Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Morning after Election

Jeez, it feels good to be home.

Of course I'm pleased by President Obama's victory.  I felt fairly strongly that he would win, but thought it would be closer.   I did not expect him to win almost all the "battleground" states, and to do so by margins that were almost comfortable. 

I'm also pleased that New Mexico, and particularly Doña Ana County, as expected, gave the national ticket and Martin Heinrich very comfortable margins.

Obama won for three reasons, not including his significant advantage in the "ground game."  I saw a little of that firsthand.  I happened to be at Democratic Headquarters, and past 5 p.m., with the polls closing at 7, people were still doggedly calling voters, urging them to vote, thanking them for voting, or trying to arrange a ride if one was needed.  Not many people; but they were volunteers, not a call center.  They were neighbors and committed advocates, not folks making an hourly wage.  You could hear it in their voices, too.

Obama won, despite a difficult economy, because:
1. People could just not bring themselves to like or trust Mitt Romney;
2. The Republican Party has moved too far to the Right for a changing United States; and
3. People apparently did recall, as the Republicans urged them to forget, which party had contributed mightily to the economy's downfall.

A recent Doonesbury mocked the fact that the Republicans, just four years after Wall Street played a huge role in our financial crash, nominated a Wall Street guy, and at least one analyst on TV emphasized this; but more crucial, though related, was the fact that folks just can't warm up to the guy for more visceral reasons.  All during the Republican Primary Season, when the Republicans played "Anybody But Romney," it was not merely because his record as a governor had been somewhat moderate, but also because people just couldn't warm up to the guy for visceral reasons.  That was related to, but distinguishable from, their distaste for Wall Street guys.  George Bush was a rich guy who never had to work with his hands to make a buck, but people liked him and wanted to believe him.  With Romney as the obvious eventual nominee, Republicans in 2012 went through an almost weekly enthusiasm for an embarrassingly unlikely cast of characters such as Cain, Gingrich, Perry, and Bachmann.   Romney appeared wooden.  His lack of familiarity with the average person's life made for some howlers when he tried to cozy up to working-class folks; and although his handlers had urged him to smile more, he lacked a solid instinct about when to apply that principle, and sometimes smiled like a monkey as he spoke of the suffering of an unemployed single mother with cancer or something.  He didn't have what George Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton had.  With Reagan or Clinton, people felt better listening to him, even if he was uttering something idiotic; with Romney, people felt his brittleness and absence of commitment to anything other than trying to gain the office his revered father had failed to reach.

The Republican lurch to the Right and the changing nature of the country were well-covered in the election  night TV stuff.  It was wonderfully on display in Senate races such as Indiana's and Missouri's, which by all rights Republicans should have won: they chose a Tea Party buffoon in each state, tossing out a respected long-time Senator in Indiana, and each buffoon behaved like one but still figured he could win.  It was also on display in the vast differences in age and ethnicity between the crowds at each party's Presidential Headquarters: Obama's supporters were young, lively, and multi-ethnic; Romney's were almost universally white, mostly middle-aged, and probably included a hgiher percentage of males.  Meanwhile, Maine and Maryland became the first states ever to vote their approval of same-sex marriage, which is anathema to the Republican stalwarts and Romney, Minnesota rejected a constiutional amendment banning gay marriage, and Colorado and Washington legalized recreational marijuana use.    (Sadly, physician-assisted suicide appears to have been defeated in a fairly close election in Massachusetts.  Particularly since my parents' deaths I've had strong feelings that terminally ill folks ought to be able to end their suffering if they choose to do so, as my father did.)

Finally, exit polls confirmed that folks said by wide margins that Bush, not Obama, bore primary responsibility for our poor economy.  To me, the Republican arguments against Obama always sounded like a guy who'd run up $100,000 in credit-card debt while he and his wife had a combined annual income of $80,000, then, after she confiscated his credit cards and insisted on keeping the checkbook, screamed six months later that she hadn't gotten them out of debt.  The Bush Administration was incredibly irresponsible.  Disaster followed.  Obama has made some of the right moves.  That he has not made more of them is partially Republican opposition and partially his own appointment of some "financial experts" of the wrong stripe, and probably also partially a failure of political will.  However, for the most part he's tried reasonable steps and probably saved us from a worse economy than we currently have.  Romney offered nothing except more of the Bush-Cheney policies -- and a mythical "Plan" he couldn't quite define.

Waiting for Romney to concede was tedious but interesting.  It became increasingly obvious not only that he was clinging to unrealistic hopes but that he and his folks had really drunk their own Kool-Aid and believed that his momentum and the poor economy were carrying him to victory.  That happens in campaigns (or in trials, theatre productions, feature film-making, and sports): you're so surrounded by your co-workers / well-wishers / supporters and your "kind of people" that the messages from outside that circle pale by comparison with the palpable enthusiasm your people are bestowing on you.  That Romney didn't understand he was still an underdog these past weeks may also have symbolized his major problem: that the America he sees is an extemely limited one, restricted by his privileged life and narrow world-view.

I'm pleased, but concerned: election night euphoria fades quickly, and the financial cliff hasn't moved.  We're still rushing toward a dangerous place with regard to the deficit, and the Republicans aren't sounding like folks who understand that survival will require compromise by everyone.

A few weeks ago I analyzed in my notebook why I was going to feel a good deal more depressed by a Romney win than I'd been by other presidential elections that had gone the wrong way.  I concluded that one factor was the extremely vicious nature of some contemporary Republican positions and another was Romney's conscienceless ambition.  To me, his combination of passionate ambition and whorish willingness to reinvent himself whenever it might garner a vote or two was a dangerous mix.  Meanwhile Obama was a genuinely competent President who'd started as a community organizer.  Finally, the prospect of spending the rest of my life watching an irretrievably right-wing Supreme Court stifle progress was uninviting. 

For the first time in years, having moved back to Las Cruces, I was also deeply interested in the local races.  I know some of the candidates, I know plenty about almost all of them, and as a columnist I took strong positions on some of the races.  Almost all the races went as I hoped.  In particular, the ones I'd spoken out about went well.   I don't assume or suggest there was any causal connection there, but mention it to explain how I feel.  When I lived in Las Cruces before, a lot of my beliefs weren't too popular.  With changes in the times and the town, Las Cruces has a quite progressive local government and voted quite strongly for Obama and Senator-elect Heinrich -- and even gave Evelyn Madrid Erhard a respectable majority against the incumbent U.S. Congressman.

I had felt particularly strongly about the three judicial races.  Governor Martinez (the former long-time District Attorney here, in case you're reading this outside New Mexico) appointed three cronies as judges here.  One in particular seems a somewhat spiteful sort, and a Tea Party darling; two of the three had lied to or about me; and their three opponents all seemed decent people who had good reputations as lawyers.  Further, the close alliance of Governor-Judges-District Attorney seemed unhealthy.  (A fourth Martinez crony was the District Attorney.)  We were surrounded by "Keep Judge So-and-So" signs, as if to suggest we had elected and expressed affection for the three (of whom one, by the way, seems a very decent sort of fellow).   I wrote a strong column on these races, but was not optimistic.  I didn't have recent experience with elections here, and knew Martinez was extremely popular.  The judicial candidates -- Marci Beyer, Mary Rosner, and Darren Kugler -- all defeated the Martinez "incombents" by several percentage points.

Similarly what I'd heard and seen of Amy Orlando and Mark D'Antonio convinced me that the county would be a lot better off with Mark as D.A.  Still, I feared his optimism might be a product of hearing so much from well-wishers and having far less contact with opponents.  I'd kind of expected to spend some time during the next two years writing columns trying to expose certain problems within the D.A.'s office.  Without getting into details, there was a certain nastiness and heavy-handedness to the Martinez-Orlando campaign to keep Ms. Orlando in office.  Mark is a capable lawyer with a great background for a prosecutor, and will bring a much-needed "breath of fresh air" to the D.A.'s office here. 

Most of the other local races went as I hoped they would too.  In one there's currently a twelve-vote margin, which may or may not survive provisional ballot counting and perhaps a recount.  Particularly because progressive or moderate candidates had been subjected to a barrage of ugly and misleading attacks by a PAC funded by Oil & Gas and run by a Martinez lieutenant, I'm heartened.  I hoped people would see through that garbage and make choices based on candidates and their actual positions; but I had no basis for predicting how these races would come out.

Sadly, but not unexpectedly, one key race turned out badly.  Our Congressional District includes Las Cruces but is weirdly cut to be primarily a Republican one.   Republican U.S. Congressman Steve Pearce is the darling of NMOGA and the Tea Party, but pays little attention to the needs or desires of the rest of his constituency, particularly progressives, environmentalists, and the like.  He doesn't have to.  Thus he's already voting to toss out the Affordable Health Care Act, and has consistently taken many extreme positions.  He'll likely be one of those unreasonable Republicans declining to compromise even to save the country's credit rating and possibility of financial recovery, and he snorts at the very idea that we might be contributing to climate change.

His challenger this time was a lady named Evelyn Madrid Erhard.  She had little political experience and less funding.  It was the classic David-and-Goliath battle, and Goliath was going to win; but Evelyn gave him a tough fight.  She dedicated her life to this race for the better part of a year, spoke energetically and well, and performed well in debates.  A newspaper poll a while back claimed she would win about 35 per cent of the vote.   She carried Doña Ana County and got about 41 per cent of the vote overall.  A fair way to put it would be that she lost in a landslide, but less of a landslide than most people predicted.  She ran heroically.  She deserves our thanks. 

I feel at home in Las Cruces; but it's still a little unsettling to a muckraking journalist to look around and notice that a high percentage of local office-holders are progressive, open-minded, and even environmentally-conscious individuals who also seem not to be motivated primarily by greed or political ambition.  Whom am I going to write about?

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