Democrats seem to feel pretty positive about the recent election, as we mock the Republicans for their supposed state of denial and decay.
But let me point out what looks like our own version of denial. We’ve largely focused on the silver lining. In the spirit of being reality-based, let’s focus a little on those big dark clouds still looming in the center of the picture.
“But Obama won by 3 million votes! We held the Senate!”
I believe we’re framing this incorrectly.
Instead try “a despicable creep like Mitt Romney – inventor of devastating private equity raids and an outsourcing pioneer who personally destroyed thousands of American jobs, a crypto-cult zealot and foreign policy featherweight, came within a few percent and a few hundred thousand votes of the Presidency. It took flaming reactionary idiots mouthing off about reproductive rights to derail Romney and keep the Senate.”
In other words, our politics still seems to be utterly dominated by a false narrative about economics and economic growth, the overwhelming triumph of which was only marginally derailed by “the war on women.”So what happens next time around when they shut up about rape-pregnancies being a gift from god?
(Not, to be sure, that they’ll stop believing it.)
What happens next month when that false economic narrative shapes a hugely destructive “grand bargain”?Please consider below 10 discouraging stories I see in those dark clouds. Note: I’m quite open to explanations as to why I might be wrong.
(Vote change calculations below are based on the tabulations on Dave Leip’s page as of this morning, or, for Pennsylvania Congressional races, the USA Today tallies from last weekend).
1. Based on the presidential vote, 45 states got redder percentage-wise between 2008 and 2012. In many states, the “red-shift” was Democratic voter attrition between elections outpacing Republican voter attrition, but Romney did actually out-poll McCain in 32 states.
OFA still looks like the only Democratic organization with any competence, and its strategy was pretty much the opposite of the famous “50-state” strategy – they focused like a laser on a handful of swing-states (again), and key districts within swing-states.
Lest anyone is curious, the states that got bluer in the presidential vote were Alaska, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, and Oklahoma. Collectively, the net increase in blue votes over red votes in those states was less than 1/3 the “red-shift” in Texas alone (see below).
Those five “bluer” states? I guess that was the cost of unprecedented Republican obstructionism over the last four years.
2. Texas got redder. Yes – despite the fantasies spun so frequently over the last few weeks about the demographic inevitability of blue ascendance, Texas actually got redder between 2008 and 2012. Obama got ~234K fewer votes than in 2008; Romney got ~76K more than McCain.
Who, exactly, is going to fund and drive the organizing that will supposedly help realize the long-predicted demographic-driven shift? Flip Texas to purple, and teahadists will be effectively marginalized – which is why they will fight to the death to prevent this in any way they can (perhaps a topic to revisit after the Supreme Court rules on challenges to the Voting Rights Act?).
3. Republicans seem to have pretty effectively gerrymandered themselves a decade-long House majority. Looking at House races in Pennsylvania (to pick a state of interest), Republicans won the House delegation 13-5 (about opposite of the split in 2008) – even though Democrats received ~90,000 more total votes across these 18 races. Only one House race in the entire state was closer than 15,000 votes – most were blow-outs one way or the other. Hard to see how Democrats get more than one of those seats back before 2022. Is there any evidence of a real plan?
This GOP gerrymandering also appears to have locked in state-legislative majorities in many states, as well (see Wisconsin, below).
4. Gerrymandering aside, rural counties in a lot of states appear to have gotten redder. Democrats lost a lot of those Pennsylvania seats in 2010, prior to redistricting and the red stain only seems to have gotten deeper in a lot of counties. Nationwide, The Economist cites a report estimating that even without 2010-based Gerrymandering, Democrats would have picked up only ~11 incremental seats, which would still have fallen short of a majority in the House.
5. Wisconsin backslid. Tammy Baldwin aside, the State Senate outcome in Wisconsin is discouraging: the Dems lost the State Senate again, after all the sturm and drang of the last two years. This was high noon on Main Street. These were a series of showcase bouts where the impact of losing is amplified – i.e., it only encourages the extremists.
If Wisconsin continues on its current trajectory, in another couple of decades we’ll be able to rename the home state of Robert Lafollette “North Mississippi.”
6. The Democratic majority in the Senate is appallingly fragile. A few weeks back, Kos thanked the tea party birdbrains for gifting Democrats a majority in the Senate over the last two elections. It’s fun to mock them, but when you step back and think about it, this is horrifying. With marginally less idiotic candidates, voters (apparently) would have continued to buy right-wing supply-side fairy tales and catfood draconianism, highlighting the ineffectiveness of Progressive truth-telling and messaging. (Democratic messaging seems to be intentionally blurred – Obama’s “thank you” letter prominently mentions debt reduction as a priority, along with “education reform” which has been badly misguided.)
Senate candidate mistakes are something the Republicans have a great shot at rectifying over the next three cycles.
7. Obama seems to have learned little. Out of the gate, it sure looks like the Administration is back to its pre-emptive compromise ways, and is set to squander its window of electoral leverage with a Bowles-Simpson-light grand bargain that is to the right of what Richard Nixon would have accepted.
This might very well kill the recovery, possibly exacerbating the challenges a Democratic Presidential candidate will face in 2016.
There is also no reason so far to expect any real progress on financial industry regulation, the ongoing mortgage crisis, civil liberties, or global warming (especially as we increasingly morph into Dumbfrackistan).
8. The woolly-minded “minority ascendance” narrative that seems to be cementing in place as the explanation for 2012 is troubling. We should have hammered an alternative narrative around voters rejecting the lunacy that created our current economic mess in the first place – the data was there.
Instead we have the “minority ascendance” narrative that has been one of the key narratives the right has been pushing for a generation – to paraphrase: Democrats only win if minorities turn out. Republicans love this narrative because it offers the prospect of divide-and-conquer through elevating ethnic resentment among caucasians (anyone with right-wing relatives has surely gotten one of the chain emails with variations on the “minority welfare queens are robbing you blind” rants), and further cementing this vote for the GOP. In fact, this narrative might be an underlying reason that a lot of caucasian-majority districts got redder in 2012.
The GOP (which, as a whole, seems to have drawn as the primary lesson from its “soul-searching” that it should shut up about reproductive rights) loves simple scare stories, and is no doubt already at work on better selling ethnic scare stories to the feeble-minded “swing” voters (mostly caucasians) who will still be able to tip Presidential elections for decades.
9. Our 2016 bench is thin. In 2016, Hillary Clinton will be 69 and Joe Biden will be 74. In this day and age, its highly debatable that someone this old can manage the demands of the Presidency, let alone two terms worth, let alone the rigors of the campaign trail. Ronald Reagan was a dismal failure largely because he was a moron, but his age-related decline clearly contributed to cowboys and crooks running wild throughout the government.
For the first time since 1976, I have no idea who I will support for the Democratic nomination in 2016 – and there’s at least a small chance there are others out there like me feeling similarly uninspired.
10. Regardless of who Dems nominate, they’ll be thinking in terms of a $1.3-$1.5 billion Presidential campaign. This will likely further entrench corporate voices (particularly those of the financial services crooks) in firm control of Democratic Party positions and priorities.
In sum, it seems to me that we’re still deep in the woods, and the sun is continuing to set.
No surge of progressives or populists has come anywhere close to “crashing the gate.”
On the personal side, I’m still shaken by what I’ll call “the Facebook insight”: unquestioning, widespread, enthusiastic support for right wing lunacy and lies by a shocking number of friends and acquaintances. I had a lot of “holy shit!” moments reading Facebook posts wherein people who formerly seemed reasonable proved utterly, actively ignorant to evidence and history.
If we’re really going to effectively address our larger problems (especially global warming), we’re going to need a movement bigger than OFA in 2008 – with real legislative coat-tails that might more effectively approximate the kind of electoral-driven renewal we saw in the New Deal era.
If you’re looking for a reason to be optimistic, the next (inevitable) financial crash that we’ve set up by failing to prosecute bankster corruption after 2008 and by settling for token financial reform (a farce in statute, an utter joke in final regulations), will likely create the potential environment for a broader political realignment.
Hoping to make something out of the next massive financial crisis is grasping for a silver lining, to be sure, but – hey – we seem to have gotten a lot of emotional mileage out of silver linings recently.