Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Five belated election thoughts

It took me a week, but I've finally been able to gather my thoughts about the 2012 presidential election.

1. I'm glad it's over. Every election cycle seems to become nastier and more obnoxious than the previous one, so it's no surprise that the 2012 election, featuring a sharply-polarized electorate, a hyper-partisan punditocracy, and a never-before-seen barrage of campaign ad spending by the campaigns and the third-party "Super PACs," was particularly ugly and tiresome.  And I don't even live in a swing state. Spending a week in Colorado over the summer, and watching the relentless stream of political advertisements on local television stations, made me realize just how miserable and unendurable the election had to be for people who actually lived in swing states.

2. In retrospect, the biggest surprise is how quickly the election was called and how decisive Obama's victory turned out to be. In the weeks leading up to the election, we heard a lot from political prognosticators about how close it was going to be, how we might not know the winner until all the provisional and absentee ballots were counted in Ohio weeks after election day, or how a split between the popular voter and the electoral vote was very possible. It turned out that the opposite occurred; the election was called relatively early in the evening after it was clear that Obama was going to win Ohio, and Obama went on to win all of the swing states with the exception of North Carolina to give him 332 electoral votes to Romney's 206. Not exactly a squeaker of an election.

3. Maybe it's time for both parties to stop nominating Massachusetts politicians for President. Michael Dukakis. John Kerry. Mitt Romney. 'Nuff said.

Seriously, though: it's interesting to see how closely the 2012 election resembled the 2004 election. Both elections featured a controversial and highly-polarizing incumbent with mediocre approval ratings facing off against a wealthy yet aloof and milquetoast Massachusetts politician with a history of flip-flopping on major issues. Both incumbents had baggage - Bush with the unpopular Gulf War, Obama with the economy and Obamacare - and probably could have been defeated by stronger, more inspiring opponents. But just as it wasn't good enough for Kerry to be the "Not Bush," it wasn't good enough for Romney to be the "Not Obama;" you have to give the electorate a reason to vote "for" you as well. Neither Kerry nor Romney met that threshold for enough swing-state voters.

4. Republicans shouldn't become too despondent, nor Democrats too cocky. Yes, this is a tough time for the Republican Party, as they search for answers and confront the meaning of their stinging loss. They are facing demographic and structural challenges which will doom the party to political minority status, at least in the near-term, if they are not addressed soon. They would do well to break out of their alternate reality cocoon, push back against the rabid Tea Party wing that is pulling them ever further to the right and away from the political mainstream, and focus on attracting more young, female and minority voters to their party (it's going to be hard for any Republican presidential candidate to win when they only attract 27% of the Latino vote). How they go about doing that is their business; whether or not they will do it is another story.

However, as exasperated and depressed as Republicans and conservatives might be, and as triumphant and ebullient as Democrats and liberals might be, both sides must keep in mind that in politics, nothing lasts forever. Remember how angry and despondent Democrats were after George Bush was re-elected in 2004? (They even came up with this map to express how they felt about the results of the election.) And remember how Republicans used the election to claim that they had indeed achieved the "permanent Republican majority" envisioned by political operative Karl Rove? Two years later, the Democrats reclaimed control of both houses of Congress, and four years later Obama was on his way to the White House. And let's not forget that, just two years ago, Republicans rode an electoral wave that put the House of Representatives firmly back in their hands, where it remains today. The pendulum swings back and forth. Both the winners and the losers of last Tuesday's election should keep that in mind.

5. We are still a purple nation. I said this four years ago, but it's worth repeating: while political pundits like to talk about "red" and "blue" America, it's not an entirely accurate reflection of this country's political reality. America is not "red" or "blue" so much as it is varying shades of purple.
County-level results of the 2012 Presidential Election. For more maps like this one, see this link.
Anyway, it's all over now. Hopefully both parties can quit focusing on politics for at least a short period of time and start focusing on the problems that this country faces. Wishful thinking, I know...

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