Opinion

The Great Debate

When political compromise is suspect

The odds are that the extremely close national election wasn’t close at all in the place where you live.

And that’s a problem.

For the past four decades, Americans have been self-segregating into communities where they are increasingly likely to vote with their neighbors in overwhelming majorities. In 1976, only a quarter of voters lived in a county where either Jimmy Carter or Gerald Ford won by 20 points or more. By 2008, 46.7 percent of voters lived in one of these landslide counties.

This year, the national margins narrowed still further. But more than half of all voters (52 percent) lived in a county where either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney won by 20 percentage points or more.

What’s true in counties is also true in states. In 1976, there were 20 states where either Ford or Carter won by five points or less. In 2008, there were seven.

This year, only four.

The problem with this increasing self-segregation is that there are now few places where voters (or their representatives) must fully contend with those from the other party. There is more danger (both socially and politically) in disappointing like-minded neighbors than in compromising with those who live elsewhere. Compromise isn’t rewarded in like-minded communities.

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.

To see future electorate, look at California voters now

The changing face of the American electorate is etched all over the map of California. The Golden State may no longer be a partisan battleground, but it continues to be a reliable bellwether for the evolving national political landscape.

Even as President Barack Obama won a second term with an electorate that mirrored the demographic trends that have made California deep blue, Golden State voters chose to raise taxes to fund education and gave Democrats a two-thirds “supermajority” in both houses of the state legislature—meaning Democratic lawmakers will have the ability to raise taxes without a single Republican vote.

This willingness to increase taxes to pay for schools and other long-underfunded public services, coupled with California voters’ rejection of the GOP’s “no new taxes” mantra—up and down the ballot—could well echo across the nation, just as the passage of the state’s Proposition 13 ignited the anti-tax movement more than three decades ago.

The end of white affirmative action

ILLUSTRATION: MATT MAHURIN

Former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney said in a Wednesday conference call to donors that President Barack Obama won re-election because he promised “big gifts” to voters, “especially the African-American community, the Hispanic community and young people.” Romney singled out healthcare reform as a “huge” gift to these voting blocs and the working poor.

This echoes what the conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly has been saying. “The demographics are changing,” O’Reilly lamented on election night. “This is not a ‘traditional America’ anymore.” Latino, black, and women voters, he noted, were turning out for Obama. They did so, O’Reilly said, because “they want stuff.”

The audacity of these claims is breathtaking. The Romney campaign promised $5 trillion in tax cuts and a pile of regulatory and other favors to the wealthiest Americans. Over the past three decades such conservative “gifts” have helped the top 1 percent of earners – the likes of Romney and his donors – to nearly triple their incomes and double their share of the national income.

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.

It’s the (lack of) unity, stupid!

What we expect to hear in the closing days of a campaign is a call to arms.  Instead, what we’re hearing from both sides is a call to disarm.

“I’m going to have to reach across the aisle and meet with good Democrats who love America just like you love America,” Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney told a recent campaign rally in Virginia.  “And there are good Democrats like that.”

“In the end, we’re all in this together,” President Barack Obama said at a rally in Wisconsin.  “We rise and fall as one nation, one people.”

Vote is referendum on the New Deal

 

We have been told throughout this presidential campaign that the contest is a referendum about two visions of government, one activist, the other passive ‑ like every presidential election since 1980. But that may actually understate the stakes. In a larger context, it is a choice between maintaining the last 80 years of American governance or abruptly ending it.

In fact, this election is really about whether the New Deal and its descendant, the Great Society, will survive or whether they will be dismantled. And that is historic.

What does dismantling the New Deal and Great Society mean? It means converting Medicare from guaranteed medical insurance to a possible privately run system of health procurement. It means Medicaid could be capped, which could strip millions of children of their healthcare. It means scaling back financial regulation. It means poverty programs, like food stamps, may be cut dramatically. It means the Davis-Bacon Act, insuring that workers on government projects receive the prevailing wage, could be revoked. It means the end of subsidies for public transportation, the National Endowment for the Humanities and, of course, the Public Broadcasting System. It even means slashing disaster relief.

Voting in an election that matters

Every four years, presidential nominees tell voters that this election is the most important of our lifetimes. Such proclamations are largely hyperbole.

In 2012, however, it might be warranted. This election is consequential.

During the next four years, the nation will have to face issues of debt, taxes and fiscal stability that will imprint our grandchildren’s futures and beyond. National and homeland security have received less attention during this election than in the previous few, but they always are an international or national incident away from dominating our consciousness in ways we can’t anticipate.

And issues surrounding inclusion, equality and fairness can’t ever be forgotten for long. Otherwise our essential character as a country — the very essence of the American experiment — will be endangered.

Obama’s base and politics of disappointment

There may be no better illustration of President Barack Obama’s appeal than his ability to hold onto voters — minorities, single moms and young people — who have fared the worst under his presidency. The big question as we approach Election Day may be whether these constituencies, having been mauled by the economy, will show up in sufficient numbers to ensure Obama’s re-election.

Welcome to the politics of disappointment. Much has been said about the problems facing the middle class, which has been losing out since the 1970s. But the biggest recent losers have been groups like African-Americans and Latinos. In the current economic downturn, middle class African-Americans have lost virtually all the gains they made over the past 30 years, according to the National Urban League. Median annual household income for blacks declined by more than 11 percent from June 2009 to June 2012, according to the Census bureau. That’s twice the loss suffered by whites.

African-Americans and Latinos have also borne much of the pain from the housing downturn. Latinos suffered the biggest loss of net worth in the recession — largely based on decline in housing values — of any ethnic group, according to the Census. Weakness in the housing market, now only beginning to recover, also hurt many Latino workers, who represent a large part of the nation’s construction industry labor force.

Why ‘peace’ was catchphrase in presidential debate

Foreign policy attempted to take center stage at the presidential debate Monday evening but failed resoundingly. For the candidates agreed to agree on a number of key issues — the timeline for ending America’s longest war, support for Israel, and the importance of diplomacy and sanctions in Iran. Nation-building at home trumped nation-building abroad, and small business won as many mentions from the nominees as the death of Osama bin Laden. It was no accident that the contenders talked about teachers more than Libya.

What both President Barack Obama and his GOP challenger Mitt Romney made clear to a nation exhausted by one decade of two bloody wars: The era of big military interventions is over. Romney, who earlier in the campaign sounded poised to embrace a more activist foreign policy, embraced a loudly centrist worldview that eschewed saber-rattling in favor of promoting entrepreneurship and civil society.

“Peaceful” was the night’s catchphrase for Romney, who told the president, “we can’t kill our way out of this mess.” This key word is likely to resonate with the women voters his campaign now sees as both critical to victory and open to his more centrist message.

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