The Day After Election Day

Some thoughts on the day after the election:

  • Pro-gay marriage referenda passed in Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, and Washington state. This is an incredible victory, given that in years past these sorts of popular votes were brought by anti-equality conservatives. The culture war is changing and marriage equality is becoming a reality in an ever-larger swath of America – something that makes me feel my “traditional” marriage is stronger today than it was yesterday.
  • There are invariably a lot of groups who make efforts, post-election, to get credit for their issue/demographic being the margin of victory for the winning side. Obviously this is usually partly true and partly exaggeration allowed for by demographics (it is rare any group can successfully argue on a demographic level). Of note from this cycle:
    • Roughly 5% of yesterday’s voters were gay. That’s a huge bloc and no small reason why pro-equality candidates and initiatives won across the country. By comparison, 3% of voters were Asian and 10% of voters were Latino.
    • The GOP has made a horrible misplay in embracing anti-Latino nativism. They’ve fallen from solid 40s support under Bush to about 21% in this election. To put it differently, Latinos could be credited with delivering this election to Obama. This demographic trend alone could ensure that the GOP doesn’t win a presidential election until they get their heads right on immigration and Latino issues.
    • Youth voted for Obama at about 60%, a slight drop from 2008 but enough to ensure that America’s future ideological demographics are squarely on the side of whichever party is more liberal.
    • Union voters in swing states, particularly Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Wisconsin, are likely at or around the margin of victory.
  • Taken together, it’s clear that the demographic and ideological base of the Democratic Party should be pro-worker, pro-immigrant, pro-gay and anti-debt. Whether that happens under Obama’s leadership is an entirely different story.
  • The Senate pickups are genuinely exciting. A class that keeps Sherrod Brown, Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand and Sheldon Whitehouse, while adding Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Baldwin, and Chris Murphy is a genuinely strong one. Murphy is a huge improvement over Joe Lieberman, even if he is unlikely to be as outspoken a progressive as Warren or Baldwin. Considering Warren, Gillibrand, and Brown could all be presidential candidates in 2016, this is a class that will have real incentive to show visible, progressive leadership, particularly on issues of economic fairness and reigning in corporate power.
  • As someone who wasn’t invested in President Obama getting reelected, it was easy for me to always look at the race from a dispassionate position. The polling all year seemed clear – at no point did Romney make inroads into the swing states to a degree that Obama’s path to 270 electoral college votes was threatened. On the one hand, this meant I didn’t agonize about how things were going. And on the other hand, it made the whole ouvre of attacks on Nate Silver’s polling analysis by Beltway pundits who demanded that the race as a coin toss completely absurd. There are a lot of people in the press (and on the right) who should be eating heaping piles of crow today. Though I doubt we’ll see as much of it as should happen.
  • Going back to the Senate, it’s remarkable that Democrats gained three seats when they had 10 more up to defend this cycle than the GOP. It was really a massive failure by the NRSC to let an opportunity for gaining the majority turn into lost ground for the GOP in the Senate.
  • President Obama made a passing reference to climate change in his acceptance speech last night. The speech was probably the best I can recall him making in years, but I would have loved to hear him make climate change a major issue this cycle. That he did not do this makes major climate action less likely, as he did not use the cycle to build political capital for it (akin to what he did for healthcare in 2008).
  • One of the best things from Obama’s speech last night was his call for political participation beyond the ballot box. While much was made by the professional left of the FDR “Now make me do it” story from the 1930s, Obama did not ever say this in 2008 or 2009. But this time he effectively told his supporters, “Make me do it,” where it is actual progressive policies that Obama campaigned on: “But that doesn’t mean your work is done. The role of citizens in our Democracy does not end with your vote. America’s never been about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us together through the hard and frustrating, but necessary work of self-government.”
  • With an ideological shift to the left in the Senate, it’d be great to see filibuster reform. I’m not going to place any money wagering this will happen, though.
  • And also on the Senate, David Dayen makes a strong case that Democrats in the Senate should do nothing on fiscal issues in the lame duck and instead wait until the new Congress is seated in January. The caucus took a meaningful step to the left last night and is more capable of getting something good passed in January than they are in the next two months.

For at least two years, I’ve been saying that if the Republicans failed to defeat Barack Obama this cycle, it should go down  as one of the worst failures in American political history. The economy has been weak for the entire term (though getting stronger over time) and unemployment has been historically high. The President’s job approval rating has been in the 40s most of the last two years, often in the low 40s. The single largest legislative accomplishment – the healthcare bill – has mostly not gone into affect and is fairly unpopular. With this range of facts defining the situation, it really is stunning that the GOP couldn’t nominate a candidate capable of beating President Obama.

Already today there are some Republican voices calling for a pivot to appeal to Latino voters, but this is really just the tip. The GOP didn’t lose just because of anti-immigrant nativism. They lost because they have become captured by the most reactionary voices of the party. While I do not have high hopes for the GOP, the country is better served when they are a center right party and not a far right party. I hope that what few moderate voices still exist in the GOP find a way to bring their party back to a position of relative sanity. And in so doing, I hope that Democrats will shift from being a center right party to a left wing party.

Finally, I have no clue what this election victory – the margin, the constituencies that delivered it, the fact that he will never have to face the electorate again – will do for the policy agenda in his second term. It’d be great if he becomes the progressive champion lots of activists have thought he would be from early 2007 onward. But we don’t need to speculate at this point – the evidence will arrive soon enough. Digby writes:

If the Obama team learned anything from all this it should be that they cannot be all things to all people. We disagree in this country and that’s ok.  This election wasn’t about post-partisanship, bipartisanship or “changing the tone.” This was a strictly partisan victory made up of  the Democratic Party coalition.
The liberals were validated this election and it behooves the administration to strategize their next four years with that in mind.

He’s run his last race and all he has left to worry about is properly governing the country and solidifying his legacy — and that legacy will be made or broken on how well he fulfills the agenda of those who have voted for him in massive numbers. He has a right and an obligation to unapologetically work to enact the agenda those people elected him to enact.

I really hope Digby is right. But I’m afraid that this isn’t how the relationship between politics and governance works. Political coalitions emerge around the achievement of an electoral outcome. The policy outcomes of governance are fundamentally and functionally disconnected from this. That is, Obama is going to pursue the policies he believes in and wants to enact, regardless of what the people who got him elected want or believe. This is particularly true in places where liberals made the choice to vote for Obama in spite of his lack of alignment with them on issues like solving the foreclosure crisis, ending deportations of immigrants, and the prosecution of the war on terror. There is no transitive property of electoral politics, wherein the politician elected will now adopt the policy preferences of the people who delivered him to office. It’d be nice if there was, especially in this case, but it doesn’t exist. Obama may well end up being more liberal this term than last. I certainly hope he is. But I don’t share Digby’s optimism that this victory will make Obama obligated to support an agenda driven by the policy desires of the constituencies which elected him. Again, we shall see what happens soon enough.

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