It’s the People, Stupid!

We concluded last week the most acrimonious and costly election in our history. In a race, if you believed the conservative pundits, that he could not lose, Romney managed to lose big by abandoning virtually all of the principles he espoused in public office -- reproductive rights, gay rights, sensible gun control, universal health care – to achieve a clean sweep with old, white, Southern men, in effect trading Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Michigan, Iowa, New Hampshire and Florida, for Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. You can do the math.

The GOP told the American public that the old Obama grassroots coalition was broken in the face of a slowly recovering economy and high employment. As a result they claimed the passion and enthusiasm from 2008 had dissipated among the young, women, and minorities, the foundation for the Obama 2008 landslide.

No president had or could be reelected with unemployment hovering at eight percent. In Ohio, if only the same record number of blacks who voted in 2008 voted in 2012 Romney would have carried the state and perhaps won the election. The 2012 turnout of African-Americans dwarfed 2008.

When James Carville declared, “It’s the economy, stupid”, helping Bill Clinton unseat George H. W. Bush he was right. However, Bush Sr. was an infinitely more compassionate less strident conservative and the electorate was far less polarized. He had fought and won a war with Iraq but refused to yield to his generals and invade without an exit strategy. He resigned from the NRA for their unconscionable stand on assault weapons. A strong pro-life president he never advocated repealing Roe v. Wade or withholding support for Planned Parenthood. He like his son and John McCain favored comprehensive immigration reform. The Obama coalition hadn’t fully formed and had much less extreme scorched earth rhetoric around which to coalesce. The struggling economy and a charismatic personality carried the day for Clinton.

Fast forward to 2012. Two high profile Senate candidates declare a rape induced pregnancy is “God’s will”. “Raped women have an internal mechanism to thwart an unwanted pregnancy”. Only Billy Graham perhaps believes there is any way to prevent unwanted pregnancies beyond sex education and contraception. We have spent enormous sums on abstinence only programs which in this web enabled world have no chance of succeeding. For many this constitutes an invasion of privacy by government – a war on women – which along with equal pay for equal work no doubt accounted for Obama’s eleven percentage point lead with women. There will be twenty women in the Senate; one, openly gay, from Paul Ryan’s Wisconsin. It’s the people, stupid, not the economy alone that dictates success at the polls. 2012 ignited a “demographic time bomb” where young voters, women, and minorities began to look like a potential absolute majority in terms of favoring a more moderate, balanced and inclusive approach to governing.

Looking back can be very instructive or not. Obama got a tremendous lift from Bill Clinton the campaigner, but even more from the Clinton years – balanced budgets, twenty-three million new jobs, and modestly higher tax rates on the wealthiest Americans. Romney could not mention the George W. Bush legacy because it is toxic so he focused understandably on the Reagan period. While nostalgia is comforting for us old guys, the ‘80’s are gone for ever. Seventy-five million women work, and many are their family’s prime provider. No woman should have to cede control of her body. No one’s sexual preference should deny them the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is an issue of civil rights.

Perhaps this election will prompt revisiting the lunacy of the Citizens United decision. Sheldon Adelson, the Koch brothers, their billionaire buddies and assorted hedge fund managers who shelter their enormous wealth in the Cayman Islands and pay very little tax, are very unhappy with Karl Rove as they could not, as he guaranteed, buy an election. It’s the people, stupid. Most independent or undecided swing state voters indicating above average intelligence, didn’t make their decision on either candidate from a barrage of nasty, mean spirited, hyper-partisan and often outright false advertisements. Citizens United has given special interests on both sides a disproportionate voice in our electoral process and it should be curtailed.

It’s the people, stupid. Real people judge their leaders by the company they keep. I felt sure Obama would carry Ohio when he made his final push with Bill Clinton and Bruce Springsteen. Romney chose John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum losers all, to make his final appeal to the white, blue collar voter. Combined with ads claiming Chrysler would outsource Jeep production to China, (refuted by Chrysler’s senior executives, many Romney supporters) made it a sure thing.

Extreme positions, right or left, will not work with this new coalition. When a long serving distinguished legislator like Richard Lugar can lose the nomination to an evangelical dinosaur like Richard Mourdock because he felt it was necessary to find some common ground with the administration, the GOP is in real trouble. Lugar’s conservative credentials were one hundred percent. When Olympia Snowe gives up in the face of gridlock, or when Mitch McConnell claims his only priority is denying Obama a second term there is no one doing the people’s business.

Comprehensive immigration reform must happen if either party is to prosper, if for no other reason than the size of the Latino vote. With thirteen million illegal immigrants, most working, paying taxes with American born children, a path to citizenship must be found. Not amnesty for criminals, but the proper policy for a large number of Americans who provide valuable service.

It is long overdue to get the whack jobs out of the game. Consider that less than one year ago, Donald Trump, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum were considered viable presidential candidates. If Moderate Mitt couldn’t be elected because he was forced to disavow his principles to dispatch this crowd, perhaps the quality and caliber of the crowd needs to change. It is inconceivable to me that Sarah Palin is still a viable media spokesperson or an exercise guru for that matter. The new coalition would not hold Sarah in high regard. We should continue to pledge allegiance to the flag not to Grover Norquist. Perhaps John Stewart and Bill Maher offset Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, but they provide very little beyond comic relief.

No party has a monopoly on talent, intellect, fairness or good ideas. The GOP has talked about a big tent for decades but shrinkage has accelerated in the face of increasingly strident minority positions. In a free society respecting a person’s position on abortion, gay rights, and guns is a given, pro or con. Building into a party platform a litmus test regarding abortion rights is a total non-starter for the new coalition even among its many pro life members.

How else do you explain a black president who gets only forty percent of the white vote winning a second term by a large margin? Ultimatums and intractable positions will not succeed. Karl Rove style architecture which worked well for Bush, Jr. is permanently out of style.

Revenues must rise, entitlements must be altered, expenses must be reduced, to achieve fiscal sustainability and preserve our social safety net.

Claiming that on day one he would declare China currency manipulators and repeal Obamacare (aka Romneycare) energized more opponents than supporters. It is estimated that if Obama had been running against Romney around the world he would have gotten seventy-five percent of the vote much better than the fifty-plus percentage at home.

While the “experts” declare that the superiority of Obama’s grassroots organization made the difference, I don’t buy it. If the message you are selling doesn’t ring true it doesn’t engender the excitement to run to the polls, the enthusiasm and energy the GOP said no longer existed with Team Obama. As in every other endeavor, including reading the tea leaves, it’s the people, stupid.