That was fun. 18 months of hard campaigning, billions of dollars spent, hundreds of speeches, rallies and whistle stops, trillions of words spewed from every avenue of punditry, and here we are: President Barack Obama, Republican Congress, Democratic Senate.
How did we get to status quo?
Firstly, this was about Barack Obama. Beyond the distractions of his opponent’s mostly subpar to at times atrocious candidacy, this victory cements his place as the most impressive Democratic presidential candidate since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It’s not even close. Truman barely survived Dewey. LBJ quit. Kennedy was murdered. Carter never had a prayer. Clinton failed to win the popular vote twice. Joe Cool stomped the terra. Took the names and buried the comers. In my lifetime, this was the domain of Republican candidates. Until Obama.
Obama achieved the impossible, twice. Just by getting elected as the first African-American president in the first place; not to mention as a northern, liberal, two-year senator, and then, weakened and vulnerable, repeating the achievement as the owner of the highest unemployment as any victorious incumbent from either party since 1936. 30 years from now journalists and head-scratching Republicans will have to listen to the myths of Barack Obama the way we’ve had to endure those of Ronald Reagan. He is the liberal pillar to Reagan’s conservative one; both men overcoming recession, harsh and unfair attacks from opponents, and a mid-term congressional dump to win an impressive re-election.
Just like the old liberal establishment of the early 20th century failed to comprehend the pall of the Depression Era, the fatigue of world wars and the yolk of government had faded into the yuppie gore of the 1980s, there is an equally fervent rejection of reality by the Cold War, trickle-down nerds who have been living in a nether world of falsehoods that finally came home to roost on November 6, 2012.
Republicans will argue, and it is starting right now as I write this, four minutes before Mitt Romney’s concession speech, that the candidate merely sucked. He did suck. But if so, he’s sucked for seven years, and despite a TEA Party uprising in 2010 that brought the GOP back from a post-Bush funeral, he, and not a true conservative, became the party’s overwhelming choice. And with more disposable cash than any candidate in American history, he was trounced.
Turns out, Romney’s high watermark was that evening in Denver when his campaign was ditched and he boldly unleashed the biggest ass kicking anyone is likely to see in a presidential debate again. Before that his team was deeply divided and the candidate’s performance poor. His desperate lurch to the center and then to shamelessly mirror his opponent in the final debate confused anyone paying attention for more than a few weeks. And perhaps keeping him from any interviewer, radio microphone or television camera for the last 45 days of the race made it impossible for the electorate to embrace him.
But this was not a Romney problem. For weeks nearly every conservative commentator fell over one another to tell us that all the polls were wrong and “momentum this” and “enthusiasm that.” “You’ll see!” they all said. They just didn’t have anything to back it up, like polls or data; not unlike their candidate’s economic math or dozens of other campaign promises that were devoid of detail. It is this kind of disconnection from reality that has plagued the Republican brand for years now, whether in matters of social, cultural or economic concerns.
A lot of people got a kick out the Republican Primaries, it was great political theater, but they also scared the hell out of many more. Fighting against gay rights with religious nonsense, dismissing women’s healthcare as promiscuousness, treating the human element of immigration reform as if rounding up cattle, laughing at climate change and trashing the government you’re auditioning to run was a recipe for November 6, 2012.
This parade of nonsense helped build on Obama’s overwhelming demographic dominance, putting the onus on the GOP to expand its ever-dwindling voting block— working-class whites, religious fanatics, married white women, neo-cons, and fat cats. Fact is right now there is a pretty good chance the next 20 years of trends whether ethnic, social, or gender will land squarely in the opposition party’s column. An entire generation of young people has now come out to vote for a Democratic president twice. The old adage is that three such elections and you have that voter for life.
The Obama Machine, which gained its fangs in those drag-outs against the mighty Clintons in 2008 and designed the nation’s finest grass roots ground game ever, has set the standard. Pinpoint inner polling, a Herculean get-out-the-vote discipline, county-by- county retail political sweeps, and heavy demographic targeting as precise and lethal as a military engagement will be the norm now, not the exception. Fossils like Karl Rove, Michael Barone, George Will, and Dick Morris, who were all sure Romney would win (Morris predicted a landslide), applied the last vestiges of the loser’s lament; wishful thinking, when well-researched and irrefutable arithmetic were readily available to them. Rove, once the boy genius of a time now long past, was so flummoxed election night he openly fought on the air with the Fox News statisticians until the cold reality of his folly had stripped him bare. No campaign, especially those that Rove’s $400 million-plus American Crossroads miserably failed to rescue, can ever make the mistake of ignoring this reality again.
And finally, the statistical matrix of the race, specifically the superstar, Nate Silver and his 538 blog, with its weighted poll system and de-junking of antiquated systems, has turned a heretofore unreliable prognostication tool into a dead-on indicator of voter loyalties and leanings. This has changed the very landscape of politics forever. Dismissing this data or failing to use these tools as vital measuring sticks to victory for candidates by any campaign or the media from now on will be done at their peril.
Silver is the great revelation of this 2012 presidential campaign. His miraculously stellar 2010 prediction odds were only outdone by the nearly six months of consistent and illuminating polling data that never once gave Mitt Romney a more than 30 percent chance of victory, and as late as Election Day provided Barack Obama a 92 percent probability rating, based solely on fastidiously balanced internal state numbers that failed to waver but only for a few weeks in October and then settled back out to the original and ultimately finishing totals.
Never has polling data been so reliable and in-depth at providing not only the correct outcome weeks even months ahead of time, but factored in all the information politicos, the press and the public would need to know about the electorate at large. Covering or following the ebb and flow of a presidential campaign will never be the same again. It is the political junkie’s equivalent of Einstein, Edison, you name it. Compared to Silver, the rest of the field was using stick and rocks in an atomic age.
In many ways, the 2012 election cycle was historic. Whether this results in competent governing is for those in the wishful thinking category. We feel sufficiently pleased that cold, hard reality won over bullshit for now.
We take our victories where we can get them.