I drafted this column before the polls closed, not knowing how things would play out Tuesday; but naturally I can’t resist updating it to acknowledge the results.
What I saw most clearly, thinking Tuesday morning about the future, was that whichever party won the Presidency shouldn’t get comfortable. The U.S. still faces some very real problems, some of which may not have widely acceptable solutions.
Our economy has not fully recovered, the deficit remains dangerously high, and we’re rapidly approaching a deficit-related "cliff." Longer-term problems include: past inattention to education and infrastructure; the aging of our population combined with rising health-care costs; climate change; energy costs and dependence on foreign oil; and the fact that we spend vast sums to protect military bases and interests around the globe.
If Republicans won, they’d lose in 2016.
The party has moved too far to the right to stay relevant in the 21st Century. That point was clear before the election; but Election Night illustrated it neatly, as networks intercut between the largely young and ethnically varied supporters waiting for Obama and the older, mostly white group supporting Romney.
A Romney victory would have given us several more far-right U.S. Supreme Court justices. With their help, President Romney could have delighted the Tea Party and angered many women by making abortions illegal, and could pursue the fight against gay marriage, which is laughable to the young and loses support among older folks every year. Election Night illustrated this too: in two states, voters for the first time voted their approval of gay marriage, while two other states voted to legalize recreational marijuana.
Romney’s economic promises were wholly inconsistent with each other. Four years would have revealed that unmistakably to the voters who believed in 2012 that maybe he could work magic; and after four years President Romney could no longer blame Obama for not getting us out of the Bush recession fast enough.
Meanwhile, just as Hurricane Sandy pushed climate change back into the electoral conversation, other extreme weather events are likely to make Republican denials sound even hollower.
Republican extremists, emboldened by success, would have pushed Romney to extremes unpalatable to the rest of us – forgetting that Romney narrowed the 2012 race only by denying at the last minute everything he’d said for two years. No etch-a-sketch would have been big enough to wipe four full years from the collective memory.
But the Democrats also have reason to worry about 2016.
Four short years after Bush left office, as we’re still struggling to dig our way out of the mess, the Republicans nearly won. They nearly won with a candidate whom even Republicans couldn’t make themselves like, advocating the policies that helped create our financial problems. Fair or unfair, by 2016 Democrats will own those problems in the public mind.
This was also the first presidential election since Citizens United. Nationally and locally, PACs used abundant, untraceable funds to say increasingly outrageous things without fear of liability. The 2016 elections may become even more determined by money and Madison Avenue’s creativity.
Republicans, controlling many state governments, will continue their carefully planned effort to restrict voting among the folks most likely to vote Democratic. Fewer early-voting opportunities, more photo-I.D. requirements, and other "minor reforms" will subtract from the Democratic vote totals in 2016.
On the national level, Tea Party Republicans (and party leaders who fear them) greeted Obama’s initial election by deciding that destroying him was more important than doing the best they could for the country. Will they greet his re-election as a warning to work with him toward solving problems? One hopes so; and one hopes that if they continue their obstreperous course their constituents will see them for what they are; but it’s more likely that Republican House members will automatically call the sky red if Obama says it’s blue, and then try to blame him for not getting a consensus on the sky’s color.
Republicans will again play "chicken" with the nation’s economy the way teenagers do with cars. They’ll gamble that Obama will drive off the road to avoid disaster – or that if he doesn’t the public won’t be able to see whose fault the disaster is.
Civility and compromise are at a pretty low ebb in the political world. That’s partly because of the Republican flight to the right, but also because we live in a time when every political sneeze is analyzed ad nauseum in cyberspace, and on talk radio and TV, before anyone can say "God Bless You." Gridlock will leave voters even more disgusted with both parties in 2016 than it did this year.
I didn’t have to know who won Tuesday to know that politicians in both parties need to relearn some manners, and be more flexible and creative in seeking practical solutions to very serious problems.
Part of that change needs to start with each of us. As I wrote Tuesday morning: "Wrongheaded as some of us will think he is, the next President is neither a traitor nor a devil. At some level he believes his policies are good for the country, although his view of the country may differ sharply from ours. We owe him frank but fair criticism and more respect publically than some of us will think he deserves."
"Could you do that?" someone asked. Had Romney won, I’d have tried.
[The foregoing column appeared this morning, Sunday, 11 November, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, under heading "Either Side Would Have a Tough Four Years Ahead."]
Beyond the barebone facts -- that Obama won more comfortably than expected, despite the bad economy, and that Democrats picked up a few seats in House and Senate -- there are some grounds for hope.
One of those is the resistance voters showed to the heavy-handed tactics and generous financing of the "super PACs." For example, casino billionnaire Sheldon Adelson, the largest single political donor in history, invested heavily in backing eight candidates, including Mitt Romney. He gave tens of millions of dollars to super PACs supporting them. None of the eight won. All Karl Rove could say to the fat cats who invested $300 million in his two pro-Romney super PACs was that "Without us the race wouldn't have been this close."
In fact, Rove was beside himself. He'd talked a lot of rich folks into parting with a lot of cash, making big talk about turning his Crossroads PACs into a "permanent presence in U.S. politics," working alongside the Republican Party. His American Crossroads super PAC spent at least $1 million in each of ten Senate races, and saw its candidates lose in nine of the ten; or, as someone else calculated, when you counted its support for Romney and various others, just one per cent of the money the PAC spent accomplished its desired result. No wonder Rove screamed at his Fox pals not to call Ohio for Obama! Wednesday another conservative activist called Rove's PACs "ineffective" and wrote that "in any logical universe he would never be hired to run or consult on a national campaign again."
In New Mexico, the super PAC run by a Martinez lieutenant and funded largely by Oil & Gas backed quite a few candidates, but in many instances voters seemed able to see through the misleading fliers and ads. Martinez actively sought to retire several long-time Democratic legislators, and actually got rid of only one, despite heavy spending by the super PAC.
Unfortunately, we haven't seen the end of the super PACs. With all that money, the Republicans will be able to buy a few brains capable of identifying better and more persuasive ways to spend. (I won't offer any specifics!) I'd like to think that folks will still shake off that shit like the proverbial water off a duck's back.
One slight correction, or amplification, too:
I wrote that two states voted to legalize same-sex marriage. A third, initially too close to call, also turned out to have done so; and Tammy Baldwin became the first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Senate.
During the campaign, her sexual preference apparently was the non-issue it should have been.
The other night at a political meeting, a white-haired gentleman got up to speak about the election; and after praising a progressive candidate who'd lost, he added that it was also wonderful that three states had approved gay marriage, Minnesota had rejected a DOMA, etc., and at that point it was clear that he was tearing up with emotion. When he sat down, his white-haired companion put his arm around him, affectionately, and complimented him on his brief talk. It was moving. There was a certain sweetness to them.
I thought of a friend I'd known here in the early 1970's. We'd been in the initially small minority strongly questioning the wisdom of the war in Viet Nam. At some point in the 1980's, visiting NMSU, I ran into him in Corbett Center and we talked awhile. He told me then that he was gay, and had been gay back then, but had feared letting even his fellow progressives know about it. He spoke a little bitterly about watching me sit on the lawn at a meeting with a girlfriend, maybe holding hands or whatever, when he knew very well that if he did that with his lover someone would have stomped them. It was sad that he had thought even we would reject him -- and sadder that some might have. I thought also of a retired English professor I met again recently, a fellow I'd vaguely understood was gay back in the early 1970's, and whose long-time companion was and is a professor from a more conservative department. I've never had to hide for decades a major part of my life, and undoubtedly can't fully appreciate the pain it would cause if I couldn't reveal my love for Dael to even many of my closest friends -- and if just turning on the TV or reading a newspaper, or getting a drink at the water fountain at work, could at any moment provide some zinging reminder that much of society thought we were somehow disgusting.
By the way, I heard that as of Satuday morning the race between incumbent Terry McMillan and challenger Joanne Ferrary is a tie. It'll be certified that way, I'm told, but subject to a mandatory recount anyway because it was so close. Should be interesting.
Finally, congratulations again to Evelyn Madrid Erhard for running hard and well against a highly-favored opponent. She carried the County, and made the final tally a lot closer than I'd have guessed when she started the race. I called her this morning, just to thank her again for trying and congratulate her on running so well, with no initial name-recognition and not much money against the darling of New Mexico's oil and gas industry. A reader called her "Don Quixote" in this morning's "Sound-Off" column in the Sun-News. She deserves our thanks.