The 2012 election is officially over, and it was glorious. Barack Obama and the Democrats have delivered what one of our elder statesmen once referred to as “a thumping” to Romney and the Republicans. Here are some of my thoughts:
• The sweeping electoral college victory. I’m glad to admit that President Obama surpassed my most optimistic expectations. I was confident he would win reelection – he could have done it just by winning Ohio, Wisconsin and Nevada, three swing states where the polls gave him a comfortable lead throughout the campaign. But in addition to those, he won nearly every other swing state, including big ones like Virginia and Florida which I had truthfully expected to go to Romney.
• The Democrats hold the Senate. In fact, the Democrats will actually expand their majority in the Senate. This is an amazing feat, considering they had far more seats to defend (21 and two independents, versus just 10 for the Republicans), many of them in deep-red territory. But they pulled it off, with every single incumbent holding on and several upset victories in red states like Indiana and North Dakota.
Most of the credit for this momentous victory has to go to the Tea Party. Two states that should have been easy Republican pickups, Indiana and Missouri, instead turned into Democratic wins after the Republican candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock made spectacularly idiotic remarks about abortion and rape. This brings us to a total of five Senate seats in the past two election cycles that Republicans have thrown away by running incompetent Tea Party-backed candidates – five seats which would otherwise have been enough to grant them a Senate majority.
• Republicans started the war on women; women ended it. Akin and Mourdock were the two most visible examples of Republicans ending their own political careers with ignorant, misogynist comments. But Romney, too, was undone by a huge gender gap: women voted for Obama by an 11-point margin, and women were a slim majority of the electorate. If there was any doubt, this election ought to serve as conclusive proof that religious sexism and attacks on women’s healthcare have become campaign-killers.
On the other side of the coin, the progressive wave swept some excellent candidates into office. The next Congress will have the largest number of female senators in American history, including progressive champions like Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts, Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, and Mazie Hirono in Hawaii. In my home state, Kirstin Gillibrand cruised to easy victory, and Claire McCaskill held onto her hard-won Missouri seat.
• Marriage equality wins at the ballot box for the first time. Although the Constitution is designed to be counter-majoritarian, opponents of equality nevertheless had a potent argument in the claim that same-sex marriage had failed every time it was brought before the voters. Not any more.
Last night, marriage equality was on the ballot in four states and won four historic victories: in Minnesota, where a constitutional amendment to outlaw it was rejected, and in Washington, Maine and Maryland, where ballot measures to legalize it were headed for passage. It took a long time for this tide to shift, but now it’s happening all at once.
• Big money versus people power. In my post on Citizens United, I argued that no amount of money can buy an election if voters aren’t willing to be swayed, and I think last night we saw the truth of that. A circle of right-wing billionaires dumped virtually limitless cash into Romney’s campaign, to no avail. In Ohio, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown withstood a flood of out-of-state money, and in Connecticut, wrestling mogul Linda McMahon has now thrown away almost $100 million of her own money on two failed Senate bids. The best part is the infighting among prominent Republicans over this colossal waste of money.
• The coming GOP civil war. This is something I look forward to with glee. As this election showed vividly, the Republicans are staring down the barrel of demographic disaster: their older, white, male, churchgoing base is a dwindling minority in a younger, more secular, more diverse electorate. If they can’t broaden their appeal, they’re going to suffer even worse defeats in the future. But it’s hard to see how they’ll overcome this, precisely because the GOP has already driven out its moderates and is dominated by zealots and dead-enders, some of whom are predictably shouting that the party’s only problem is that it isn’t conservative enough.
Compounding the problem is that Republicans, by nature and temperament, reject decision-making based on rational analysis and evidence, which has left them cocooned in self-delusion. The parade of conservative pundits who predicted a landslide for Romney are the most obvious and embarrassing proof of this. When so many of the party faithful see only what they want to see, it’s hard to imagine them accepting that they have to give up the gay-bashing, immigrant-bashing, anti-choice social issues that have been their bread and butter for so long.
But the truth is, I don’t want to see the Republicans collapse entirely. One-party rule is bad for democracy, no matter which party it is. I’d be glad if they could slough off the bitter racists and religious wingnuts and reform as a moderate, reasonable, fiscally conservative party, like they used to be in the days of Eisenhower. I just don’t see how they’ll get there from here, which leads me to believe that the next few decades of American democracy are going to see a spectacular national self-immolation.