It has been about a week since the election returns surprised many in the press with a solid, if not magnificent, win by President Obama and the Democrats in the Senate. The House, too, presented the Dems with net additions and would have likely led to a Democratic House if the Dems hadn’t squandered 2010 and allowed the census and redistricting to be under GOP control. It was a win for progressives and Democrats and a loss by Republicans both those of the Tea Party persuasion and those economic conservatives fixated on the failed “trickle down” theory of Reaganomics.
So much to discuss but, first, why did the press and the polls get it so wrong? I will leave it to Nate Silver of the New York Times to explain sampling, control groups and process in polling but from a more meta-position it seems that the press got it wrong because they wanted a race and the polls got it wrong because they believed the publicity in the press. More simply, the press desperately wanted a race and had 2010 on their minds. They misinterpreted the Scott Walker Recall (as pro Walker or moving Wisconsin towards the GOP and not as simply a disdain in a generally progressive state towards the regressive nature of recall), misinterpreted the the 2010 malaise by progressives and young people that permitted the Tea Party to elect so many House members but not take the Senate and misinterpreted the air of hopefulness in this country. The polls followed the press and assumed a lower turn out based on 2010 modeling and probably still haven’t sorted out that many of many age groups have dropped the landline as a mode of communication by phone. Without crowing (or maybe a little), I wrote right before the election my belief that America never moves backwards, albeit sometimes it moves sideways, and that America votes with the future in mind. The American voters did that again this year.
More interestingly, I pulled up a piece I wrote in 2008 (under the then assumed name Walden) in which I wrote that the election of Obama was the end of the Reagan era and the Roosevelt (Franklin) epoch. With Obamacare enacted and more generally but incrementally progressive legislation to come, I assert that statement is truer today than even in 2008. Reagan smashed decades long theory of economics and tried something different. He and his policymakers tried “trickle-down” economics and these became unhealthy gospel for the next 25 or more years. Taxes were anathema and would destroy the economy and tax cuts, especially for the rich, were the only solution towards growth. This theory ignored the growth of the economy due to and following the Clinton tax increase on the wealthy and ignored the complete and utter failure of the Bush tax cuts to stimulate the economy. This, and the notion that government is awful and so are workers, was the main frame of Reagan and, for many including myself, have been the greatest sideways move for this country holding us back and making us smaller than the greatest nation should be. The 2012 election surely ended this era. The voters were given a clear contrast on economic populism and picked the progressive, anti-Reaganomics option. Obama made this clear throughout the electoral process and Romney made it clear that he wanted deeper Reaganomics and the blame on the poor and lower middle class to continue. Wasn’t even close.
But, is Obama an economic populist like Roosevelt (either one)? No, he is a progressive incrementalist. A realist that got things done but didn’t make too many splashes while accomplishing the task. Like Bill Clinton before him, Obama focused on the infrastructure of our country, its foundation, as he found that particularly broken after 25-30 years of Reagan policy wrought ineptly most recently by the Bush team. The steps taken, other than Obamacare, were incremental, focused and succeeded. We didn’t have another Depression. We are moving forward. The path is slow but it should be permanent due to the care taken by Obama and his team. But careful, incremental progress isn’t sexy and that is the real reason it looked to be a close race. Because it wasn’t clear that the American people understood that progress was the past four years. But they did and did strongly! Of course, it didn’t help the Reaganomics cause to have a warrior like Romney who wore the rich label so strongly and so sneered at those “47%” of Americans he was hoping to govern with the lash.
So it is now the Obama Era and, arguably, the Obama Epoch (longer lasting than decades and a real movement in the American way of governance and life). We are a progressive country but a careful one and that we shall see in the next four years with an adept President and progressive, but not liberal in the extreme like the Tea Party is conservative in the extreme.
But, will the GOP get this? Not so assuredly. They have played the “blame game” (how I hate to paraphrase Sarah Palin but it is apt here). They are today blaming “gifts” given to the 47%, i.e. Obamacare. Huh. A real gift, and a sound economic one, would have been Medicare for all. But, I digress and it wasn’t and isn’t yet possible politically anyway. They are blaming an outpouring of minority voting (hmmm, does that mean they meant to suppress it and just sucked at that?) as if more voters are a bad thing. They are blaming Romney (ok, not wrong there) and Ryan (doubly not wrong) but not the Republican brand of division and dog whistle hate mongering politics that also came of age with Reagan (I know it is apostasy to say so but its true). While true that over 93% of African Americans, 71% of Latinos and Hispanics, and 73% of Asian-Americans (interesting that no one is focused on that last demographic which was not a certain thing some years ago) voted for Obama, the truth is that America voted for Obama by more than 50%. That’s the number we need to focus on (not the breakdown though interesting politically). We now have a full on majority President, a Democrat and Progressive. America voted and did so with clarity and certainty. We need not be a divided nation any longer. It’s time to move forward.