand up. That enabled the President and Democrats as a whole to shift from a kind of whiny defense to an aggressive re-assertion as the natural friend of working and middle class people.
The Republicans—the Right Wing holding their nose—reluctantly nominated Mitt Romney who shape-shifted to conform to the passions of the extremes of his party. He may thus have finally won their loyalty at the polls, but he betrayed himself in many ways. The richest man ever to seek the Presidency, he oozed smarmy rich guy entitlement and betrayed time and time again a real ignorance of the lives of ordinary Americans. When his famous attack on the 47% was exposed, the President’s campaign and an army of allies was ready to pounce and defined the candidate before he really had a chance to let his chameleon act work its charms.
But it was not enough to attack Romney in the way of conventional politics. That’s where the social media, especially Facebook. Twitter, and YouTube, were game changers. In 2008 the infant blog-o-sphere provided alternative sources of information and helped galvanize and organize Obama’s march to victory. This year that was already almost passé. Everyone knew that the social media would be a player, but even the tech savvy Obama campaign did not know exactly how.
It was not because the campaign could post endless messages to its database, although they did. It was because individual picked up and spread various memes like wild fire. And hard core supporters of both candidates were relentless in bombarding their friends with clever posts, links to media articles, and personal appeals. The conventional wisdom was that most of this was useless “preaching to the choir” or at best a way of whipping the base to a frenzy.
But it turned out to be the gateway to those elusive swing voters, an often overlapping set with the maligned low information voters. It turns out that even the most hardened partisans have wider networks of friends and families who are not already on their side. But repeated exposure, however annoying, to messages from those to who people have some sort of connection, add up. In addition these posts alerted folks to information that they missed by avoiding news reporting—a common thing these days—or which were barely reported by the media.
These social media messages helped Obama paint Romney as a careless plutocrat and two-faced liar. And it was very effective in mobilizing women after repeated rape references by Republican candidates and the relentless attacks on Planned Parenthood and the right to choose. It was how many discovered the war on women.
Even things that struck me as personally small potatoes like the Romney wants to kill Big Bird meme turned out to really strike a chord with many fans and supporters of public broadcasting, and more important, many parents and nostalgic former children.
The greatest effect may have been spreading the word about voter suppression efforts by Republican elected officials, shady campaign operatives, and self-proclaimed vigilantes. It galvanized the Black community which some thought was losing its fervor for the President. The more Blacks learned from their friends of efforts to keep them from voting, especially in the final days of the campaign, the more determined they were to defy it. Thus the long, patient lines in black precincts from Florida to Ohio.
Similarly, Hispanic voters were mobilized by being exposed to the xenophobia that imbued Republican campaigns at every level.
Which brings us to the elephant in the room that all of the Mainstream talking heads—except Fox News—finally grasped last night. Whites are now a minority in a multi-racial and ethnic society. The phenomenal growth of Hispanics eligible to vote and registered is changing the electoral map in places like Florida and Colorado. Arizona is drifting the same way and will probably flip from deep Red to reliably Blue by the next Presidential cycle.
Which is why, by the way that Arizona and states like Alabama and Georgia adopted such draconian anti-immigrant policies that it has not only led to an exodus from those states by undocumented folks, but of citizens and legal residents as well even in the face of great harm to their local economies. It makes sense if it is recognized as a desperate last-minute stand to retain white privilege and power.
The Republican Party has painted itself into the corner as the, in Senator Lindsay Graham’s words “the party of old, angry white men.” Despite being able to hold on to the House of Representatives because of redistricting favorable to them and a tilt to sunbelt states in population growth, the GOP is well on its way to disappearing as truly national party and becoming at best a regional rump.
The Republicans can’t beat 50,000 young eligible Latinos coming of age to vote every week between now 2014. And that doesn’t even count those who become naturalized citizens.
To make matters worse those suddenly energized young votes, often motivated by social issues are settling into the Democratic Party, which may have won the allegiance of most of them for a life time.
Republicans react to this in three ways: Rage and denial, despair, and a determination by some to “take back their Party.” The latter will be impossible as long as those dedicated Tea Party types can continue to dominate primary elections. And it is probably impossible to do in the South. Thoughtful Republicans would need to start recruiting top flight candidates for Congress and Senate right now, raise ridiculous sums of money to counter the bucks from the Libertarian/Randist oligarchs paying for the Tea Party, and have the stomach to go into a knockdown, drag out fight under the battle cry “It’s Our Party, Not Yours, Assholes!” And frankly, I don’t see that happening.
Instead the Republicans will cut themselves to ribbons with recriminations, which began even before the election was called. And being the loudest voice, the Tea Party will probably be triumphant with a declaration that they lost the election by not being extreme enough.
In recent years Republicans have relied on Family Values and social issues like abortion and gay rights to rally a reliable base. But they are losing the country on those issues, especially same sex marriage. That cohort of young people simply are not buying what they are peddling there, and continuing to do it will spell doom.
Which brings us to one of the biggest losers of last night—the Hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church—which laid everything on the table by ordering pulpit statements on the last Sunday which made it very clear that the faithful would put their souls at risk by voting for the President or virtually any Democrat. They skated perilously close to the edge of legality, and probably crossed it confident that they would be insulated from prosecution by an administration fearful of being painted as the enemy of the Church. But the whole operation which included the distribution of those ubiquitous We Vote Pro Life yard signs, mailings and e-mails to parishioners fizzled. Obama and the Democrats swept all of the most heavily Catholic states in New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and industrial Mid-West. And they carried the Catholic vote in every one of those states. And just the attempt has triggered at least a temporary exit from the Church by many offended Catholics.
The next four years will be a challenge. Even with a friendlier, more liberal Senate Majority, a determined rearguard action by the Looney-Tunes House Republican caucus will make it difficult for Obama to enact his agenda. How much he is willing to compromise and on what can erode the support he has gained on the left.
But there is a real opportunity to once and for all shuck the phony image of the Democrats as the party of snooty elitists successfully promulgated by the real elitists in America, and re-capture its traditional identity as the party of working people and the middling classes.
The danger is from the farthest fringes of the Right—maybe 20% of the population. These people are irreconcilable to an Obama presidency. They are motivated, frankly, mostly by racism and are becoming more open and unembarrassed by it. It includes not just un-reconstructed Confederates, but supposedly “responsible” figures like Donald Trump, who was Tweeting his rage and defiance in repeated messages last night. He stopped just short of calling for an insurrection. Many others are not stopping there at all.
I think there will be a surge of right wing domestic terrorism, and more serious, attempts to subvert elements of the military for an attempted coup d’état. There may even be serious revival of the secession talk that has been bubbling around in Texas, fueled by Governor Rick Perry himself and in other areas.
Tuesday was an important win for progressives. But it has not arrested a possible slide into civil war.