Onward and Upward, Not Backwards
Now that the election is behind us, there's no shortage of analyses being offered by pundits left, right, and center about “What It All Means.” So here are a few bullet points of my own as a contribution to the discussion.
1. The American voting public has decisively repudiated Republicanism. The Republicans, with George W. Bush in the White House, enjoyed complete control of all levels of government for the first six years of the decade. Their legacy is two endlessly mismanaged wars, a loss of prestige around the world, a collapsed economy, a precarious financial system, and multiple encroachments upon our personal freedoms.
The public expressed its opinion on Republican governance by handing Sen. Barack Obama a massive victory on November 4th – with more than twice the margin that President Bush claimed gave him a "mandate" in 2004.
The usual GOP demagoguing on taxes didn't work – mainly because the last eight years have featured nothing but tax cuts and other right-wing specialties like wholesale deregulation. The economy is in worse shape than ever before. Shorn of their most reliable issue, the Republicans attempted to launch smear after smear at Senator Obama, hoping something would stick – but when citizens can't make their mortgage payments, their attentions tend to be focused on issues instead. And Senator Obama was the candidate who ran an issue-oriented campaign. The public noticed.
President-elect Obama's message was one of change, and that was the word that resonated most deeply with the American electorate. Change from failed Republican policies. Not only did Senator Obama easily hold on to every state that voted for John Kerry in 2004 – he flipped a significant number of Bush states, including longshots like North Carolina and Indiana. A more sweeping nationwide rejection of conservatism could not be imagined.
2. The Democratic Party faces a major strategic adjustment. The Democrats have spent most of the last eight years in the minority, and as such didn't have much power to actually implement policy. The Democrats' triumphs this year are in large part due to the utter failure of Republicans to effectively govern. They're also due to the smashing success of Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean's 50-state strategy, which built the necessary infrastructure to capitalize on every opportunity. But now that they are in power, the Democrats will be evaluated on their willingness and effectiveness in carrying out the course corrections they have been tasked to perform by the voters.
This was a change election. That's what the public wants. Now it's time for the Democrats to consolidate the goodwill they've earned from the voters and channel it into improving people's lives.
If they can accomplish that, the Democrats will enjoy potent majorities in Capitol Hill for a generation or more. But if Senator Obama and the Democrats equivocate and fall into timidity, and if they pay more attention to the Inside-The-Beltway cocktail-party pundit circuit than to actual voters, they'll be in for a rude awakening next election cycle. The danger for the Democrats is not that they'll do too much; it's that they'll do too little.
The voters sent a clear message: Fix things. The Democrats would do well to heed it.
3. Sarah Palin was a disaster for the McCain campaign. Governor Palin was (and remains) extremely popular with the Republicans' fundamentalist base; but this group has little in common with the majority of Americans, who don't subscribe to the James Dobson mentality or worldview. And those of us who aren't fundamentalists – that’s most of us – saw Governor Palin for what she was: a grotesquely unqualified, overmatched, and self-absorbed individual who celebrated her own massive ignorance and tried to foist it off as "folksiness."
Governor Palin was a profoundly cynical pick by John McCain, a one finger salute to thinking Americans. Senator McCain harshly found out that most Americans take their presidential vote far more seriously than he thought. She'll be hanging around, but it's extremely difficult to see anyone in mainstream America perceiving her as anything more than tabloid fodder.
4. The nation's changing demographics portend trouble for the Republicans as currently construed. Ever since Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy in 1968, the Republican Party has frequently engaged in minority-baiting to win tough elections – and many times it has succeeded. The roots of the strategy involve dividing the country into two camps, and winning the election by laying claim to the bigger portion.
The downside, of course, is that Republicans have alienated just about every non-white-male group in the country – and white male voters' share of the electorate has been steadily shrinking. Women, young people, African-Americans, Hispanics, non-fundamentalists, and gays and lesbians strongly support Democrats now – and the trendlines aren't moving in the GOP's direction. Unless the Republicans can find a way to recapture the trust of non-WASPs, they could be in for a long, hard slog for a decade or two.
The bind the GOP finds itself in is that it can't reach out to non-white-males without angering the right-wing radicals who make up much of its core constituency – as was evidenced every time the occasional Republican tried to put forward an immigration policy that stopped short of electric fences and concentration camps. The GOP has its work cut out for it before it can reintegrate itself with mainstream America.
5. We are a center-left country, not a center-right one. The current Big Lie being propagated by the media today is that America is somehow a "center-right" country – despite having just thoroughly rejected a presidential candidate who labeled himself that way, and despite having just voted in a whole slew of center-left senators and representatives to Congress.
Americans rejected Republicans, in part, because Americans like Social Security and Medicare just the way they are, disapprove of pointless foreign military adventurism, believe the government should do more to smooth out the massive wealth disparities in our society, and treasure clean air and water and safe food and consumer products. There's a reason Americans voted for the "socialist." It's extremely silly to argue that we're "center-right" in the wake of an election that was nothing less than a repudiation of such a mindset, but Washington pundits live in their own little world.
6. Frederick County will be “blue” in 2012, if not sooner. Barack Obama massively outperformed John Kerry in Frederick County. While Senator Kerry lost Frederick County by 21 points, garnering 39% of the vote, Senator Obama came within less than two thousand votes of defeating John McCain in this previously reliable Republican stronghold.
Jennifer Dougherty, for her part, got a respectable 44% in the county against one of the House's most entrenched incumbents. When the seat opens up next cycle, the Republicans will have a very tough time holding onto it. If the Democrats do what the voters put them in to do and succeed where the Republicans failed, Frederick will turn “blue.”
Now that Barack Obama and the Democratic Party have a mandate for change, the new administration's success will hinge on how effectively it carries out its orders from the voting public. Now is the time for bold aggressiveness and proactive problem-solving, not for special-interest coddling.
Let's get to work.