November 11, 2012

The 2012 Election: Why The Chattering Classes Were Mostly Wrong; And Why They’re Still Wrong.

by Hal Gershowitz

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Pundits on the right and on the left were slicing and dicing the electorate before the election, and have continued doing so ever since.  Stop it! Most of you were wrong then, and you continue to be wrong now.  Sorry Sean, Karl, Newt, Dick, Laura, Michael, Chris (of the Matthews paternity) and Rachel, but the only observer who was worth listening to (although he was too busy crunching numbers to talk) was a statistics nerd writing a daily column licensed to the New York Times.  That would be Nate Silver. He simply kept his eye on the daily state polls (which were remarkably accurate) and reported what the folks (a Fox O’reillyism for the common people) would do on any given day.  He was unopinionated, unindoctrinated, disinterested and remarkably prescient in the odds he offered on who would win the election.

President Obama gets to continue his tenancy at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue by having secured the nod from a small margin over 50% of the nation’s voters, while challenger Romney returns home to Belmont Massachusetts having, essentially, secured the nod from an equally small margin under 50% of the voters.

What’s the lesson? Answer: campaigns matter.  Political pundits are obsessing (as they always do) over the changing demographics of the nation, and while that may be a worthwhile thing to do, they are missing the bigger point.  It really is all about how the campaigns define the opposition and how the candidates define their respective visions for the country.

As the Wall Street Journal documented in the days following the election, Obama campaign manager, Jim Messina, proposed a brilliant but audacious strategy six months before the election, which was readily approved by President Obama. It was to spend all of the considerable cash on hand demonizing Romney as a rapacious plutocrat who lived and worked amongst the Wall Street greedy, and who would never relate to the common folks. Messina knew that Romney could not adequately respond because his campaign could not legally spend funds from the Republican Party’s campaign kitty for his election until he was officially the nominee of the Party.  That would give the President’s re-election campaign about 120 days (and about 120 million dollars) to mercilessly pummel Romney in a few swing states.  That was huge but not, in our opinion, insurmountable.

What was insurmountable in our view was the box into which Mitt Romney had to squeeze himself in order to have any hope of surviving the freak show that was the Republican primary process.   The hard right of the Republican Party, representing about 25% of the Party, always mobilizes for the primaries, casting an outsized shadow over the process.  In a heavily contested, multi-candidate primary, a candidate cannot lose that constituency and have much of a chance of surviving the process. Only former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman refused to pander to the hard right and he was toast after the second primary in New Hampshire.

The hard right invented a new acronym, RINO or “Republican In Name Only” with which to tar any moderate Republican who deviated from hard right orthodoxy. Well, here’s an acronym we’ve invented, CINO.  That would be a political “Conservative In Name Only.”

Obama got 55% of the female vote; much of it because of the so-called Pro Life vs. the so-called Pro Choice divide.  Conservatives who profess to be committed to the doctrine of limited federal government, but who champion the extension of federal authority into the most personal and private aspects of a woman’s life are, in our opinion, CINO’s — political Conservatives In Name Only.  We, of course, understand that the process of life begins at conception.  That is, indeed, a precious process.  But those who favor the extension of any federal jurisdiction over that process make a mockery of political conservatism and are, we believe, political Conservatives In Name Only.  Many of the women who voted for Obama over this issue did so, we believe, not because they embrace abortion, but rather because they oppose federal interference at so personal a level. In a word, they found it insulting.

There has been much written and said about the nation’s changing demographics.  White Americans of European extraction will, in just a few decades, no longer represent the majority of the nation.  We believe the pundits are obsessing over this reality and, many, for all the wrong reasons.  It should be seen more as an opportunity than as a threat. Republicans should enthusiastically embrace this dynamically changing landscape. They have much more to offer minorities seeking a better life than does the left.  It would be a grave error to assume that members of these growing minorities do not, or will not, aspire to achieve the traditional American dream.  Most minority Americans can be, and should be, easily attracted to, and accommodated within, a broad Republican tent.  Here’s a wake up call; many of the innovators on whom the future economic health of the country will depend are newcomers to the United States, many from Asia and India.  That’s something to celebrate, not something to fear.

President Bush (43) garnered an impressive share of the Latino vote (as much as 44% according to widely reported 2004 exit polls), but his own party rebuffed his forward-thinking proposals for immigration reform — how myopic and how suicidal.

Hard-nosed obstructionism by the hard right resulted in the Republican primary candidates (again, except Huntsman) having to compete to see who was toughest on immigration.  Yes, it was always phrased as opposition to illegal immigration, but the result has been a drastic, and in our opinion, a well deserved plunge in Latino support for Republicans.  Romney, an accomplished man and an uncommonly compassionate man according to those who know him well, was reduced to calling for “self-deportation” of undocumented Americans and the result was the loss of about 75% of Latino American votes.

The issue of gay marriage is slowly playing out at the state level where legislatures and courts are legislating and adjudicating the propriety of extending or denying what seems to us to be a rather basic civil right.  We do not question the right of any religious institution to address this issue on the basis of religious doctrine.  We do, however, think that politicizing the issue in Washington, and drawing partisan battle lines with federal initiatives such as the Defense of Marriage Act has been gratuitously polarizing and ill advised.

The so-called 47 percent (actually, the latest IRS data recalibrates that to 46 percent) who pay no federal income taxes should be a legitimate and non-partisan area of concern.  It has devolved, however, into a damaging Republican albatross, especially after Romney was surreptitiously recorded at a fund raiser dismissing the so-called 47 percent, essentially, as people who have become dependant on federal entitlement money and, therefore, lost to the Republicans.  Ironically, the states with the highest number of non-tax paying citizens turn out to be red states that overwhelmingly vote Republican.  A particularly high percentage of the non-tax payers are older Americans who also tend to be conservative and who vote Republican. In 2008, when voter turnout rates were at, or around, record highs, fewer than half (44.9 percent) of adults in households making less than $30,000 per year voted; yet, of those who did vote, a great many voted for John McCain (25 percent of those making under $15,000, and 37 percent of those making $15,000 to $30,000).  Superficially, it seemed a juicy political issue.  It turned out, however, to be highly toxic to the Republicans.

This was a highly winnable election for the Republicans.  President Obama with little to show after nearly four years as President, $16.0 trillion of public debt and total debt now larger than the entire economy, and an unemployment rate higher than when he assumed office, rarely polled over 50% throughout the year and couldn’t do much better than that on Election Day.  Nonetheless, the Republicans managed to lose, and, in our opinion, so did the country in the process.


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10 responses to “The 2012 Election: Why The Chattering Classes Were Mostly Wrong; And Why They’re Still Wrong.”

  1. larry shapiro says:

    I agree 100%. Maybe I missed it, but I am wondering why you waited until after the election to air these sentiments .

  2. Iyablans says:

    The people have reelected the president.
    I suggest that you accord him the respect and support he deserves.
    This column sadly reflects the antiquated ideas that resulted in this decisive defeat for so called Republican values.No, it was not a bad campaign ,nor was it “the Media” that did the Gop in.It was a rejection of the party that got us into an illegal war and created the worst financial debacle in eighty years.That plus four years of shameless obstructionism finally aroused the electorate.
    The Republican message was rejected on many levels,however this should not be the time for gloating by the democrats.The country is at a crossroads to be sure and all of us must be open to new ideas and conciliation.
    Read Tom Friedman’s column in the sunday new York Time if you want a fresh appraisal on where we should be with the middle east.

  3. Janice Marcus says:

    Very interesting,but you forget in your calculations that the Republicans “get out the vote” by playing to the religious right”
    So if you take those issues along with with the” Class warfare”
    of the so called “takers” you lose again. With out those issues
    People will vote their pocket book,as you do now. The Republican
    Party’s platform seems very conserned about the wealthy not paying
    higher taxes under the disguise that they then will not be able to provide more jobs. The wealthy have been doing fine lately as expressed by the stock market and that corporations as a whole have had an 18 year high in profits! All while injoying unfair tax advantages. I agree with your assessment about the radical right. But if you want to get my vote next time, you need to get going now, on working with this administration on getting the economy of the middle class going by providing jobs and educational oportunity.
    The electorate is becoming too informed. That’s your problem.
    They voted their pocket book,and you really can’t begrudge them that.
    P.S. I’m glad it’s over. I wish I had been a little nicer and calmer in the processes! Xx

  4. John Fairfield says:

    You are right about the box Mitt Romney or any other Primary candidate must squeeze. A candidate dares not voice any thought other than life begins at the moment of conception, nor suggest that same sex marriage might be a useful child welfare protection, if not a civil right. Even though the second amendment is constitutionally safe, do not question an individual;s right to own military type weapons or hollow-headed bullets. A candidate must say he would not accept $1 in tax increase for $10 in spending reductions, however ludicrous.

    As a result the Republican base is essentially the old Confederacy with a slim majority of conservative white voters. A rising African-American population and more people of color now threatens even that narrow base ,(e.g., North Carolina and Virginia). As for African- Americans, how is it that Lincoln’s party is making little effort to attract their vote, instead appears to be trying to impede their participation through voter ID laws and compressed periods for registration and early voting?

    The party still espouses principles of individual freedom, accountability and opportunity, peace through strength, fiscal discipline and smaller government which all of us should treasure. Your blog sees changing demographics as an opportunity to ride those principles to victory. I am afraid the Conservative in name only box is too sturdy to break out of.

    To over simplify last Tuesday, the Republicans were offering a murky prescription of unpleasant medicine of unproven benefit while the Democrats were offering a buffet of entitlements analogous to recreational drugs, initially quite pleasing, but ultimately fatal.

    My concern is that this entitlement addiction and a Republican inability to make profound changes will cause them to lose several more elections and eventually fade into irrelevance as did the once dominant Whig Party. Hopefully taking its place may be a new party of moderates, both former Republicans and Democrats. This Moderate Party could eventually assume power, promising to get America moving again, to close the gap on the world’s then leading powers: perhaps China, India and Brazil.

  5. mark j levick says:

    Your essay was concise, factual and brilliantly analytical. As demonstrated by two of the comments thereto, the fringe elements of the Republican party have been allowed to define its principles while the left wing elements of the Democrat Party have found acceptance in carefully created voting blocks. The “illegal war” was overwhelmingly approved by Congress and was thus ill advised but not illegal. The financial debacle was a result of a housing bubble which was the handy work of none other than Barney Frank and was used to advantage by none other than Chris Dodd who then became compelled to punish those they enabled with the financial regulatory act that bears their name. The President fought for the middle class by doing nothing other than putting Nancy Pelosi in charge of universal healthcare legislation while his Party controlled both houses of Congress without so much as passing a Budget. He then spent the last two years fundraising, campaigning, vacationing, golfing and printing money to cover the ever increasing national deficit. Still he won re-election handily over a competent opponent with a track record of business success and human decency because through a brilliant use of class and racial warfare and unabashed character assassination. People actually believe that the Government can create jobs by raising taxes on those who earn $250,000 or more, funding experimental energy programs, providing a college education for those whose can’t even pass high school proficiency tests and for whom no jobs exist, rebuilding crumbling infrastructure with high cost union labor and expanding the federal debt. That’s how far from reality we have drifted while the lunatic fringe steered the Republican ship. The fact that nearly half the people who voted thought that we can do better than President Obama should encourage the fiscally conservative and socially liberal to take back the Party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Reagan and mold it to fit the times and the Country in which we now live. Your essay should be required reading for those folks.

  6. Maryanne Vandervelde, PhD says:

    Choice will always be a huge issue for the gender that can get pregnant, so Republicans need to change their platform to the “big tent” idea. Just as Democrats do not insist that everyone must be pro-choice, Republicans need to stop insisting that everyone be pro-life. In this election, many women were truly frightened that 1) new Supreme Court members would negate Roe v. Wade, and 2) new state rules promulgated by Republicans to make abortion very difficult could easily spread. Even many pro-life women are uncomfortable with moralistic prescriptions for their “sisters.”

    This time, the economy took primary importance for many intelligent women voters, but the need for fairness in social issues will not go away. Until Republicans stop trying to control women’s bodies; until they punish Republicans who say inappropriate things; until they work toward more freedom in all social issues, they can kiss the “women’s vote” goodbye.

  7. Elliott Cohen says:

    This election should result in three courses of action:

    First, the Electoral College should be revisited and, hopefully, eliminated; it has become archaic, misleading and represents protection created for an era which no longer exists.

    Second, both the Republicans and the Democrats should break the chains of their extreme constituencies and return to the leadership of their more centrist elements. There is nothing “wrong” with a socially concerned Republican or a fiscally conservative Democrat. Likewise, the word “compromise” should be given respect, not condemnation.

    Third, there must be legislation to curb the amount of money spent on elections, regardless of source. (Yes, corporations have been treated as “individuals”, but the Supreme Court’s decision unduly extended–and warped–the real foundation for that characterization.) With the needs throughout the country, it is obscene for billions of Dollars to have been so misdirected. It is ludicrous for so few to attempt such influence and to warp the entire political process.

    Perhaps in the final analysis much good will come from the lessons this election should teach the politicians; if not, we must accept without recriminations a continuing loss of respect for politicians, a continued drifting financially and otherwise and a diminution in this country’s world leadership. It’s time we voted “for” someone and his/her position, instead of “against” someone and his/her position.

    Finally, the word “politician” should cease to imply self- aggrandizement, dogmatic and partisan, and the bottom of of the ladder of respect. The word “statesman” should return to the vernacular for a change. They must be out there; let’s find them.

  8. Iyablans says:

    I have reread your message…what did i miss?

  9. Dan Newell says:

    Ever since I read Cass Sunstein’s excellent book Infotopia 5 years ago, I have been curious how the Jury Theorem of Concordet might be used to target voters who really matter. And how a guy who sounds smart but really isn’t can sway enough voters to swing an election.

    That is a homework problem for later. In the meantime, I see the world as John Fairfield describes above – but is a new party unencumbered by what we see as unreasonable minds possible by natural evolution or more forceful revolution? I wonder if the momentum of Simpson Bowles could carry forward and somehow be used at least as a model for bi-partisan decision making if not a model for a new party. But I am out of school on this subject – just a hopeful thought that came up in this atmosphere of hope and change.

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