In 2008, I scoured downtown Boston for a souvenir copy of the New York Times documenting the election of a black man with a strange name to the Presidency. I wasn’t the only one with that idea and could not find a copy. This year I had no such problem finding multiple copies of the Times even in late morning. Although the 2008 election is undeniably historic, this one may turn out to be much more so, and not because the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has now produced the loser in three of the last seven Presidential elections.
Not only did Barack Obama preside over the most difficult economic period in my lifetime (albeit one inherited from his predecessor) and two wars (ditto), but he had to withstand four years of unrelenting attacks questioning his legitimacy. There were, of course, the silly questions about his being an American, and just the week before this election a campaign by someone who may now be America’s biggest (and richest) nitwit about his college transcript and passport. But we also had Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the United States Senate (once described - in what now seems laughable - as the world’s greatest deliberative body), saying his number one priority was to defeat Obama in his reelection bid. And that was less than halfway into his first term.
With his reeelection, the future of Obamacare - a term once used by his opponents as derision, but now one he has embraced - seems secure. There cannot be an effort to repeal it with a Democratically-controlled Senate and a certain veto, but once its benefits start flowing to all those now deprived of health coverage, it becomes a practical impossibility to repeal. Just as significantly, in an election described as a “big choice” with two “very different visions for America,” Obama prevailed. One pundit said Obama is the first Democrat to win two elections with more than 50 percent of the vote since FDR. I found that impressive until I realized that Bill Clinton is the only other Democrat to even be reelected since 1944. Obama now has the opportunity to leave his mark in ways just as significant as Obamacare. We need to deal with the deficit, and the decisions made in that debate will affect in a major way who we are as a nation. I literally slept a lot better Wednesday night knowing that that effort would be led by Barack Obama and not Mitt Romney and his Republican colleagues.
Speaking of the Republicans, what do they now do? I do not mean immediately, although I hope the knee-jerk obstructionism of the past four years gives way to concern for America as their overriding interest. The GOP is now a national party that has received fewer votes than the Democrats in a Presidential election in five of the last six elections. While that is certainly not unprecedented in recent years (see the Nixon-Reagan-GHW Bush years), there are two major considerations that distinguish this period.
There are the demographics. It is hardly a secret that the Republican Party has become the party of older, white, and primarily male, voters. Although I am a member of that demographic, I also realize that we are a declining group, both by the forces of nature and increasing numbers of younger and Latino/a voters. When Mitt Romney conducted a major assault on Rick Perry’s policies on immigration and undocumented residents, he may have ensured his defeat several months down the road, but his views were clearly in sync with Republican primary voters. There are leading Republicans - notably former Florida Governor Jeb Bush - who have advocated lessening the rhetoric on dealing with the undocumented and, indeed, doing something positive.
Then there is the steadily diminishing connection with reality that is typical of both GOP politicians and their enablers in the media. In the last weeks of the campaign, pollsters were criticized heavily for publishing skewed results, purportedly a reflection of their Democratic biases. Never mind that those same polls showing an uptick for Romney following the first debate were fine. I dismissed all of the optimistic talk coming from Republican circles as the typical puffery emanating from a campaign, but it now appears they believed it, even though there was no - you know - evidence to support it. Jan Crawford of CBS News reports that Romney himself was “shell shocked” when he realized he had lost. Instead of relying on the large number of polls showing a likely Electoral College victory for Obama, he instead relied on his own internal polls that had “unskewed” those polls by diminshing the numbers of Democratic voters. Talking Points Memo had been running a daily scorecard of the national popular vote percentages and the projected Electoral Vote. The percentages were always close, rarely more than 2 points separating the candidates. But the forecasted electoral vote was never close. Most of the time, Romney was at 191 with Obama near 270. At no point during the months of publishing these numbers did Romney ever lead in the Electoral Vote. Never. Remarkably, I did not encounter a single Obama voter who was sure that he would win. Many were confident, but almost all expressed a high level of anxiety over the result.
Then we had the election night spectacle of Fox News commentator Karl Rove disputing Fox News’ calling of Ohio, and the election for Obama. Rove was on the phone to Romney headquarters where the disbelief in the Ohio result was such that Rove abandoned any pretense of objectivity. This led to the indelible image of Fox anchor Megan Kelly marching down to a room where the Fox analysts of data assured her that they were “99.95 per cent” sure that Ohio went for the President. This is Fox News we are talking about, not MSNBC, yet the parallel universe inhabited by Romney and Rove is such that even a bedrock conservative news operation had to be wrong.
Rove continued to outdo himself when he next appeared on Fox. This time he attributed Obama’s victory to the Obama campaign’s suppression of voters by running a negative campaign. That’s right - Karl Rove criticizing negative ads as causing voter suppression. I guess we now know how George Bush won in 2004. In order to make a statement as ludicrous as that, Rove had to ignore the reality that all of the efforts to change election laws around the country were led by Republican officeholders, with most, if not all, of them being stopped by courts.
Unfortunately, this denial of the reality-based world carries over into areas of significant national import. After the devastation wreaked on New York and New Jersey, are we going to have a fact-based discussion on climate change or will we continue to let oil companies dictate national policy? Will a discussion of the deficit and tax policy be based on facts, or will Senate Republicans continue to suppress a non-partisan report disputing a central tenet of Republican orthodoxy? The report by the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress concluded there was “no correlation between top tax rates and economic growth” according to an article in the November 2 New York Times.
Yet there are good reasons to be hopeful. The highlight of my Election Day was stopping at a supermarket in the Webster Square neighborhood of Worcester late in the afternoon. It was completely dark outside, yet there was a line of 200 people, almost all of whom were African-American or Latino, many with children, waiting in line to vote. I sometimes joke that my voting in Presidential elections in Massachusetts doesn’t matter - after all, this is the only state to vote for George McGovern against Richard Nixon - but these folks obviously had a different view. It was truly inspirational.