Thursday, November 8, 2012

Off-topic: The Election--our Best Impulses

Many are writing the obituary for the GOP this week. Republicans, they tell us, are happily waving at a parade that has passed them by. They insist the GOP won't be winning a presidential election any time soon because of "new demographic realities."  Some are happily celebrating the pending demise of white male rule. 

Here's what some newspapers had to say:

"As the Grand Old Party reawakens," the New York Times wrote, "it faces the harsh old realities of minority status and long-term decay, and the prospect of further losses . . . ." 

The GOP's troubles, another news report proclaimed, stem from the fact that it has lurched to the right to appease extremists, and it's "been in steady decline" for a decade. 

Yet, many within the GOP just don't get it. Another news report says that right wing extremists in the party are talking about starting a third party to carry out the party's true mandate.

Sounds pretty awful for the GOP, doesn't it?

Oh, I forgot to mention that each of the news reports referenced above appeared in print not this week, but in the second half of 1974, when pundits were busy writing the GOP's obituary in the wake of the Watergate scandal. See here, here, and here.  In case you don't know what happened then, the GOP lost the White House in 1976 to a moderate southern Democrat named Jimmy Carter, but it came roaring back in 1980, when the "extremist" who was talking about starting a new party in the reference above -- by the way, his name was Ronald Reagan -- beat Carter in an electoral college landslide of 489 to 49. Four years later, that "extremist" did even better, winning 49 states and an unprecedented electoral college victory of 525 to 13.

This time around, the experts tell us, the GOP is finished because it is too white and too male. An ABC News report noted that among the 28 percent of voters who are nonwhite, Obama pulled in 80 percent of the vote. Among Hispanic voters, Obama pulled in 71 percent of the votes.

Sounds pretty dire for the GOP, doesn't it?  I mean, nothing like this has ever happened, has it?

Not so fast -- some perspective. Rewind to 1960. Almost 8 out of 10 Catholics voted for John F. Kennedy. No Catholic had ever been elected president, and, as one Catholic writer explained, a Kennedy victory would "seem[ ] to confirm to the Catholic population that we would no longer be treated as second-class citizens in America."

It's fair to say that the Catholics no longer feel like second class citizens -- both vice presidential candidates this time were practicing Catholics, and Catholicism wasn't much of an issue. Oh, and in Tuesday's vote, it wasn't anywhere near 8 out of 10 Catholic votes for Obama. Catholics were pretty evenly split among Obama and Romney supporters, 49-48 respectively. 

Do changing demographics spell the death knell for the GOP? Well, the Democratic Party does have a monopoly on black votes -- and that's something that ought to be a concern -- but the other demographics are a lot more flexible.

In 2004, for example, George W. Bush got 44 percent of the Hispanic vote.  That's pretty astounding -- my guess is that white voters with similar incomes would not have voted for Bush in those numbers.

What about the youth vote? In 1984, 61% of voters ages 18-24, and 57% of voters ages 25-29 voted for the oldest man ever to serve as president, again, Republican Ronald Reagan.

What about women?  In 1984, 58% of women voted for the most conservative man to serve as president in the modern era, Ronald Reagan.

One thing is for sure: when the GOP treats groups like second class citizens, those groups flock to the Democratic Party.

So what to make of this election? 

Fair and objective people recognize that much of the mainstream news media has a rooting interest in Barack Obama. It is difficult to remember a president who's been subjected to so little criticism by the mainstream media, and that surely was an important -- quite possibly the overriding -- factor in his reelection.

By the same token, no president has been subjected to so much disdain by conservative outlets, especially talk radio.  Much of that disdain was kooky and vile.

The fact is, this was probably the most divisive election in modern times. Reducing people who don’t share our world views to caricature, and assuming outlier attributes are the norm for an entire class, are social evils that were rampant in this election. The de rigueur consensus seems to be that points are best made by demonizing, and that grotesque exaggeration is every bit as valid as nuance, reasonableness, and truth. For example, when Harry Reid talks about “seventeen old white men” trying to buy the White House for the radical conservatives, it makes for a pithy sound bite, and anyone taking offense must hate women, the poor, and minorities.

In many ways, Governor Mitt Romney was among the most impressive, and decent, candidates to run for president in modern times. But he was viewed with suspicion by extremists in his own party, and in order to win the nomination, he took a sharp turn right on immigration. In retrospect, that alone might have cost him the election.

In the end, regardless of your choice in this election, there is much celebrate about it. First, the fact that we went to the polls and chose our leaders in an open, free, and largely fair manner is remarkable. In the history of the world, our electoral process is an outlier.

Second, the fact that a black man has been elected to serve two terms as president of the United States is remarkable. In the not-too-distant past, even during Barack Obama's lifetime, in some places in America, blacks weren't allowed to drink out of the same water fountains as whites. For that reason alone, Mr. Obama's election as leader of the free world should inspire even the most ardent opponents of Mr. Obama's actual policies. His election, and reelection, are microcosms of the very promise of America and a reflection of the best impulses of a people that strives to live up to the ideals of the Statue of Liberty.

We hope that President Obama governs in the conciliatory spirit of his victory speech.