Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The audacity to hope again

If it’s the hope that kills you, let’s all get ready to die again. Four more years to satisfy his liberal critics, catch up with the great expectations, and take on the perennially disappointed. Hope wasn’t the message this time around, but it’s what many will seek for a President Obama second term.

If we’re talking electoral college votes, this was a synch. A walk in the park. With the exceptions of North Carolina, a state believed to have been lost several weeks ago, and Indiana, lost several months ago, according to Democrat insiders, President Obama took every key battleground state. Very soon Florida will be added to give Obama a 332-203 victory. An electoral college landslide. The popular vote margin of victory is considerably less than in 2008. Over 59 million, or 50% of the votes, won, represents eight million fewer. A 2% win, way down from almost 7% against John McCain.
Obama has again managed to cobble together a rainbow coalition of supporters. And once more it’s women who played the most significant role. By a lead of 12 points, women flocked to the president. Aided no doubt by the stubborn social conservatism of the present Republican Party, and some of its candidates’ jaw-dropping comments on rape. Virtually absent from the presidential debates, women’s rights, or more accurately their bodies, were attacked like never before in the primaries.

Like the Conservative Party in Britain, the Republicans have an ethnic minority problem. 9 out of 10 black Americans, and 7 out of 10 Latinos came down on the side of Obama. Non white voters now make up 21% of all voters, and rising. The Republicans have serious work to do to win them around. Adopting a more flexible, Bush-like, attitude to immigration would help.
Republican intransigence has been the order of the day. The pattern of Obama’s first term. Refusing to budge on many social issues will continue to dog them, unless they can find a softer, more conciliatory tone.

There’s no doubt that Team Obama’s groundwork had again given the president that crucial edge. Stationed in many swing states almost as soon as he first took office has been one masterstroke of many. The Democrats have been better organised, better drilled and knocking on doors even earlier, than four years ago. The Romney camp have been playing catch up for some time.
Numbers aside, have voters positively endorsed Obama or just been turned off by his challenger? There’s little doubt that it’s harder to run on ‘change’ when you’ve been in office for four years. Commentators have accused Obama of running a dirty, negative campaign. Some contrast.

But, the real weapon they always had up their sleeves was Mitt Romney. His flip-floppery made conservatives doubt him and independents wary. Was the real Romney the measured, moderate sounding one who ran Massachusetts as Governor between 2003 and 2007? The one we got a glimpse of in the TV debates. Or was it the puritanical, no compromise Mitt, who pounded the primaries and reached out to the evangelicals? We’ll never really know, and neither did the voters.
Romney was a weak candidate. No, scrap that, he was a dreadful candidate. A stronger, more authentic, less wooden one, would have posed Obama serious problems. When you struggle to enthuse your base, as Romney did throughout the primary season, you’re always fighting an uphill battle. Even with the upturn in the economy, a more convincing Republican would have had a real chance. As it was, Romney was never in the game.

The message sloppily, or deliberately, being pumped out from the mainstream media was that this was a too close to call election. Well, yes, if you ignore the realities of the American electoral system it was. Savvier pundits - arise Sir Nate Silver - told us to concentrate on the swing states, and those in the know did just that. Romney rarely led consistently, and by enough, in most of them. The result was a foregone conclusion.
Where does this leave the current Republican set up? The partisan part of me wants to say let’s sit back and watch the Republican Party eat itself. And what a wonderful sight that would be! But, not great for democracy. The Republicans have to decide if they want to be the angry, extreme, misogynist party, relying on one (diminishing) pool of voters, or one that reaches out to all of America, and stops purging itself of its vital, moderate, faction. If there are any of them left.

Obama is re-elected and the world breathes a huge sigh of relief. His victory speech sought to unite America, knowing that he presides over a deeply polarised country. But, with unemployment falling, an economy improving, involvement in Afghanistan coming to end, he’ll also know that good times are just around the corner. Time for some more of that hopey changey thing.  

This article was jointly published by Speaker's Chair and Shifting Grounds on Wednesday 7th November 2012

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