It will take weeks to digest the political implications of Tuesday’s stunning national elections, but if you had to sum it up in a word, that word might be “inclusive.”
Throughout the nation, majorities rejected the extremist politics against groups of people espoused by the Tea Party and embraced by the GOP’s Mitt Romney: limiting abortions, denying same-sex marriage, harsh deportation policies for illegal immigrants, tax policies that widened the wage gap between rich and poor. Similarly, Americans rejected the notion that Americans were better served by a Darwinian health care system that catered to the strongest, fittest and richest.
What Americans embraced were policies of inclusion espoused by President Barack Obama: a universal health care system in which all citizens would have access to a basic level of health care; fairness in a tax code in which all paid a representative share; an immigration policy in which a reasonable path to citizenship is possible; an energy policy that addresses the issue of climate change; a job-growth policy in which a good primary education and access to higher education is a cornerstone of success; and a balanced deficit-reduction plan that calls for tax increases on the wealthy and reduced government spending across the board.
As the New York Times wrote in its post-election editorial on Wednesday, “President Obama’s dramatic re-election victory was not a sign that a fractured nation had finally come together on Election Day. But it was a strong endorsement … of moderate policies on immigration, abortion and same-sex marriage. It was a repudiation of Reagan-era bromides about tax-cutting and trickle-down economics, and of the politics of fear, intolerance and disinformation.”
What we found most reassuring, and heartening, was that Americans were more nuanced in their understanding of the economic situation than most pundits had predicted. Almost 60 percent rightly assigned the nation’s economic hardships on the George W. Bush administration and, while disgruntled by the current economy, were willing to give President Obama four more years to see if his policies would lead the nation to a more stable and enduring economy. They understood the depth of the Great Recession and that it is has taken much of the past four years to recover from that near economic collapse.
For the most part, Americans also rightly understood the basic differences between the Republican platform and the Democrats on the basic tax policy questions: Asked who would benefit from Romney policies, 52 percent said the rich and 36 percent said the middle class, while 43 percent said Obama’s policies favor the middle class and 31 percent said he favors the poor.
And while the Republicans tried to use the relatively high rate of unemployment against President Obama, a majority of Americans rightly saw that the policies of the GOP (trickle-down economics in a global economy) worked against middle-class employment. Those who thought of unemployment as a major issue supported the president over Mitt Romney by several percentage points.
As Obama said in a rousing post-election speech, American is stronger when we all work together.
The American worker understands the difference in political perspectives better than Karl Rove and the Republicans might have hoped, and rejected the same ole’ “give the rich tax breaks and they’ll create jobs” snake oil they have been selling since Ronald Reagan’s days in the White House. It was a mirage then, a complete bust under Bush, and it would have created even more debt had Romney been elected and tried it again.
Two election issues turned the tables on Romney and, arguably, cost him the election: the far right’s “war on women,” in which the Tea Party and its darlings pushed radical ideas on abortion and rape; and the Republican’s rabid positions on immigration issues. Latinos overwhelmingly support President Obama, and were important components in the coalition of forces who turned the tides in New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada and Florida. African-Americans also overwhelmingly supported the president, turned out in large numbers and were a major factor in this slim win in Virginia and Florida.
Women also went solidly for President Obama, while Romney took a less-substantial 7-point margin over the president among white men. Romney, not unexpectedly, won among those voters who opposed gay marriage, would outlaw abortion, favored tax cuts for everyone, or favored mass deportation of illegal immigrants.
Much post-election analysis has focused on the declining demographics for the Republican Party and the necessity, once again, of a bigger “big-tent” if the party is to have a future. As several pundits noted earlier this fall, Arizona may well be a swing-state in the next presidential election because of its growing Latino population, and Texas isn’t all that far away, said another pundit in yesterday’s Times.
The big story of the night was the surprisingly good showing Democrats had in the Senate. After several close races, Democrats gained two Senate seats during an election in which they had to defend twice as many open seats as the Republicans. But rather than lose seats, Democrats picked up two with two independents firmly in their camp. And as several pundits noted, the Democrats elected more liberal senators in those positions than the candidates they replaced.
Moreover, there are a record number of women elected to the Senate this year, which as one female senator said, would put more of the focus on creating jobs and a strong economy and less focus on taking reproductive rights from women. National polls, by the way, show a solid majority believe abortion should be legal, and more than half of Americans say marriages between same-sex couples should be recognized. And those numbers include many young Republicans who hope their party can adjust to the new social norms, drop opposition from its platform, and focus on economic issues.
Will they? Time will tell, but in this past election and in the 2010 election, a new class of Tea Party Republicans was elected, making the party even more conservative and exclusive than it had been. It’s a conundrum the GOP will have to resolve.
As for how to govern with a split Congress, we’re hopeful President Obama will take to heart the lessons he says he learned (as stated in his victory speech) and take his message to the people if Congress tries to stymie progress. He must be more aggressive, less apologetic and more confident that moving the country forward with the vision he has outlined is why he was elected. His job as America’s president is to lead the country in a way that addresses and solves the difficult issues of the day; it is not to compromise his principles in the hopes he can drag the opposing party along, kicking and screaming, for the sake of unity.
As Lee Siegel, author of “Harvard is Burning,” wrote in an online edition of the NY Times, “President Obama needs to follow the example of his beloved Lincoln and drop all hope and pretense of “unity” — not as a political strategy to divide and conquer, or as revenge on his electoral foes, but in fact for the sake of actual national unity.
Let the next four-year battle begin.
Angelo S. Lynn