AND STILL!!!! Lessons Learned from the Re-election of Barack Obama (Part 1)
Yesterday President Barack Obama won re-election earning him four more years to govern the country. Given the tenor of the race for president I think there are many lessons that can be drawn from what I believe was an even more historical victory than Obama’s first.
Despite the apparent narrow minded nature of our political rhetoric, I believe the election itself was grand in nature. A much repeated criticism of the politicians was that neither one of them presented a clear vision of the ideal direction in which they wanted to lead the country. However, the country itself is changing in some incredible ways and our politics is obviously struggling to keep pace. Technology, demographics, geopolitics, and economics, have merged in ways that are transforming America whether we like it or not.
In 2008, President Obama tapped into these changes by inspiring unprecedented support from young voters and minorities, that propelled him to the election. The right political wing of the country responded by the emergence of the Tea Party which drew the Republican party into an extremely conservative position. The results of this political extremism is borne out in the results. The President won re election by winning majorities of not only the Black vote, but also the Hispanic vote, the women’s vote, and young people (presumably voters between the age of 18-25.)
The inability of the Republican Party to deal with these demographics was only exacerbated by the nominee that was produced by its primary process. In the primaries one Republican after another attempted to prove their purity to the Tea Party by adopting political positions that were severely out of step with the majority of the country. Of these candidates, Mitt Romney was the most moderate. Although he adopted all the positions demanded in order to obtain Tea Party support, he actually seemed to be the candidate most in command of the issues or maybe at least he met a minimum criteria for what the party demanded of its presidential nominee.
As a candidate Mitt Romney probably had some inherent flaws. The most glaring was that he was a venture capitalist in an economic environment in which corporations symbolized by Wall Street were making huge profits, while unemployment remained around 8 percent.
During his campaign Mitt Romney calculated that he could overcome this flaw by turning it into a strength. He would tout his business experience as the reason why he was more qualified than the president to right a struggling economy. On its own, this could have been a compelling argument. However, I believe the Republican Party, and Mitt Romney as its standard bearer made some fundamental miscalculations. They calculated that the platform that appealed to the Tea Party appealed to a diverse nation even in the face of growing evidence that the interests of the Tea Party were mainly the interests of a decreasing demographic of older white males.
Prior to 2000 appealing strictly to this demographic may have been enough to win an election. However, President George W. Bush made it his strategy to appeal to Latinos and socially conservative African Americans to win a narrow election in 2000. This mapped out a possible strategy for the Republican Party which they repudiated. This repudiation was probably in part due to the fact the President Bush’s 8 years as president ended in acrimony.
During the election, the theme of the ascension of the Tea Party was that they were “taking the country back.” Unfortunately, what they really managed to do was take Republican politics back to a strategy that had been proven to be ill equipped to deal with the emerging demographics and interests of the nation.
Aside from the emergence of the Tea Party, Mitt Romney could not follow President Bush’s template because being a Mormon, he was unsure if overtly religious appeals would work for him with better known Christian denominations. In addition, his political position was to call for the repeal of Obamacare, although it was modeled on the plan he endorsed in Massachusetts. Obamacare happens to be very popular with African Americans as a way to ensure that even the poorest citizens can obtain affordable healthcare. Aside from this Mitt Romney and the Republican Party largely ignored African Americans.
Next Mitt Romnney, followed the hardline views of the Tea Party and endorsed self deportation of illegal immigrants and by implication the stiff laws that have been enacted in Arizona. These laws allow police officers to check the citizenship of any citizen who “looks like they could be an illegal immigrant.” As potential targets of these measures, the Hispanic community in America is turned off by these stances which simply reflect ignorance of how to pragmatically deal with the issue of illegal immigration.
Finally, and in what I believe was the possible death knell for Mitt Romney’s candidacy. As a part of his efforts to explain how he would balance the budget, Romney proposed cutting federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which many women rely upon for a wide variety of services. In addition, Mitt Romney came across as completely tone deaf when he spoke on issues affecting women.
As if that wasn’t enough, Mitt Romney managed to offend segments of senior citizens and the military, with his often quoted “47 percent” remark. All these issues reflect shortcomings in Mitt Romney as a candidate, but I believe they also reflect a wider problem with the conservative movement in America. I call this election historic, because I believe it reflects a trend toward repudiation of these particular conservative positions. Furthermore, I think that the aforementioned “ascendant minorities” voiced the sentiment that they are tired of being ignored in American politics and this election was an exclamation that if a political party ignores these demographics they will cease to be a major player in national politics.
If the Republican Party still has the will to play a major role in American politics, its leadership should take heed and modify its position to reflect the diversifying electorate. It should cease its attempts to speak to the country in a language more appropriate for the 1970s or 80s and begin to speak to the country in language that is appropriate for the realities of 2012 and beyond. In my next entry I will outline some more issues that hamper the Republican Party and offer some suggestions which might help them, if some Republican candidate is brave enough to embrace them.
On a final note, you might ask why I am focusing any attention at all on the Republican Party, when they seem to have thought so uncritically about their own fate. The reason is that I do believe in the political process in this country. I believe that America needs to have at least two relevant and healthy political parties in order to have full and genuine political debates and discussion. Without full, genuine, and intelligent political discussion the country will not be able to make the best policy. If the government does not produce the best policy, then people suffer, and ultimately that is what I care about.