All the post-election hand-wringing about the uncertain future of the GOP seems, to me, a tad premature, just as, right up until he won the thing, the rumors of Obama's demise were clearly exaggerated. According to pretty much every wonk and pollster except Nate Silver, I woke up Tuesday morning to a nation dominated by rich and powerful white rural populist conservatives who looked finally to sway the electorate against Obama. I went to bed Tuesday night an important part of a new and powerful governing coalition dominated by women, minorities, and academic elites, that also, with the curve of history and progress, looks forward. The party of the large tent is apparently become the party of sexists, bigots, homophobes, and prudes, while my Spendocrats are newly the party of pragmatic solutions to immigration solutions, deficit reduction, and the gradual expansion of human rights to all citizens. The new narrative says Obama is not Carter, Obamacare is generous and fixed, the Tea Party is feckless fringe, Boehner-Obama is the new Reagan-O'Neill. Whereas 2008 seemed to have so many implications for progress and reform, they say, it was really this election that ratified that promise and made it, at least in legislative terms, pretty longstanding. The age of children has ended. The era of adults can finally begin.
I have not been able to shake the sense of a missed opportunity during this election. In the end, I know I voted as much against one candidate as for another. Something about Mitt Romney bugged me--his wealth and unrelenting sense of entitlement pitched as a kind of work ethic--until it terrified me to imagine him as commander-in-chief. Saturday Night Live got this right when, asked why he was running at all if he was willing to say anything to anyone, the caricature of Romney quickly replied, "I have no idea." So, Romney was a lousy candidate. But I also felt very strong feelings about very prescribed and impersonal candidacies. Which meant either I had a very keen sense of Romney, or I bought into a caricature because it was so well-drawn. Put in slightly different terms, to see a Tweeted photograph of Barack Obama hugging Michelle Obama just after his reelection, and to assign authenticity and warmth, cheering on the palpable relief both seem to feel after winning, is to believe on some level I am a proxy to a personal moment. But I know the moment is not personal. It cannot be. I am looking at a campaign photograph.
To paraphrase Barack Obama, who paraphrased Dick Cheney four years before that, elections have consequences. A republic elects its representation. A democracy yields to consensus. I voted for Obama because I thought TARP worked, the economy was turning around, student loans were cheaper and expanded to more recipients, the auto bailout seemed like a savvy move in retrospect, Obamacare made a bunch of reforms I agreed with, troops were withdrawn from Iraq and scheduled for same in Afghanistan, CAFE standards were doubled in the reasonably near term, and Obama appointed two women to the Supreme Court including the Court's first Hispanic. I see near-term strides for marriage equality, which I support.
More than that, I believe national elections are directional. Consider that nine years ago, President Bush called a press conference in the Rose Garden to announce that a Constitutional Amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman was a key part of his re-election campaign, and eventually, his party's platform:
The GOP ran same-sex marriage bans as state amendments in 11 states. However the issue boosted conservative turnout, only Oregon and Michigan voted to approve the bans with less than 60% of their electorate's support. Voters across the spectrum, including Democrats and liberals, approved those bans. Even four years ago, Proposition Eight was a new California state law. However profitable its advocacy--and I do think there is a significant fundraising advantage to being progressive on the issue--it is shocking to me that anyone would oppose the equal right to marry. And here is what seems to me the missed opportunity I mentioned earlier. Social issues, so now the advantage of the Democrats, yielded in this election to economic and political ones. I would like a candidate to appeal well in excess of fear to my moral sense. Obama had the advantage here, but he did not push it outright. And I'm not sure that doing so would have been expedient--would not have backfired and painted him as a caricature of "liberal" to alienate independents--which says that, however certain I am of the long-term liberal trend on social issues, we might be as precariously balanced, left to right, as ever before.
In a sense, we've been here before. An aloof, unlikeable, and ideologically uncentered Republican is trumped by a singularly gifted, if vain President who runs a flawless campaign. We cheer his aggressiveness for standing up finally to the rich and crafty right. In decisively losing an election he might have won, the New York Times declares the GOP candidate has "ruined his party for a long time to come." The soul-searching, for all, must now begin: how and why the GOP misunderstood the electorate so profoundly, and also, what to do with all these old white men. For his part, the President assures us these are hopeful times of long-needed reform. If Obama does not quite suggest they are "the most hopeful times since Christ was born," nevertheless substantial issues seem finally about to be solved with great liberal solutions embraced by a vast majority of Americans, and checked by a new coalition of voters who look to vote blue for generations to come. Sure, the analogy might go, there are vexing foreign policy concerns, born of a deeply flawed approach to fighting insurgents in a faraway place, but the President's severe tendency to moral judgment, coupled with his street-dog political style, means he must know something we don't know. Surely, we think, the quality of his long-term rationale exceeds that of his obvious, short-term mistakes.
We forget 1964 was both the cusp of the Great Society and that moment just before those programs were underfunded, then mostly hollowed out, as the nation readied itself to vote, in another landslide, for Nixon. I admire Nixon, and after him Bush and W. Bush, for what I hope I will one day admire in Romney. How each is rehabilitated, after the fact of politics, and proves helpful to the people who succeed him. I think only Clinton could so well understand Nixon to eulogize him so eloquently, just as only Clinton could rehabilitate him in his time to make him seem both relevant and useful to the electorate. Nixon's legacy is now the EPA, reaching out to China, and finding bipartisan solutions toward American prosperity. And, as Clinton notes, writing, memoirs and books, but especially letters to his successors. Apparently, no one advised Clinton on Russia like Nixon. Which is to say that history doesn't work so well in the microwave. Its instant narratives turn out overcooked and undernourishing. We are moving forward, yes. Where else should we go?