Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Thank God That's Over

Well, all that sound and fury and money for more than a year and we wind up more or less where we were before the election. Barack Obama is still president. The Democrats tightened their grip on the Senate. And the Republicans retain control of the House. What, if anything, did we learn?
Democrats celebrate victory
First, as I wrote a couple of months ago, the country has changed. The election was about much more than just the economy. And, as many commentators mentioned the morning after the election, if the Republicans don’t grasp this simple point they will continue to be a minority party. It is no longer enough to appeal to angry middle-aged white men. That is a declining demographic that is going to get even smaller if, as expected, the economy picks up in the next couple of years.

Republicans should accept that Mitt Romney only began to tighten the race when he realized this trend and moved decisively to the center away from the rejectionist positions of hard right wing Republicans from the Tea Party. The Republicans need to wake up and realize that the Tea Party has cost them dearly at the polls. The GOP had a good shot at two Senate seats in Missouri and Indiana and lost both of them because of its candidates represented the fantasy world of the Tea Party.

Tea Party theater
As long as the Republican party is controlled by people who believe in the mythical world of ‘small’ government  – except when it comes to their subsidies – and Leave It To Beaver social mores it can continue to be obstructionist in Congress, but its days as an important national political movement are over. Romney is a good man and was not a bad candidate, but he was saddled with a narrow, rigid agenda that ultimately cost him the race. Perhaps even someone like Steve Forbes, publisher of Forbes magazine, who predicted a ‘decisive’ Romney victory the day before the election will have to do a little re-calculation if he wants to be taken seriously.

Second, elections are becoming ridiculously expensive. The presidential and congressional elections this year cost about $6 billion, or $18 for every person in the United States. Compare that to Britain where the 2010 election cost the equivalent of $0.80 per head. Huge Republican Obama-hating donors like Sheldon Adelson ($53 million), Harold Simmons ($24 million) or Bob Perry ($22 million) must wonder how they could waste so much money. You have to wonder how theoretically shrewd investors like that could be happy with a total wipe out. We have not heard how other major ultra-conservative donors like the Koch brothers, who, among other things, sent a letter to their 45,000 employees urging them to vote for Romney, reacted to their defeat.
Sheldon 'How-Did-I-Blow-$53 million' Adelson
When put in perspective of other American spending patterns perhaps the election spending isn’t all that unreasonable. Gillian Tett, in The Financial Times, notes that Americans will spend $7 billion on potato chips this year and dropped $8 billion on Halloween festivities. The United States also spends $6 billion/month in Afghanistan.

Third, the prime minister of Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu, has to do some fast back-peddling. Relations between Obama and Netanyahu were frosty to start with, and only got worse as the Israeli prime minister interfered in American elections and worked so hard to defeat Obama. His efforts failed on two counts. Obama won, and he got almost 70% of the Jewish vote. Now that he has nothing to lose Obama could come down on Netanyahu like a ton of bricks and demand real action on the illegal West Bank settlements and a serious push for Palestinian statehood. Look for him to show the new U.S. attitude by at least abstaining the next time a controversial United Nations vote on Israel comes up.

Fourth, will the Republicans realize that things like Obama’s health care plan are here to stay and that taxes on the super rich are going up? Will they work to make the government work better or will they follow the idiotic Grover Norquist (head of the ill-named lobbying group Americans for Tax Reform) position of rejecting any and all tax increases? The jury is out while they lick their wounds and try to figure out how they could have lost a ‘sure’ thing.

Fifth, we can safely ignore and tune out the outrageous and completely irrelevant talk show people like Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Mark Levin and all others like the foolish Donald Trump who now proclaim the end of civilization as we know it. The next time people like Ed Whelan whine about 'a growing mass of citizens seemingly wedded to big government spending' we should ask him about huge defence contractors, farm subsidies or all those companies that pay no U.S. federal income tax. These people are certainly loud, but we should know by now that they have absolute no, repeat no, influence on national elections. So we can simply ignore them and let them play in their ever decreasing play pen with the other children.

Sixth, who will emerge from the Republican wreckage? Will they turn to Republican Hispanic poster-boy Marco Rubio, a GOP senator from Florida? Doubtful. The mayor of a large southern city told me last spring that Republicans are cool on Rubio because he could not even deliver Florida for Romney. He was right. Jeb Bush (who would have to overcome the ‘not-another-Bush’ attitude')? Paul Ryan? Or will a new face emerge with a message that resonates with a wider base? My guess is that the hard-right part of the Republican party will resist any compromise with a “Better Dead Than Red” attitude and would even consider splitting from a mainstream party.
Can Paul Ryan pump some reality into the GOP?
Such Republican hari-kari coupled with an improving economy will only strengthen the Democrats’ hand. The challenge will then be to see if the Democrats will act seriously to repair the country’s finances.

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