Opinion

The Great Debate

GOP: Blame message not the messenger

Here’s what’s supposed to be happening:  After losing two presidential elections, Republicans are supposed to be re-evaluating what their party stands for.  Are they out of line with mainstream America?  Does the party need to change?

The answer is yes.  So the party moves to the center and searches for candidates with broader appeal.  Republicans don’t need another spectacle like the 2012 primaries, where the contenders ran the gamut from a panderer to the right (Mitt Romney) to the far right (former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum) to the extreme right (Representative Michele Bachmann, Texas Governor Rick Perry) to the lunatic fringe (Herman Cain, Representative Ron Paul).

There was one moderate in 2012 — Jon Huntsman.  Huntsman didn’t make it past New Hampshire, where he came in first among the tiny number of Democrats who voted in the Republican primary.

After conservative Senator Barry M. Goldwater lost in 1964, Republicans turned to Richard M. Nixon.  Nixon had been defeated for president in 1960 and then for governor of California in 1962.  He was politically dead — dead as Jacob Marley.  But Republicans resurrected Nixon and dusted off his centrist credentials. Nixon won.

After liberal Senator George McGovern lost in 1972, Democrats turned to Jimmy Carter, a moderate Southern governor who had nominated Scoop Jackson for president at the 1972 Democratic convention.  Carter won.  In 1992, after three losses in a row, Democrats came up with another moderate Southern governor, Bill Clinton, who had been chairman of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council.  Clinton won.

A mandate to help the middle class

The focus in Washington has now shifted to the fiscal cliff, with the White House and Congress, particularly the House Republicans, staking out negotiating positions on the expiring Bush tax cuts and the looming budget sequester.

The White House’s firm opening salvo—and House Speaker John Boehner’s grudging admission that he is “open” to a budget deal that contains new revenue—have been much discussed. With six in 10 Americans expressing support for higher taxes in exit polls on Nov. 6, President Barack Obama’s position is a strong one.

It’s important to remember, however, that the public came out on Election Day in support of more than Obama’s tax stance. Exit polls and public-opinion surveys show that the president’s mandate goes far beyond taxes and the fiscal cliff.

Obama’s mandate: tax increase on rich

Republican leaders such as Grover Norquist and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) continue to strike a hard line on taxes and revenues, “warning” President Barack Obama that the GOP will not negotiate or compromise when it comes to tax policy and deficit reduction.

From an electoral politics standpoint, the Democrats should “have at it.”

As the election made clear, this policy is out of step with voters. Obama made raising taxes on people making more than $250,000 a year a centerpiece of his economic message – something he emphasized in his recent press conference – and he was rewarded with a resounding victory. Voters also handed Democrats an increased Senate majority, where the tax debate played out front-and-center in many campaigns.

This theme echoed through state politics as well. Voters in California, for example, passed Governor Jerry Brown’s plan to fund K-12 public schools through a revenue increase that comes from the highest earners.

How Barack Obama killed John Wayne

The reason that President Barack Obama won reelection, as most everyone knows by now, is that older white males, on whom the Republican Party has long relied, are declining in numbers, while women and minority voters, key components of Obama’s base, are increasing.  In the electoral post-mortems, Obama’s victory has been considered a kind of valedictory to white male supremacy. But his win did something else: Obama killed John Wayne on Nov. 6 — with the complicity of roughly 61 million Americans.

Now, Wayne has been dead for more than 30 years, of course. And Obama didn’t even slay his heroic image.  Americans still like brawny brawlers, and apply what I call “The Hollywood Test” in electing their presidential protagonist-in-chief, opting for the nominee who is most like a movie hero. What Obama and his supporters slew, however, was the value system Wayne personified – a whole way of thinking about America. It’s unlikely to resurface any time soon.

From the time he reached stardom in the 1940s, Wayne was not just a movie star, though he was one of the biggest. Nor was he just an icon, though he was one of the most compelling — a whole generation of men imitated his bearish growl and lumbering walk. More important, Wayne presented values that many now associate with America itself.

Fighting off the counterrevolution

The conventional wisdom has arrived: 2012 was a status quo election.  President Barack Obama was reelected.  Democrats continue to have a majority in the Senate.  Republicans still control the House.  Only two states changed their presidential votes from 2008 to 2012 (North Carolina and Indiana).  Six billion dollars were spent and almost nothing changed!

The conventional wisdom is wrong.  Things have indeed changed.  Voters came out to defend the revolution of 2008.  They rejected a return to the old order.

The status quo candidate in this election was Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.  Romney represented the old order that’s been in power since 1980: the Reagan regime with its power base of older white men.  Bill Clinton, the only Democrat to win the White House during that regime, tried to make accommodations with it.  They impeached him.

Why it’s all about Ohio

Looking at Tuesday’s election results, it’s clear the United States has morphed into five distinct political nations. This marks a sharp consolidation of the nine cultural and economic regions that sociologist Joel Garreau laid out 30 years ago in his landmark book “The Nine Nations of North America.”

In political terms there are two solid blue nations, perched on opposite coasts, that have formed a large and powerful bloc. Opposing them are two almost equally red countries, which include the historic Confederacy as well as the vast open reaches between the Texas panhandle and the Canadian border.

Between these two largely immovable blocs stands the fifth nation — essentially the Great Lakes industrial heartland. By winning this territory — which could be called “Bailout Nation” — President Barack Obama built a winning coalition. Though this part of the country has suffered economic decline and demographic stagnation for decades, it is now emerging, as former President George W. Bush would put it, as “the decider” of America’s political fate.

Why left should seek a fiscal deal

“I am looking forward to reaching out,” President Barack Obama said Tuesday night after he had won reelection, “and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together.”

The progressive community must understand this and put aside its rigidity to help him meet this goal. As Obama also said early Wednesday morning, “We’ve got more work to do.”

Yet a network of liberal groups, on Thursday, plan to demand a national day of action against a balanced, grand bargain that could pull the nation back from the fiscal cliff it faces. The beef of this progressive coalition is that a real budget deal would almost certainly cut Medicare spending and may possibly include a proposal to make Social Security solvent through the century.

Can one-party rule fix California?

California is on the verge of becoming a one-party state — but policy gridlock isn’t going anywhere soon.

Democrats now hold all the statewide offices and have a shot Tuesday at achieving two-thirds majorities in the Legislature. Yet they are far from being able to unilaterally resolve California’s fiscal logjam.

For the past decade, California’s fiscal picture has been awash in red ink, legislative stalemates, borrowing and a lot of budgetary gimmickry.  Three governors in a row, Gray Davis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown, hit a stone wall in trying to resolve the state’s structural deficit—the  imbalance between ongoing spending and available tax revenues — that has persisted in the $10-billion plus range.

What women want is political key

No matter how artificial and canned the candidates can seem at a presidential debate, no matter how competent or ineffectual the moderator — the nominee’s true self will peak out at some point.

Thus did GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney tip his hand when it comes to the all-important female vote — which both he and President Barack Obama have been scrambling after. He didn’t make a huge gaffe or get ensnared in a tough debate about choice. Moving around the stage, he seemed a 1950s throwback who had wandered in from a different decade — one where men were men, women wore shirtwaist dresses (Ann Romney’s uniform) and marriage was between a man and a woman.

Of course what drove this home was Romney’s anecdote about trying to find talented women for his staff when he was governor of Massachusetts from 2003-2007. He said he actually went to a number of women’s groups “and they brought us whole binders full of women.” Though he apparently flipped this story: The groups came to him unsolicited.

Why it’s all about Obama

President Barack Obama may have lost the first debate the minute he appeared on stage in Denver.  Just by showing up, he changed the terms of the campaign.  Viewers immediately saw the election as a referendum on the president.  The decision became whether to fire him or rehire him.

This was bound to happen sooner or later.  It always happens when an incumbent is running for reelection.  Until the Oct. 3 debate, Democrats had made a vigorous, and mostly successful, effort to turn the election into a choice rather than a referendum: Which guy do you like better — Obama or Mitt Romney?

Democrats managed to demonize Romney as a rich guy totally out-of-touch with ordinary Americans.  Romney made it easier for them by constantly calling attention to his wealth.  Democrats went after Romney’s business record, his flip-flops and his efforts to pander to the extreme right.  It was working.  Last month, Romney had the most negative public image of any presidential candidate in at least 25 years, according to the Pew Research Center.

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