Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Things I Hope Are True

Over the last couple of election cycles, "hope" has become more of an epithet than a virtue. Hilary Clinton, trying to blunt Barack Obama's mighty machine in the 2008 primaries, famously chanted that "hope is not a strategy". Since then, there have been countless knock-offs of the red-and-blue Obama "Hope" poster - some funny and clever, some merely cynical and negative.

But hope is an important part of the human condition. Whatever the level of cynicism, hope draws people in. We need to have hope in something. Maybe it isn't our politicians, or our government, or the other party. But we need to hope that something in the future will look better than it does today.

In that spirit, here are a few things that I hope might be true in light of last night's election results. I don't know if any of these things are true. I'm not even sure if I believe that they are true or not, because the evidence isn't conclusive yet. But there is enough evidence for hope - and that's a start.

1) I hope that we are seeing the limits of money in electoral politics. Much ink was spilled about Citizens United, and I stand with those who think that calling corporations "people" and giving them the same free speech rights as actual citizens is a perversion of both the Constitution and basic Enlightenment notions of personhood and citizenship. But that said - there was a LOT of "outside" money spent in this campaign, at both the national and state levels, and a lot of it lost. Some Senate candidates got tremendous outside support and yet went down in flames. We don't yet know why - maybe Americans' cynicism has inured us from the temptations of negative campaign ads. Maybe campaign ads just don't work at all. But whatever the case, apparently money by itself can't buy elections. And if that's true, that's a very good thing.

2) I hope that we have discovered that strategies based on suppressing votes rather than persuading them, in the end, don't work. My colleague Steve Saideman has written eloquently about what he calls "voterfraudfraud", and penned this today:
My biggest concern: would resentment against voterfraudfraud efforts compensate for successful voter suppression.  It seems that it did.
There was a lot of concern, and very legitimately so, about efforts to make it harder to vote - particularly where those efforts seemed to be aimed obviously (or even openly) at supporters of one side. But in the end, it didn't work. Those efforts lost both in the courts and at the ballot box.

Nate Silver and his ilk knew where yesterday's election was going, but pundits from David Brooks to Joe Scarborough apparently didn't - they all wanted us to believe that it was a "nail-biter", in which any little thing could shift the outcome. Turns out that wasn't true. Were there efforts to suppress votes and lower turnout for Obama? Absolutely. But those efforts came to naught, buried under a blizzard of both legal losses and people willing to stand in line for hours to vote. I hope this serves as a signal to all parties in the future: you can't win by restricting the franchise.

3) I hope that this becomes a real turning point for the Republican party. I say this not out of any trace of schadenfreude, but because the American two-party system works best when it has two well-functioning parties. Right now, one of those parties - the GOP - appears to be coming apart at the seams. It has been at war with itself for years, and barely managed to grit its collective teeth and paper over those differences for this last election. The only unifying force in the party in 2012 was "we don't like Obama". Behind that is a fractious coalition of increasingly intense social conservatives (who are slowly losing the fights they care about most), frustrated fiscal conservatives (dealing with the reality that Nixon was right - we really are all Keynesians now), libertarians (some of who still supported Ron Paul even yesterday), and some leftover neocon hawks and defense-first types (who kept a low profile and hide behind "Support the Troops!") These groups have nothing in common, and in fact contradict each other on many of their most important issues. This isn't a political party, it's a bar fight.

This isn't good for American governance. There are important ideas in all of those factions that need to be heard. But the Republican party of today is a lousy vehicle for giving voice to any of them. Romney himself is almost perfectly symbolic - in trying to be everything to everybody, he was little to anybody. Even David Brooks, the NYT's designated right-hander whose job it is to pull for the GOP, complained about the many faces of Mitt.

One of two things needs to happen. Either we need to get just enough of a shift in American electoral rules to allow for the creation of third parties - which would permit the GOP to split into its organic components and allow those components to grow or shrink on their own - or the party needs a new paradigm, a new center around which some voices can gather. The latter is probably more likely, but it will mean that some - most likely, those on the losing side of demographic and social changes - will get left out in the cold. That's unfortunate, but probably ultimately necessary. Shrinking minorities can't be allowed to hold the rest of the system hostage - in any form of democratic republic, at some point you lose the fight and move on.

I don't know if any of these things is true, or if any of them will come to pass. Unlike Silver and his fellow econometricians, I don't have the data to confidently predict where the future is going. But on this post-election morning, I do find some reasons to hope - and hope is good start to the day.

1 comment:

  1. Great post Bill. I do have one small quibble. The voter suppression tactics did work. Many (I don't have actual numbers but bear with me) were forced into either not voting or voting a provisional ballot because of voter ID laws. I was an observer at a campus precinct for about 6 hours. This precinct issued so many provisional ballots because of the ID law that they ran out of the proper envelopes at 6 PM. It is my hope that these ballots will eventually be counted. It will depend on whether the voters properly completed the information requested on the envelope or the "make-shift" envelopes the precinct judge put together later in the day.

    WHat I know is that the voter ID law worked exactly as its proponents intended. Several would-be voters left the line to cast a provisional ballot when the wait time grew too long. Several others left feeling demoralized and jaded. One said that he felt the game had been "rigged." These were mostly first time voters -- 19, 20, 21 year-olds. They were out-of-state students. They had university issued photo IDs, which are purposely not sufficient for Ohio's ID law. There have been zero cases of voter fraud in Ohio. This law is unnecessary. I am grateful that it didn't affect the outcome of any race. But I am saddened that it did make voting difficult for many and impossible for some.