20 November 2012

Random Thoughts About the US Elections

After important elections, it is customary to offer incredibly boring platitudes, such as commenting on the nature of the mandate given to the political elite by the people.

After the US elections I read depressingly inane commentary suggesting that the elections showed that the Americans wanted a divided Congress. And they gave both parties a mandate to solve the looming fiscal crisis.

I don't think it is possible to take the final results and extrapolate them into them some global message as if they were willed by a teleological planetary intelligence. People vote for all kinds of reasons and they rarely have some big picture in mind.

My thoughts on the subject are much more pedestrian but at least they are based on tangible facts.

The Republican Party is on a Sliding Path Towards Minority Status

If you read Rick Perlstein's Nixonland or Thomas Schaller's "Whistling Past Dixie" you might know that the GOP was very successful in winning elections by polarizing the electorate. The "other" could be African Americans, gays, women, Hispanics and of course Muslims, depending on the electoral cycles.

But all good things must come to an end: these last elections signaled the fact that their strategy hit a demographic wall. As Lindsay Graham put it in a moment of candor “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.”



To put it another way, every single group of "other" they brandished in front of these rapidly diminishing angry white males voted against them.
This year, Obama won 55 percent of the women’s vote, 71 percent of the Latino vote, 77 percent of the LGBT vote, 73 percent of the Asian vote and a whopping 93 percent of the black vote. 
And these groups are expanding demographically while the so-called NASCAR dads are shrinking. In more ways than one.

Young People Are More Progressive than Their Parents

What is even more problematical for the GOP, young people are heavily leaning towards the Democratic Party.
The president's anchor among age groups in both 2008 and 2012 was young voters. He won 66% of the votes of 18-24 and 25-29 year-olds in 2008. That percentage shrunk, as he lost support nationwide, to 60% among 25-29 year-olds in 2012 – though this was still more than among any other age group. Importantly, for the long-term Democratic coalition, there was no sign in the exit polls that the Democratic appeal for young voters was abating among those who turned 18 over the past four years: those 18-24 year-old were just as likely to support the president as the 25-29 year-olds.
Young people are quite progressive when it comes to the so-called "social issues" or the hot button stuff the GOP has been using to get angry white males frothy before elections. Young people are pro-choice, they support gay marriage and they are in favor of legalizing "soft" drugs like marijuana.
Sixty-five percent of young voters in 2012 believed abortion should be legal all or most of the time (...)
 The only reason the pro-gay rights position won in three of the four states is because of voters aged 18-29 years old. That age group supported same-sex marriage in Maine with 68% of their votes, Maryland with 70%, and Washington with 65%. Sixty-seven percent of youth voters rejected the same-sex marriage ban in Minnesota.
How Can the GOP Prolong its Existence

The party is in a bind. Despite the empty pendulum theories pushed by pundits like Washington Post's Chris Clizza about their bright future, they have a major problem. Their primary process is controlled by hard core tea party loyalists and evangelicals. These people have blocked and will block any moderate candidate with a broader appeal. They got rid of Dick Lugar and they turned against Chris Christie, the rotund governor of New Jersey, when he praised Obama for his help during Hurricane Sandy.

Since these people are present in all levels of the party, I cannot see how they can get rid of them.

That leaves them with two legal ploys. One is gerrymandering, the other is voter suppression.

The GOP maintained its majority status in the House of Representative even though it received fewer votes than the Democrats, thanks to their massive redistricting effort. 2010 was a Census year to conduct gerrymandering and thanks to a clever campaign convincing seniors that Obama was about to cut Medicare and Medicaid, the GOP managed to retake the House and most of the state legislatures. They used this advantage to redistrict like there is no tomorrow and the results speak for themselves.

Voter suppression is a two-part effort. For the first part, you use people like Hans von Spakowsky to create the myth that there is widespread vote fraud. There are voters named Mickey Mouse and ACORN is signing them up. Then you use your state level majorities to pass strict ID election laws. Since most minorities are unlikely to have two photo IDs, they are the ones who would be unable to vote on election day.
Republican lawmakers and conservative activists undertook a concerted effort to keep minorities, students and those with lower or fixed incomes (including many of our seniors) from voting. One GOP official in Ohio said early voting cuts were necessary to check the power of "the urban -- read African-American -- voter-turnout machine." A leader of the Tea Party group "True the Vote" said he wanted to make the experience of voting "like driving and seeing the police following you." The Republican House speaker in New Hampshire said restrictions on college students voting were needed because "voting as a liberal ... that's what kids do."
The problem with these two ploys is that they are not always effective. Gerrymandering can be overturned during the next cycle and if the demographic trends continue it would become much harder for the GOP to pull the same trick. And voter suppression seem to have backfired for these elections as record numbers of Blacks and Latinos made every effort to go and vote.

Money in Politics

When Karl Rove started his Super PAC American Crossroads people got spooked. Here is an unscrupulous man with a massive war chest of $300 million. Imagine what he could do with it in tight races? Koch Brothers also announced that they would spend $400 million of their own money through Rove's and other GOP Super PACs. Sheldon Adelson kept giving more and more. Democrats were running scared.

Yet when the election day came, it turned out that Obama campaign out-advertised Romney by a 2.6-to-1 margin. What happened to all that money?

Rick Perlstein has a very funny piece entitled "The Long Con" explaining how conservative fund raising is an end onto itself. He humorously tells the story of many conservative entities, like the Vigurie Company, raising millions of dollars only to keep most of it for themselves. In 2008, the liberal blog Talking Points Memo, outed another conservative outfit, appropriately named BMW, who raised more than half a million dollar for an obscure candidate, and spent only $16,695 on her campaign in Georgia.

It is a racket. Read the Perlstein piece. He explains why lying is a feature and not a bug in the conservative movement.

Grand Bargain

But if all of this is true and the GOP is sinking faster than Titanic and future generations are polarization-proof and money in politics can no longer buy influence like in the Chicago-machine days, what should our Galtian overlords do?

Why, just invest in the Democratic Party.

When you think about it, the Democrats are given a historical opportunity. The radicalization of the GOP made their rather conservative positions incredibly progressive. A popular blogger once described the current bipartisan dynamic like this:
I really don’t understand how bipartisanship is ever going to work when one of the parties is insane. Imagine trying to negotiate an agreement on dinner plans with your date, and you suggest Italian and she states her preference would be a meal of tire rims and anthrax. If you can figure out a way to split the difference there and find a meal you will both enjoy, you can probably figure out how bipartisanship is going to work the next few years.
Now Democratic politicians can sound progressive by supporting gay marriage whilst they give away the store. Tax cuts for the wealthy, check. Limit government spending, check. Support for fracking, check.

So for the looming Fiscal Cliff and the Grand Bargain to avoid it, the Democrats could do what they did for the Health Care reform.

Here is how Greenwald imagined it:
    STEP ONE: Liberals will declare that cutting social security and Medicare benefits – including raising the eligibility age or introducing "means-testing" – are absolutely unacceptable, that they will never support any bill that does so no matter what other provisions it contains, that they will wage war on Democrats if they try.
    STEP TWO: As the deal gets negotiated and takes shape, progressive pundits in Washington, with Obama officials persuasively whispering in their ear, will begin to argue that the proposed cuts are really not that bad, that they are modest and acceptable, that they are even necessary to save the programs from greater cuts or even dismantlement.
    STEP THREE: Many progressives – ones who are not persuaded that these cuts are less than draconian or defensible on the merits – will nonetheless begin to view them with resignation and acquiescence on pragmatic grounds. Obama has no real choice, they will insist, because he must reach a deal with the crazy, evil GOP to save the economy from crippling harm, and the only way he can do so is by agreeing to entitlement cuts. It is a pragmatic necessity, they will insist, and anyone who refuses to support it is being a purist, unreasonably blind to political realities, recklessly willing to blow up Obama's second term before it even begins.
    STEP FOUR: The few liberal holdouts, who continue to vehemently oppose any bill that cuts social security and Medicare, will be isolated and marginalized, excluded from the key meetings where these matters are being negotiated, confined to a few MSNBC appearances where they explain their inconsequential opposition.
    STEP FIVE: Once a deal is announced, and everyone from Obama to Harry Reid and the DNC are behind it, any progressives still vocally angry about it and insisting on its defeat will be castigated as ideologues and purists, compared to the Tea Party for their refusal to compromise, and scorned (by compliant progressives) as fringe Far Left malcontents.
    STEP SIX: Once the deal is enacted with bipartisan support and Obama signs it in a ceremony, standing in front of his new Treasury Secretary, the supreme corporatist Erskine Bowles, where he touts the virtues of bipartisanship and making "tough choices", any progressives still complaining will be told that it is time to move on. Any who do not will be constantly reminded that there is an Extremely Important Election coming – the 2014 midterm – where it will be Absolutely Vital that Democrats hold onto the Senate and that they take over the House. Any progressive, still infuriated by cuts to social security and Medicare, who still refuses to get meekly in line behind the Party will be told that they are jeopardizing the Party's chances for winning that Vital Election and – as a result of their opposition - are helping Mitch McConnell take over control of the Senate and John Boehner retain control of the House.
In short, these elections showed that the two-party system is alive and well and it it is contained within the Democratic Party.

And keep in mind that the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is more conservative than Richard Milhouse Nixon. Under Nixon:
Spending on social services doubled, and military budgets actually decreased. He oversaw the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. His administration was the first to encourage and enable American Indian tribal autonomy. He quadrupled the staff of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, almost tripled federal outlays for civil rights and began affirmative action in federal hiring. He supported the Equal Rights Amendment and signed Title IX, the law granting equality to female student athletes. One of his Supreme Court appointees wrote the Roe v. Wade decision.
Nixon made Social Security cost-of-living increases automatic, expanded food stamps and started Supplemental Security Income for the disabled and elderly poor. It helped, of course, that Democrats controlled the House and Senate. But it was the president, not Congress, who proposed a universal health insurance plan and a transformation of welfare that would have set a guaranteed minimum income and allowed men to remain with their welfare-recipient families. It was Nixon who radically intervened in the free market by imposing wage and price controls, launched d├ętente with the Soviets, normalized relations with Mao’s China and let the Communists win in Vietnam.
And, for good measure, the budget for the National Endowment for the Arts grew sixfold, by far the biggest increase by any president.
And if you remember, it was Edward Kennedy who opposed Nixon's universal health care plan.

The future is so bright for the 1 percent that they gotta wear shades.

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