Election 2012 Recap: Getting the Triumphalism Right
Democrats awoke today awash in the smug warmth that comes with electoral success. Rightly so, given last night’s results. Jon Tester and Claire McCaskill are still Senators? Tammy Baldwin will be the first openly gay American to grace the Senate floor? Obama didn’t just win a few of the swing states—he won (pending Florida) all of them?
And yes, it’s a win (a conclusive win), but not necessarily for the reasons that many Democrats think. What sort of win do they have? Is there any message here?
First of all, it’s hardly a triumph of substance. This wasn’t a blanket endorsement of Obamacare, the Democrats’ fiscal policy, women’s issues, etc. While Obama’s reelection almost certainly preserves health care reform for the long haul, this seems more an incidental consequence of other factors—not evidence of a substantive majority backing the law. The country’s still sharply split on this, and most other policy questions.
This is almost always the case, by the way. It’s why post-election overreach is such a common problem. Few candidates, parties, or causes command such overwhelming public support that their performance at the polls draws a clear mandate for the months and years to follow.
All of which points to Tuesday’s real triumph. This was a win for reality. It was a win for the facts. If I seemed imprisoned by false equivalency’s allures in my last post (on partisan data distortion), let there be no doubts today. Conservatives who attacked Nate Silver (and other statsheads) were themselves the biased fantasists. As it turned out, the political analysts who spent enormous amounts of time and energy developing sophisticated models for tracking public opinion actually had a better sense of the American electorate than their partisan critics. Silver and Co. were right on target. Their critics were skewed.
An old lesson, then: wishing that facts are a certain way doesn’t make them so. Dick Morris now acknowledges that he’d underestimated the numbers of “blacks, Latinos, and young people” who would vote. Good for these voters, and—I guess?—good for him for noting his mistake.
But Morris’ framing of his mea culpa is pretty telling. These new voters, these “blacks, Latinos, and young people,” are “here to stay. And with them, a permanent reshaping of our nation’s politics…this is not your father’s United States.” Get that? More participation from young and/or minority voters equals a fundamental transformation of the country. That transformation led to Obama’s election and, as of yesterday, reelection. What does this mean? It means “Obama’s socialist agenda” and “less freedom.”
Get THAT? Morris isn’t explicitly blaming the coming socialist tide on our increasingly diverse electorate, and certainly not on any particular race or demographic group, but…
And that’s the final conclusion worth noting from Tuesday. It doesn’t quite rise to the level of a triumph, maybe, but—Tuesday’s results validated American pluralism. Obviously it was a good day for same-sex couples, for those decisive young and/or minority voters, for DREAMers in Maryland, for Puerto Ricans, and such, but that’s not the whole story.
Even more importantly, last night was another piece of evidence proving that the American tradition itself is far more plural than many of the president’s critics would care to admit. After four years of tarring him as “un-American” and “anti-colonial,” and “socialist/Marxist/fascist,” etc, the American Right now has to come to terms with the fact that Obama’s been elected twice by the country he’s supposed to be usurping (Cf. Sununu). In other words, it’s hard to argue that your side is the authentic American political movement if you keep losing prominent elections. It’s hard to call your popularly-elected opponent out-of-step with the country that keeps electing him. Perhaps our tradition is capacious enough to include a two-term black president? Yes indeed.