what do we do now?

I didn’t predict it – in fact, I thought the exact opposite – but it looks increasingly likely that President Obama will win re-election. As well, Democrats have a decent chance to hold the Senate, something that seemed unlikely a few short months ago, and a small, but non-zero, chance of increasing their majority significantly.

Republicans will retain control of the House despite Nancy Pellosi’s assertion that the lower chamber is in play, but are likely to go through a few of the seven stages of dying come November 7 if Obama is back in and the Senate is further out of reach, with a special emphasis on denial and rage.

Those of us on the reality-based side of things have a more interesting task, sorting what a modest Obama/Senate win means. This is a first, premature draft on that subject.

The most important question is simple to formulate: will a Republican loss mean the public is repudiating the party? That voters see a party that has gone so far off the rails it can’t be trusted?

It’s tempting to say yes, and to read the developments of the last few weeks in that light – i.e., that Mitt Romney says some of the dumb things he does because the Republican ‘position’ on things like the economy is not a coherent set of ideas so much as it is a not ever acknowledged acting out of  grievances, a holding your breath until you turn blue because of the unfairness of the media, the unions, the welfare state and all manner of foreigners, including the President.

But here’s what will fly in the face of a ‘widespread rejection’ theory. First, a sizeable block of states will vote Republican, so batshit crazy or not, a lot of our fellow citizens will continue to believe this stuff. Second, not only has the Romney campaign been really bad so far, the Obama camp has done a lot of things that looked sketchy at first, but are showing signs of being right – like spending money early on tv advertising instead of saving it until now, when conventional wisdom has it that voters start paying attention. The early ads defined Romney before he could define himself. It appears more and more to be money well spent.

It also looks like the Obama camp has upped the sophistication of the ground game to a new level, with a rigorous approach to getting the President’s voters to the polls that uses techniques that leave things like ‘send a flyer to every soccer mom in a particular suburb’ in the dust.

My point is, neither of those things (bad Romney campaign/good Obama campaign) changes the underlying dynamic, and we are very likely to come out of this election the way we went into it; deeply divided about all the essentials of the country, from whether science actually works to whether the founders wanted to establish the U.S. as an explicitly Christian state. And that will surely embolden Republicans in the House, who will believe the party screwed up, but that the force of good ideas is still on their side. There won’t be what so many centrists long for, a Republican party that finds its balance, walks back the crazy talk and pursues a more modest vision of government. Instead, President Obama is likely to get going forward what he got for the last few years, and maybe worse, with the House Republican leadership reading the election as something, anything other than an about face.

So my guess is Republicans will decide that the 2012 problem was a failure to go far enough, and that we’ll see at least one more cycle in Congress with an even more fanatical GOP  in the diver’s seat. And just because the techniques of choice don’t work in 2012, voter suppression being the worst, the most monsterously cynical of them, doesn’t mean they won’t work further out. The people in charge of the modern nexus of Republican/radical right politics are nothing if not patient, and well funded for the long haul.

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2 thoughts on “what do we do now?

  1. We agree.

    Republicans will not see this election as a reason to dial down their politics of deliberate obstruction in Congress. They will use the filibuster in the Senate and a shrinking majority in the House to block whatever Obama proposes and to demand capitulation in the name of false compromise.

    Here is where Obama can make a difference: He can stand on his own mandate and propose whatever he thinks he should propose. He should let Congress block it for two years. And then he should campaign ruthlessly against those Republicans so that he can enjoy a final two-year House majority.

    If he does anything remotely close to that, he will have learned the lesson of his first term. If not…..

    Obama needs to do this in order to take the long view. He can render Republicans irrelevant for a decade or more if he keeps pushing.

    Side note: It is sublime that the Republicans’ obstructionism may cost them the Senate. They could have confirmed Elizabeth Warren to an obscure appointed position in the administration and gotten her out of the way. Instead, she was available — and highly motivated — to run for the Senate. She will win, and her win will cost the Republicans their chance to have a Senate majority.

  2. I left out a lot that I originally wrote because it struck me as unrealistic, but for the record, I also think that as soon as he clears this election:

    – Obama should stay in campaign mode and hit hard the idea that the economy was only saved from worse because government played a role. So should Biden. So should every public intellectual and party hack who agrees. A year from now, the country needs to be seeing the ‘Reagan Era’ as old business, something we’re past. Low information folks need to get this.

    – A lot more needs to be done to encourage a centrist/liberal evangelical faith. We’re used to thinking of deep religiosity as being too intertwined with conservative politics to pull apart, but I’m not convinced this is so. There was a time not too long ago in this country when believing in a revealed, personal God didn’t automatically mean you were also either a dupe or power hungry. And before that, there was a time when being deeply religious meant a withdrawal from politics. Whether you believe in God or not, the fact is a lot of folks do, and it’s time to divorce faith in the almighty from faith in radical right politics.

    – In keeping with the religion theme, we also need to own up to a few things, most especially how far the country went after 9/11. At some point, we need to acknowledge we tortured people, broke our own rules about what constitutes decent human behavior and fought an utterly unnecessary war. How much we sacrificed for so little return – when I think of all the people from the local military post who died trying to do the right thing, and how impossible their missions mostly were, and I try to weigh it against what we got, I come up pretty empty-handed. I have tried mightily to hold onto a shred of my belief that the Iraq war was in some way ok, even if only by accident, or that killing Saddam Hussein somehow squares things. It just doesn’t, even though I still believe the world’s a better place without him or his offspring. Of course, the Obama White House has abandoned the idea of prosecuting anyone from the previous administration, so I don’t hold out much hope for any kind of above-board national discussion of the issue.

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