Saturday, November 10, 2012

The 2012 general election: What really happened

I saw this coming, even if many other people didn't.

Despite polls showing a tightening race for president, incumbent Democrat Barack Obama ended up defeating Republican challenger Mitt Romney by a fairly comfortable margin in the electoral and popular votes earlier this week. Pundits have been trying to analyze what happened: Demographic shifts and a superior organization benefiting Obama, for example, but those don't begin to explain what became a fairly easy victory in a race whose results were supposed to be determined by a weak economy and fiscal instability.

I offer another hypothesis, albeit one that may rankle some: The pro-Obama electorate didn't simply vote for him; it also voted against the conservatives who run the GOP. More to the point, it repudiated their class- and culture-war politics, their collective smugness and their Machiavellian tactics that have been their hallmark for the past two generations and especially their campaign against Bill Clinton in the 1990s. And given their reaction, they still don't get that they sowed the seeds of their own demise.

Message to Karl Rove: Rejection sucks, doesn't it?

The seeds of this Republican debacle actually trace back to the 2006 Republican meltdown, with the promised "quick war" in Iraq -- essentially being financed on credit -- that continued to drag on, the "jobless recovery" and the Jack Abramoff-fueled lobbying scandal causing voters even in the South to flee the Republican Party; yet the party brain-trust never noticed that a counter-revolution that would permanently threaten its power was already under way. Here in Pennsylvania, then auditor-general Bob Casey Jr., namesake son of a now-deceased former governor, was recruited to run against the extremely vulnerable incumbent Sen. Rick Santorum; Casey's campaign ads referred to excessive Federal tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans that Santorum supported and that drained the government of revenue. Casey, of course, won going away -- and an issue was born. (That helped indirectly to spawn last year's Occupy protests in major cities.)

Then you have the incessant attacks on the president -- that he wasn't a native-born American, that he was a Muslim or socialist, the photo-shopped photos of him and wife Michelle engaging in questionable public behavior; GOP politicians vowing that they intended to force him out of office; the complaints about his health-care bill; the twisting of his words in the movie "2016: Obama's America"; and so on. It became Clinton redux, only more open because their media apparatus had been exposed as fraudulent.

But don't forget Romney's words to some well-heeled donors about the 47 percent. The GOP-sponsored voter-ID laws passed in several states, supposedly to maintain "ballot security" but ostensibly to keep pro-Obama voters from the polls. (Thank you, Mike Turzai, for speaking the truth.) The destruction of ACORN, whose sin was registering people to vote. The attack on public-sector labor unions, especially in Wisconsin. All these had the cumulative effect of building a base of political progressives the likes of which hadn't been seen since the 1960s -- and it was ready to fight. That might be what the president was thinking when he uttered the words "Voting is the best revenge" to an Ohio audience.

Given the long-term ramifications of the elections, this might be the year that the conservative movement, with its inflexibility and unwillingness to talk or listen to anyone else outside its purview, begins to collapse. Many of its adherents still believe that maintaining a strong conservative message will eventually carry them to victory; however, most of Romney's opponents did and sank like a split-fingered fastball.  Add to this the reality that, if you take a strong stance on any issue, you also give the opportunity for folks to vote against you -- and you might lose.

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