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.’”