While my temptation is to quickly pivot to the next challenge—e.g., high unemployment, fiscal cliff—it’s important to take a breath and reflect on the election outcome.
Broadly speaking—meaning there are lots of exceptions but this is at the core—the latter part of the campaign and the outcome itself supported an America moving towards reason and tolerance. Extreme candidates lost safe seats. Phony trickle-down economic arguments were rejected and exit polls showed majorities favored a balanced approach toward solving our fiscal challenge. Tea party positions that ruled the Republican primary were eschewed in the general. There are now more women in the Senate (20) than ever before and white men are now the minority among House democrats. Voters in four states approved referendums on gay marriage.
A few specifics:
–On the mechanics of voting, given my concerns about our election infrastructure, voter suppression efforts, the expected narrow margins between the candidates in key states, and the fact that both sides were heavily lawyered up, I feared the night would be a lot longer than it was.
That’s good, especially given the outcome, but it doesn’t mean that any of these concerns are moot, something the President noted in his victory speech.
–The R’s are predictably doing the requisite soul searching, especially on their demographic problem that their core base is a shrinking share of the electorate. There’s lots of obvious stuff about “reaching out to Latinos, minorities, women” but there’s something missing from the stuff I’ve heard.
Their conversations seem to assume that they’ll win if they can just move from base to base+X, with X being larger shares of the groups above (people other than older, white men). But this isn’t their core problem. That they can’t win with a growing share of shrinking base was obvious to many well before Tuesday.
Their problem is that base is inversely related to X. If order to reach out to X in ways that X might respond to, you risk alienating your base, many of whom blame X for their woes and very much resent any government actions to reach out to them. I haven’t heard any serious discussions of R’s solve that paradox.
–I continue to reflect, with some optimism, on how little traction Romney/Ryan got out of their 20% across the board tax cut proposal. I really do believe that supply-side economics lost last Tuesday night, and if I’m right, that’s a very important development. In fact, exit polls showed that majorities recognize the need for taxes to go up, and I don’t think it’s because they like paying taxes.
I think it’s because a) a majority of the electorate was more WITT than YOYO—they recognized the President’s description of the role of government as more germane to their lives than Romney/Ryan’s much diminished role, and b) unlike too many members of Congress, they understand balance, i.e., given point ‘a’ re the role of government, there’s no sustainable budget path that can be achieved by spending cuts alone.
–Romney’s etch-a-sketch failed. Outside the beltway, I talked to a number of people who gave Gov. Romney a fair look and just didn’t know what to make of him. Most of these folks didn’t think he was an evil capitalist intent on shipping jobs to China—the Obama campaign’s attempt to disqualify Mitt on those grounds didn’t work for them.
But they truly couldn’t figure out where he stood. They clearly saw through his flip-flops, and were far more concerned about that then any of the underlying positions he was flipping and flopping to and from. I think there are a fair number of voters who don’t have strong feeling about one policy over another—they’re not analyzing which candidate will get tougher on trade with China or Wall St. oversight. Outside of gaffes and secret cameras, both candidates say they’ll do lots of good things that will solve our problems. In that situation, my impression is that a non-trivial block of swing voters made their choice based on who seemed more trustworthy, more likely to follow through. And the guy whose positions changed so much as he went along naturally lost that part of the contest.
Well, I’m glad it’s over and yes, we’ve got a lot to turn to. But as we move on to the cliff and immigration reform and the rest of it—including all the stuff we can’t see coming—I think it’s important to keep in mind that while Tuesday was tightly contested, it was a narrowly won vote for a more reasonable and tolerant America where we work harder to find solutions, take less extreme positions, be more inclusive of our evolving demographics, and support and fund a role for government.
I’m still not sure our political system is up to meeting those aspirations. We’ll see. But those are the aspirations of the majority of the 2012 American electorate, a group of which I’m proud to be a member.
[On a separate note, congratulations to Alexandria’s girls’ soccer team United on their awesome and exciting first-place season. Go United!]