Democrats of all stripes and colours rallied behind Barack Obama. Hardline Republicans betrayed Mitt Romney. And so he lost. Despite the disappointments of the past four years, Democrat and independent voters from all backgrounds renewed their faith in a man who promised: “The best is yet to come.” Despite Romney’s emergence as an able candidate of personal integrity, his appeal was fatally undercut by political fundamentalists who said, in effect: “We must go backwards to go forwards.”
Obama aimed unerringly for the centre ground of American life and politics. Republican party leaders and pressure groups showed they don’t know where that heartland lies any more. By campaign-end, Romney moderating his tone and positions was finally connecting with 2012 America. GOP strategist Peggy Noonan called it Romney’s “quiet rise”, and there was evidence to support it. But the Tea Party zealots, the radical evangelicals, the homophobes, the misogynists and the rest of the unthinking, feckless right had already scuppered his chances.
It was too late to turn it around.
Obama won on the central issue of the economy, which should by rights have sunk his ship with all hands. Exit polls showed just as many voters trusted Obama as Romney to handle the nation’s finances, despite his term record of high unemployment and real hardship for many middle- and lower-income families. By all historical precedent, given the figures, Romney should have sewn it up months ago. But his Reagan-esque ideas were out of date. The voters replied: “It’s the economy, but we’re not stupid.”
Obama’s victory was about the past as well as the future. Voters effectively endorsed his health care revolution the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank financial reforms that staved off a second depression. They also backed Obama’s vow not to renew the Bush tax cuts (that expire at the end of the year) and payroll and other business tax cuts. This was a vote for fairness and plain-dealing over self-interest and greed.
In his concession speech, Romney showed he had heard the message. He called for renewed bipartisanship, an end to coruscating political divisions. But the Republican hard men still don’t get it. “For two years our majority in the House [of Representatives] has been the primary line of defence for the American people against a government that spends too much, taxes too much and borrows too much when left unchecked,” said the house speaker, John Boehner. The fact the GOP still commanded a House majority, Boehner suggested, meant the obstructionism, point-scoring and ideological warfare against the Obama White House would continue.
Evidence that the Republicans are out of line and out of touch crowded in from battleground states, nearly all of which, from all points of the geographical and social compass, went to Obama. So, too, did the popular vote. Obama did better than expected with white voters, while accumulating massive support (60 per cent) among Latinos. Many were apparently attracted by his decision to allow some young illegal immigrants the right to stay without fear of being deported another Republican trigger issue that backfired.
Obama’s support for Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin, the first avowedly gay woman to run for the Senate, proved to be a plus, not the minus Republican prejudice-peddlers perceived. Baldwin won another milestone for change in the Obama era, another sign of how the country is shifting away from the restrictive shibboleths and biases of the past.
The zeitgeist was all Obama’s. Liberal causes triumphed in several states that held separate votes on single issues. Maryland and Maine became the first states to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote. Colorado and Washington legalised some marijuana use. In Ohio, in the heart of America, seen as the ultimate battleground, Obama won handily in the end. A key factor? His decision to bail out the US automotive industry, approved by 59 per cent of voters interviewed in early exit polls.
Here was another symbolic vote for activist government and state intervention, another body blow for the every-man-for-himself, laissez-faire, free enterprise favoured by the Republican right.
Romney proved a better man than his party deserved. He went up in most people’s estimation during the campaign. He was gracious in defeat.
“This is a time of great challenges for America and I pray that the president will be successful in guiding our nation,” he said.
But presidential politics is a cruel sport. The truth is, Romney is history. He no longer leads the Republican party, if he ever did. He lost, and though he lost well, he will quickly be pushed aside.
All the same, GOP manager and strategists would do well to take stock of his legacy. The big lesson for Republicans from this election is that extremism does not pay.
“Obama-ism” circa 2012 does not mean liberalism, immorality or Godless socialism. Obamaland is where the decent, hard-working open-minded middle lives.
There are no signs, yet at least, that Republicans are ready to adjust to the change. A more likely reaction, like that of Britain’s Benn-ite left during the Thatcher era, is to lurch ever closer to the political edge in pursuit of political purity and truth.
The aftermath produced a striking example of such thinking, from Keith Koffler, in the White House Dossier blog: “The re-election of President Obama is a catastrophe for conservatives that will set the United States on a track from which it will be difficult to derail. But the task for the right is not impossible.
“Obama’s victory is not a catastrophe, as some will maintain, because conservatism can’t prevail in an presidential election. The Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, is not a conservative, and he failed to assertively articulate conservative ideas.
“Rather, it’s a catastrophe because Obama’s leftwing agenda will now be ensconced more firmly than ever, and some portions of it may never be dislodged.”
This sort of un-magical thinking spells political oblivion. Unless Republicans quickly regain perspective and balance, the abyss beckons.
— Guardian News & Media Ltd