Reflections on the 2012 Cycle
Obama won a large Electoral College victory, but he did not receive a mandate for his agenda
People more eloquent than I am (who probably had more coffee today than I did) have already made this point. I thought this tweet from left-of-center blogger Cory Doctorow summed things up pretty nicely:
Amazing to think that I’m relieved at the victory of the pro-wiretapping, pro-extrajudicial-assassination, anti-whistleblower candidate
— Cory Doctorow (@doctorow) November 7, 2012
When it’s a struggle for your most vocal supporters to root for you, that’s not a good sign about how effective you’ve been as a leader. To read more on how exactly Chicago pulled off this election, see thisTIME piece. That kind of attention to detail made the Obama reelection effort more nimble and better prepared to adapt to changing conditions on the ground, and it’s really no surprise (from an operative’s perspective) that they won.
Obama enjoyed traditional incumbent advantage, too, but more importantly than that, he had the advantage of running against an empty suit of a candidate. I’m sure Mitt Romney is a really nice, charitable, and warm-hearted guy. And he even did a better job than I expected staying on message with unemployment and the federal budget. He was too nice early on, and allowed Chicago to define him as someone who gave people cancer years after firing their spouses. That was a lot to overcome. Further, I am blown away by the number of people I know personally who bagged on Romney during the primaries — really vicious stuff — and now cannot fathom how America didn’t elect him. C’est la vie.
The war for the soul of the limited government coalition has been raging for years; it is not a byproduct of this election
My United Liberty co-blogger Jason Pye elaborated on this point recently, tearing apart a Jonathan Martin piece projecting a war for the soul of the GOP in the event of a Romney loss:
Romney won the Republican nomination, not because he was the most conservative candidate, impressive on public policy, or because he was some great communicator, he won, as my friend George Scoville mentioned yesterday, because it was his turn.
That is prompting talk in the media of a “civil war” inside the Republican Party, where conservatives will begin to fight back against the establishment after consecutive losses by moderate-ish candidates — John McCain in 2008 and, likely, Mitt Romney this year.
My question to the people saying that is, “Where have you been the last four years?” That “civil war” started in 2009 with the creation of the Tea Party movement. Sure, that came as the sum of bad policies pushed in preceding months by George W. Bush, who signed TARP and the first auto bailout into law, and Barack Obama, who was pushing several policies through Congress that would later prove to hamper the economic recovery. Most activists in the Tea Party movement haven’t hid that they’re goal is to force the Republican Party back to its fiscally conservative roots. Matt Kibbe, President and CEO of FreedomWorks, has frequently called this a “hostile takeover” and has said that “sometimes you have to beat the Republicans before you can beat the Democrats.”
But hey, POLITICO, if it helps you sell ads, why not — right? I would argue that this “civil war” predates the Tea Party movement, and can be traced back to the 1920s.
Adding to Jason’s analysis, libertarians and conservatives both need better ambassadors if they’re going to be in a voting coalition together. Not every conservative uses their own toilet because they’re afraid of catching gay, and not every libertarian is a smelly college kid with a Ron Paul button, a copy of Atlas Shrugged, and a bad haircut. I bit my lip many times during the campaign as I ran across frankly defamatory tweets and blog posts from the very conservatives I now see blaming libertarians for another lost election. The terms “Ronulan” and “Paultard” can’t disappear quickly enough from our vernacular. Not everyone who votes for Republicans believes in bombing brown people. It’s trite, but you really do attract more flies with honey than vinegar. The limited government coalition can do better than it is doing.
Speaking of doing better as a coalition, some big limited government things happened yesterday: voters, as opposed to courts, made gay marriage legal in Maine and Maryland, and both Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana. Voters are waking up to the ways we use the instruments of government to abuse each other. I think the Republican Party and conservative movement ignore this paradigm shift at their peril. “Limited government” has a full and complete definition whose scope extends beyond EPA regulations or the IRS.
Finally, we defenders of the Citizens United v. FEC ruling won big time yesterday
“It’s going to unleash a flood of corporate donations,” they said (didn’t happen).
“GOP donors are going to steal the election,” they said (didn’t happen, obviously).
“Money in politics” hysteria didn’t completely die yesterday, but the spending dynamics of this election put a major dent in campaign finance reformers’ mantles. THANK GOD. The Obama campaign outspent the Romney campaign by over $200 million, according to data from the Center for Responsive politics. The Citizens United decision ostensibly made elections more competitive by removing restrictions on independent expenditures. Super PACs spent over $200 million collectively themselves, with a majority of this spending benefiting Mitt Romney. But Mitt Romney did not win the election. I will probably say this ten thousand more times before I die (I hope I live that long, anyway), but money does not buy elections. It is the case that high quality candidates attract a lot of donors. Mitt Romney was an underwhelming candidate, and his campaign raised less than 2/3 of what the Obama campaign raised. Surely nobody on the left wants to say that the president bought re-election, do they? I didn’t think so. The Framers meant “no law” when they wrote “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech…” Yesterday’s results take a way a bit of the impetus for Congress to try to make another such law in the near future. This was a Pyrrhic victory to be sure, but I’m glad it was such a victory for a pet issue of mine.
Goodbye, 2012 election cycle. It’s been … well, it’s been.