The Nation is Divided, Not between Whites and Minorities, But between the Past and the Future

Women, minorities, and young people re-elected President Obama. 

Pundits have pointed out that the president won only 39 percent of the vote among whites—down from 43 percent four years ago. But exit polls reveal that among women, Obama enjoyed an 11 percent advantage. “Fifty-five percent of women chose Obama,” Blooomberg observes —and clearly, this group included many white women. Sixty percent of voters ages 18 to 24 favored Obama—again, many were white voters. Among Latinos, the fastest growing demographic in the U.S., Obama won with a 44-point advantage. Romney secured just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote, down from the 31 percent who voted for the Republican candidate four years ago. Ninety-three percent of  African-Americans voted for the president, along with 73% of Asians (who now make up 3% of the electorate.)  And in the rust belt, Obama appealed to enough of the Democratic Party’s old blue-collar base  (which is largely white) to carry that section of the country.

Romney captured just two groups:  Americans over 65 and white men.  Romney’s cohort is made up of the people who ran this country in the 1980s. In a word, his supporters represent the past. Obama won among the young people, Latinos and women who will shape this nation’s future. They will be our leaders.  We have reached an inflection point in our history.

                                             Women in the Senate

 When Massachusetts elected Elizabeth Warren this was the first time that the Commonwealth sent a woman to the Senate. Thanks to last night’s election a record number of women will be serving in the U.S. Senate. There are currently 17. While two are retiring, at least four more have won — Democrats Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, Warren in Massachusetts, Mazie Hirono in Hawaii, and Republican Deb Fischer in Nebraska.  Claire McCaskill of Missouri, once considered the party’s most vulnerable Senator, held off a challenge by her Republican challenger, U.S. Representative Todd Akin (one of two Republicans who learned that during an election it is never a good idea to talk about rape) 

This is not to say that, going forward white men will not also be in positions of power. But in the future, a more mosaic leadership will reflect a new majority.  As Ross Douthat observed in today’s New York Times: “conservatives must face reality: The age of Reagan is officially over, and the Obama majority is the only majority we have.  (It is worth noting that Douthat describes himself as a conservative, though less “starry-eyed” than George Will.) 


Tom Davis, a former Virginia congressman who once led House Republicans’ national campaign effort agrees that Republicans must accept demographic changes:  “Instead of them curling up in a ball and asking, ‘Where did we lose conservative whites?’ we need to add people to the coalition,” Davis told Bloomberg.“There are just not enough old white guys around.”  Younger voters are moving away from the Republican Party Davis noted, and “We’re going to have to come up with a different approach to immigration.”

                                                  White Support for Obama

 “Nationally, even modest white support is no longer necessary for a Democratic victory if there is strong turnout for minorities,” William Frey a senior demographer at the Washington-based Brookings Institution. But – and this is an important but–  in an e-mail to Bloomberg, he added: “It seems that some white support for Obama was essential for his crucial wins in Ohio and other industrial states, allowing their small minority populations to put him over the top. So strategic support of whites, and solid support from minorities seems to be the new Democratic strategy for success.”

Ourfuture.org’s Robert Borosage put it this way: “Middle class populism triumphed. The president swept key states in the Midwest because his campaign scoured Romney for his Bain record and produced for workers in the rescue of the auto industry. Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Tammy Baldwin won by standing clearly with working people against the money interests.”                                  

     Serving the New Majority While Rembering that  The “Fiscal Cliff” is Imaginary

This is the coalition that President Obama must keep in mind as he faces questions about taxes, entitlements, and health care reform. It will be helpful if he remembers that “the fiscal cliff” is an imaginary construct. The nation will not self-destruct on January 1 if he doesn’t “made a deal” with the Republicans.

As Jonathan Chait recently wrote in New York Magazine: “Here is how it works. Starting in January, there will be a series of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that greatly improve Obama’s bargaining leverage.  If those policies stay unchanged for the entire year, they would harm the economy a great deal. But if they only stay in place for a few weeks, or even a few months, the impact would be minor.”

According to Chait, if Obama just does nothing from now until the end of the year he will have great leverage: “The Bush tax cuts will have disappeared, restoring Clinton-era tax rates and flooding government coffers with revenue to fund its current operations for years to come. The military will be facing dire budget cuts that shake the military-industrial complex to its core.

“All this can come to pass because, while Obama has spent the last two years surrendering short-term policy concessions, he has been quietly hoarding a fortune in the equivalent of a political trust fund that comes due on the first of the year. At that point,” acccording to Chati,  he will reside in a political world he finds at most mildly uncomfortable and the Republicans consider a hellish dystopia. Then he’ll be ready to make a deal.”

I’m not persuaded that things would play out quite that easily, though it’s an intriguing idea. Today, Peter Orszag also suggested that rather than wrangling with Congress over tax cuts for the wealthy vs. tax cuts for the middle-class Obama “could drive us temporarily over the fiscal cliff, let all the cuts expire, and aim for a deal in January with the clean slate that would occur once all the tax cuts are gone.”

At that point, presumably Obama would negotiate to restore the cuts for the middle-class. “This approach would create maximum anxiety and uncertainty,” the former director of the Office of Management and Budget notes.. “It’s not clear how quickly in January a deal could come together.”

 I don’t quite see Obama playing “chicken.”   Nevertheless, the president’s re-election certainly  puts him in a stronger position than in the past. Today, John D. Podesta, who led Mr. Obama’s transition team four years ago, told the New York Times.   “I actually think he’s holding a lot of cards coming off a win,” “He can’t be overturned by veto, so he can create a certain set of demands on Republicans that they’re going to have to deal with.”

This is not to say that the president shouldn’t—or wouldn’t– welcome suggestions from Republicans genuinely looking for ways to compromise. His first term demonstrated that his instinct is always to find a point of agreeement..  

But the president doesn’t have to give away the things that his new majority needs: Medicare, Medicaid, tax breaks for the middle-class, Social Security and health care reform.  In the future, he may want to tweak Social Security. And over time, the Affordable Care Act aims to squeeze the waste out of Medicare.  Meanwhile, on health care reform, he now has a clear mandate. If states don’t set up Exchanges, the federal government will. Health Care Reform will roll forward, and we will see how well it does at containing costs.  

                            Will Republicans Become More Flexible?

By now, Republicans should recognize that obstructionism is not a winning strategy. But I don’t hold out much hope that conservatives will reach across the aisle in a true spirit of compromise. Defeat does not seem to have softened their House Speaker John Boehner.

Orsag reports that “One idea that has been floated to resolve the impasse “over Bush’s tax cuts “is to raise the $250,000 income threshold to, say, $1 million, so that all the tax cuts for people with incomes below $1 million would be extended, and the rest would expire. Earlier this week, however, John Boehner, said he would not support that option. Nothing in the election results should lead us to believe that Boehner and the House Republicans will change course.”

A Republican House may even persevere in the futile exercise of passing legislation that attempt to stop “Obamacare.” A Democratic Senate will block each and every bill . President Obama won’t have to a lift a finger. The bills will never reach his desk.

                                           A More Lilberal Senate

 During his first term, President Obama was trying to hold the center of his party together. Most Democrats in Congress were moderates. This time around, he’ll have a more progressive Senate to back him up.

Voters rejected conservative Republicans in Missouri and Indiana. In Ohio, one of the most liberal Democrats, Sen. Sherrod Brown, won a second term, while in Florida, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson took the race. In Wisconsin, Democrat Tammy Baldwin, the congresswoman from Madison, won an ugly battle with former Gov. Tommy Thompson to become our first openly gay senator. Tim Kaine of Virginia is more liberal than Jim Webb, the Democrat who retired, and in Connecticut Chris Murphy is more progressive than either Herb Kohl, who he defeated, or Joe Liberman (a.k.a. the Senator from Aetna) who killed the public option.

Finally Elizabeth Warren, has reclaimed Ted Kennedy’s seat for the Democrats and ultimately, I believe that over time,she will become an equally strong and passionate voice.  The New York Times’ David Firestone suggests that she “may even push the president leftward.”

                         Will Obama See His Victory as a Mandate?                 

Like 1980, the year that Ronald Reagan was elected,  2012 represents a turning point in our history. But this time, we’re turning left. The question is this:  now that he no longer has to worry about being re-elected, will Obama seize the opportunity?   

Today the New York Times suggested that President Obama “will have to choose between conciliation and confrontation, or find a way to toggle back and forth between the two.”  The paper quoted Christopher Edley Jr., a dean of the law school at the University of California Berkely, and a longtime Obama friend asking: “Will he be more pugnacious and more willing to swing for the fences on domestic issues, judicial appointments and so forth?” Edley, who was disappointed by Clinton’s move to the center during his second term, added, “You can react to a narrow victory by trimming your sails, or you can decide ‘What the hell, let’s sail into the storm and make sure this has meant something.’”  

9 thoughts on “The Nation is Divided, Not between Whites and Minorities, But between the Past and the Future

  1. Maggie:

    Nice post. We all are holding our breath with Obama as we are afraid he will cave to the Simpsons, Bowles, and Petersons of the nation on Medicaid/Medicare/SS. Getting people back to work and holding steady on the rudder steering a straight course to the objective of returning the nation to sanity. Taxes must go up and there is no reason to let them stay low. Lowering taxes will not create jobs and there is adequate evidence a higher tax will not harm job creation either. The economy has grown the best under higher tax rates.

    With regard to Defense, there is no nation since (and including) China’s Chin Dynasty which has remained a tier one power when it has spent more on the military and exceeded economic growth at the expense of domestic productivity and investment. It is time to reduce Defense spending and stay out of wars especially unfunded one such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

  2. Maggie:

    Allow me to add to the triumph of women accessing the doors of Congress. A first: “Ann McLane Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter to represent the Granite State in the House.” New Hampshire has an all woman delegation going to the House of Representatives, a woman governor, and a majority women state senate.

    I have not seen anything like this in my life time.

  3. Bill–
    I argree that our goal should be: “Getting people back to work and holding steady on the rudder steering a straight course to the objective of returning the nation to sanity. Taxes must go up” for wealthy Americans, ( in the top 5% to 7% who are now paying historically low rates) “and there is no reason to let them stay low.”
    As you say, ” Lowering taxes will not create jobs and there is adequate evidence a higher tax will not harm job creation either. The economy has grown the best under higher tax rates”
    All true.
    In your second comment you note that Congress is beginning to open its doors to women (or women are
    beginning to break them down.) add you add: “I have never seen anything like this in my lifetime.”
    I have– in the very late 1960s and early1970s I was living in the NorthEast where women were moving into positions of power, locally, in states, and even in Washington.
    We all thought that this would continue.
    Then came the “Backlash” against strong women. (see Susan Faludi’s superb book by that title.)
    Beginning in the early 1980s, women began to lose power.
    By the time Bill Clinton was elected, Hillary was criticized for having kept her maiden name!

  4. Excellent post, Maggie.

    Republicans should recognize that obstructionism is not a winning strategy.

    I nominate this for understatement of the day. It remains to be seen whether or how much Tuesday’s realities will sink in. There are many tough hides in Washington.

    I have printed out the Chait piece (which I notice was published a couple weeks ago) but I love the nugget you found.
    Here is my morning reflection on presidential leadership.
    http://ronbeas2.blogspot.com/2012/11/about-that-fiscal-cliff.html

  5. Republicans face a huge problem because it is nearly impossible for them to nominate candidates for president and for the Senate who can win. The true believers who control the outcomes of primaries consistently force the party to field candidates who take positions unacceptable to large blocks of voters, including women, people of color, young people, and the well educated.

    Democrats faced this problem in the decades from 1970 to 1990. For now, Dems have gotten over that problem, although they still could face it again. Although there are still large groups of people, many of them my friends, who are embittered by what they see as a party that has betrayed its ideals, overall Democrats have proven willing to accept the politics of the achievable.

    Republicans are going to have to do the same thing if they want to win. They will have to move toward the center or face marginalization.

    For now, this problem is not as severe for down ticket GOP candidates and for governors. However, the outcome in California, where the Democrats now have attained “supermajorities” in both houses of the legislature that potentially allow them to overcome the propositions-based political paralysis that has created ongoing crises in California, may well provide a view of the future. As both population numbers and voting turnout among people of color, among women and especially single women, and among younger voters increase due to population trends and to applying the Obama campaign’s outstanding GOTV models more widely, the problems the GOP faces at the national level will begin to effect down ticket races as well. Here isn Minnesota we saw this in this election, as both the Obama campaign efforts and those of campaigns opposing draconian overreach by Republicans in two right wing constitutional amendments flipped the control of both houses of the state legislature, cost the GOP one House seat, and almost ended the career of Tea Party poster child Michelle Bachman.

    Stark choice for the Republicans: change or die.

  6. Pat S.

    I think the problem is this: the folks who voted for Romney (people over 65 and white men over 30-40) actually support the right-wing views that the Republican party now represents.
    The fact that Obama received only 39% of the White vote– mostly from white women ands younger people–tells us something. White men are not accepting the fact that an African-American is in the White House.
    When people realize that they (or their cohort) is losing power, they become afraid. When afraid, many turn mean.
    I’m afraid that racism and misogyny are widespread–even in New York City.
    But you are right, shifting demographics means that these voters are going to have a hard time electing representatives. This suggests that the current Republican party will die. I see little indication that either the leadership, or the people who voted for Romney have any interest in changing.
    I just hope that the coalition that elected Obama will hang together. Young people, women, minorities and blue-collar
    median-income workers need to realize how much they have in common.

  7. John Ballard-
    Thank you!
    Yes, the Chait piece is provocative.
    I also just read your post– and urge others to do the same.
    Best, Maggie

  8. Maggie:

    I started my post on the theorectical fiscal cliff as described by Chait with this quote:

    “A little patience,” Jefferson wrote, “and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolved, and the people recovering their true sight, restoring their government to its true principles. It is true, that in the meantime, we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war, and long oppressions of enormous public debt. … If the game runs sometimes against us at home, we must have patience till luck turns, and then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost. For this is a game where principles are the stake.”

    And yes the sixties were a different world. When I cam home, I came home to a new era.

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