Wednesday, November 7, 2012

They gave it their best shot

Let me state right up front, I'm glad President Obama won re-election. That said, I don't expect anything to change for the better in Washington now that the far right of the Republican base has been repudiated by the electorate yet once again. For one thing, the far right won't admit it's been repudiated. As charter, founding members of the Unreality Based Community, they will continue to deny reality with desperate determination. This, despite the fact that in many ways Obama's victory was a landslide.

What's that, you say? How can you call a near 50-50 split in the popular vote a "landslide" win for President Obama? Isn't a near tie the very definition of a divided electorate?

Well, yes and no.

From the perspective of pure numbers, it's true the President pulled out a squeaker of a victory. A simple reading of the vote count would imply Obama won by the thinnest of margins. But let's examine the circumstances, and put those numbers into context.

Historically, when a President seeks re-election in a bad economy, he's defeated. (It's the economy, stupid.) Incumbents win when the economy is good (or improving visibly), lose when it's bad. This is Politics 101. In essence, that's why the Republicans did everything possible over the last four years to impair Obama's efforts to restore the economy, and have, in fact, done their best to sink it even deeper in the mire. (Case in point, the debt ceiling "crisis.") Republicans knew their best chance to win back the Presidency was to attempt to cripple Obama's economic efforts. Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch O'Connell admitted their primary objective as legislators was to make Obama a one-term President. (Comforting to know how Republicans measure their obligation to the people of our country versus their political interests, isn't it?)

So, from a historical perspective, Obama went into the 2012 election cycle predestined to lose. All the Republicans had to do was mount a reasonably competent campaign with a reasonably competent candidate and the odds were in their favor. And that's what they did. Whatever you may think of Mitt Romney and the Republicans's political beliefs, the fact is they mounted a very competent campaign. They made no Sarah Palin-sized mistakes. Romney came off as polished and professional, particularly after the first debate. The Republicans did exactly what they had to do in political terms: they offered a plausible alternative to the incumbent during a period of bad economic news.

And they lost anyway.

And this is why I say Obama's win was actually a landslide. Because, if you analyze the numbers, this wasn't really a split decision. Romney's votes came primarily -- almost overwhelmingly -- from a shrinking portion of the electorate: white males. Romney won the vast majority of the while male vote (and the 65+ vote, which is the very definition of a shrinking electorate). He lost, OVERWHELMINGLY, every other element of the vote. Minorities, people under 30, women: all voted for Obama by wide margins, in some cases three-to-one for Obama over Romney (lookin' at you, Hispanics!) and in that sense, in the sense of winning the population that will soon dominate politics demographically, Obama won in a landslide.

Now, die-hard true believers of the far right will argue Romney wasn't "conservative" enough. But only someone who's closed his mind to reality would argue the electorate wasn't fully informed about the differing political beliefs of the Republican and Democratic parties. The GOP and its billionaire-PAC allies spent billions of dollars to get their message out. They had candidates at every level making their ideological case. And the clearer that case was made -- Todd Akins and his discussion of "legitimate rape," for example -- the more resoundingly it was rejected by the electorate. So, the argument that Mitt and the GOP weren't "conservative enough" to win over voters just doesn't hold water. That won't prevent the true believers from believing it, however. And more power to them, I say.

2012 may well go down as a watershed year in American politics. I hoped 2008 would be that year, but the demographics weren't there yet. They may not be here yet completely, now, for that matter, but I think what's happened in California this year might be indicative of what will happen in the rest of the country over the next decade or so:

Up until 1994, California was a more-or-less reliably Republican state. From time to time Democrats would get elected to the governorship, but for the most part the state was dominated by what today would be called liberal-moderate Republicans. But demographics began to change in the 1960s and 70s, and slowly the statewide electoral base began becoming more minority-based. In reaction, the mainstream Republican Party in California tilted to the xenophobic, anti-government right. Playing to prejudice, the right-wing passed a number of thinly disguised anti-minority "tax reforms" -- primarily to keep old white people from having to subsidize the education of young minorities. This thinly veiled reactionary racism hit its peak with the governorship of Republican Pete Wilson and his support for the anti-immigrant Prop 187 in 1994. The proposition was viewed by the growing Hispanic population (and other recent immigrants) as an attack on their political existence. It was the wake-up call for the dormant progressive movement in California politics -- and the death knell for the Republican Party in California.

Over the last seventeen years the GOP in California has become increasingly marginalized, though the right-wing continues to win an occasional victory through well-funded and deceitful ballot initiatives. Unable to win majorities in the legislature, the Californian GOP was reduced to using the only power it had left -- the ability to hold the state budget hostage every year, under a state constitutional requirement of a two-thirds majority to pass tax increases. (Sound familiar? Can anyone say Senate Republican Filibuster?) But now the GOP has lost even that small amount of power: This week the Democrats won a super-majority in the California legislature, removing the threat of a minority-Republican veto from the budget writing process. For all intents and purposes, in California, the Republican Party is dead.

In ten or fifteen years, if the national GOP continues to follow the rightward path of the California GOP into political irrelevance, it will be dead too.

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