Which Way Is the Country Moving Post-Election?

John Cassidy, staff writer for the New Yorker, has an interesting blog post regarding which way the country is shifting politically. Cassidy’s post presents some evidence that is good news for progressives, especially in regards to ending trickle down economics and creating a fairer tax system. Cassidy cites a new poll from Politico/George Washington University showing that 60 percent of Americans now back higher taxes on those earning more than $250,000 a year, and 64 percent support raising taxes on larger corporations. He goes on to state that support for higher taxes on the rich extends across the political spectrum, and even among Republicans, there is almost a 40 percent backing for a more progressive tax policy.

Cassidy also notes that support for gay marriage is at an all-time high, referencing a Gallup poll conducted in late November that showed 53 percent of Americans now support gay marriage or some form of a civil union. However, it’s important to point out that on other issues, the country is not shifting that much. Most Americans do not favor major cuts to the Pentagon budget or increased government spending to create stimulus programs.

The blog post reminds me of some comments I’ve heard from friends lately, friends so sure the country is shifting to the left because Obama won re-election and the Dems gained seats in the Senate. Some of them have even stated it will be nearly impossible for the GOP to win national elections again. However, these conversations have occurred before, and history has shown the opposing party has a way of bouncing back. After Barry Goldwater was soundly defeated in the 1960s, it was said the GOP was dead, but after a generation, they bounced back with the likes of Ronald Reagan and George Bush I. Then, after losing to Clinton twice, the GOP resurrected itself yet again in the 2000s, maintaining control of Congress and the White House for a few election cycles.

Right now, the GOP has a lot of soul searching to do, and the party is in disarray. For the party to stay relevant, it is going to have to produce a broader range of national candidates, perhaps pushing to the national stage politicians like South Carolina Gov. Nikky Haley, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, or Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. It can no longer be the party of old white guys. The party also needs to move more to the center, especially on social issues and the tax code, because as Cassidy’s reporting points out, the country no longer favors trickle down economics, and that is indeed a huge victory for progressives and a sign that on the tax system at least, the country has indeed moved to the left.

The left, meanwhile, needs to keep the momentum and organization used throughout the election cycle, especially to pressure the president to close Gitmo, truly draw down the war in Afghanistan, and create more economic stimulus. Without maintaining organization, activism, and discipline, the Democrats could face some major losses in 2014, especially since they will have more Senate seats to defend than the GOP. For the country to truly move forward on a number of issues, the movements that got Obama elected twice have to continue.

And That’s a Wrap

As a canvass director for the Obama re-election campaign in Kingston, I have plenty of wonderful memories from the campaign, and I’ve made a lot of new friends in my community. I hope these relationships last a long time, well beyond Election Day. I’ve worked on a few presidential campaigns in the past, but this one was especially important to me because it reminded me about the importance of community, activism, and how important politics is, especially at the local level, knocking on doors, getting to you know your neighbors and talking to them about the issues. We finished the night at Bart and Urby’s in Wilkes-Barre, with a few celebratory drinks, and I was especially moved by the folks crying at the bar once the president was declared the victor.

Besides the president’s victory, progressives scored several major victories last night.

The Senate will have its first openly gay senator, after Wisconsin elected Democrat Tammy Baldwin last night.

Elizabeth Warren, who made her name known railing against Wall Street excess and lack of regulation, defeated Scott Brown last night for Ted Kennedy’s old Senate seat. Look for her to run for president a few election cycles from now. The base LOVES her, and she has a populist message that should resonate with millions of Americans. If Hillary doesn’t run, it’s possible Warren could be the nation’s first female president.

The two men that became famous because of their absurd and sexist comments about rape, Todd Akin and Richard Murdoch, lost their Senate races to women.

Tea Party darlings Allen West and Joe Walsh  both lost their House seats to Democrats.

Gay marriage amendments were passed in Maine and Maryland.

African Americans and Latinos voted in record numbers.

More young people voted this year than in 2008, and that group broke heavily for the president, despite reports over the last few weeks that young people were less likely to vote, and if they did, less likely to support Obama. Here’s an article that breaks down the youth vote more.

After women lost a slew of races in 2010, they won several races last night. The Senate will now have 19 female senators, the most in U.S. history. Check out more info about the new female senators here here.

In Pennsylvania, Kathleen Kane, a native of West Scranton, won the race for attorney general, making her the first woman and Democrat to ever win that office in the state’s history.

I think, when we look back on 2012, this will be remembered as the year of the female voter and the female candidate. According to early reports this morning, Romney lost the female voter by about 19 points.

In regards to some specific women’s issues, it’s likely that the issue of Roe V. Wade and a woman’s right to choose will be settled because the president will likely appoint two Supreme Court Justices, at the very least, during his second term, ensuring Roe V. Wade is not overturned. Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood will continue to be funded. It’s important to remember that legalized abortions are only about 2 percent of what Planned Parenthood actually does. For the most part, the organization offers health care screenings and medical care to uninsured and low-income women. So yes, it can be said that this was the year of women’s issues, of the GOP’s lurch to the far-right, trying to fight battles that were settled 10, 20, 30,  and even 40 years ago, and as a result, the Republican Party lost seats in Congress and lost the race for the White House.

Now Can We Discuss Climate Change?

I hope everyone is safe and dry after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the East Coast. I’m still astounded at the damage it did, especially to New York City and the Jersey Shore. The pictures of the gutted boardwalk and destroyed rides are haunting and mesmerizing.  I hope everyone’s power returns as quickly as possible. It’s reassuring to see the president and governors of both political parties do their jobs to secure funding for the clean-up as soon as possible.

Because of Sandy’s destruction, I hope there is more conversation regarding climate change and greater action to address it. I remember a cover story  Newsweek ran a little over a year ago which stated because of climate change extreme weather is the new norm.  Yet, despite articles like Newsweek’s and countless research that has addressed climate change, the issue has been totally absent from the 2012 election. It wasn’t that way in 2008, however. Then candidate Barack Obama mentioned it several times in his 08 campaign, and even his opponent, John McCain, addressed it. Since then, when the Democrats had majorities in the House and Senate, they tried to pass a cap and trade bill that addressed the issue, but it was torpedoed by countless GOP filibusters. After that, there’s been little to no talk of the issue. The president, to his credit, has used stimulus money and tax credits to develop new, cleaner energy, but it’s not enough.

Now, however, there is an opening to bring back the issue, especially if the president is re-elected. Since the hurricane, reporters have started discussing the issue again. NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo and NJ Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, have also mentioned it when addressing the hurricane destruction. This should allow the Democrats to address the issue again and the GOP to move more to the middle and accept science, even though Mitt Romney denounced climate change during all of those primaries last year. Sandy has proved that this country needs to get serious about the issue and start preparing, before the next catastrophe.

Sandy also raises one other important issue, and that is the role of the federal government. Reporters have brought up the point that in 2011, during a primary debate, Romney said states should handle emergencies on their own and there is no need for FEMA, due to its cost. Yet, we’ve seen with Sandy, that in times of crisis, the federal government is needed. The states can not handle the costs and clean-up on their own.  Not only has Sandy rekindled the debate over climate change, but also the issue of the role of government. Both are serious issues worth discussion, especially with a major election only a few days away.

Don’t Panic, People!

A lot of my liberal friends have been moaning and groaning over the last few days after President Obama’s lackluster debate performance last week. However, I’ve been telling them not to worry, at least not yet. In the last few decades, incumbant presidents have more times than not lost the first debate. Ronald Reagan had a poor performance against Walter Mondale in 1984. George Bush Sr. lost the first debate to Clinton. George Bush Jr. lost the first round to John Kerry in 2004. All of those candidates, other than Bush Sr., went on to win re-election.

Furthermore, the president was never a good debtor. He lost several of the debates to Hillary Clinton in 2008, and he lost the first debate to John McCain after securing the Democratic nomination. He is better at giving speeches, especially when he hasn’t debated in four years and his opponent went through a long, drawn-out primary season with a record number of debates.

Sure, Mitt Romney got a bit of a bounce from the first debate. However, President Obama is still ahead in the electoral count, and that’s what matters most.  Just about every electoral map has Obama ahead. Here is a sampling of the Huff Post’s map and The New York Times map, as two examples.

It was probably likely the race was going to tighten after the debate anyways. The president enjoyed a post-convention bounce and was pulling ahead. Romney is enjoying a slight post-debate bounce, but bounces fade after a week or two.

Meanwhile, if you want to get involved in the election, for either candidate, the offices always need help. I continually tell my friends that instead of posting political rants on Facebook, they should do phonebanking, canvassing, or voter registration.

Where’s the Enthusiasm?

In one of my writing classes, I begin each session with a short writing prompt. Today, I asked my students to write down their thoughts on the presidential election. I asked if they have been following it at all and which issues they would like the candidates to address during tonight’s presidential debate. When I gave out the assignment, I stressed that they did not have to reveal who they are voting for, but rather, just write about their interest or lack of in the campaign.

After they finished the prompt, some volunteered to share what they had written. A majority of them confessed that they really had no interest at all in politics, voting, or the outcome of the election. Some of them said they do not see how a presidential campaign  has any impact on their life.

The responses startled me some, especially since I have been extremely politically active since I was 18 and was eager to vote in my first presidential election. That said, I had a hunch that young people have tuned out the campaign season, and I suspect youth turnout is going to be low, especially compared to 2008 and even 2004.The youth vote played a major role in President Obama’s first election.

I pondered for a while why young voters are disengaged this time. Perhaps they are disillusioned with the dismal state of the economy and do not believe either candidate can fix it. Perhaps, as one student said, they don’t see how politics affects them, especially since they aren’t out of college and have yet to face real economic, bread-and-butter issues. Or maybe they just don’t want to spend a lot of their time thinking about foreign policy, the unemployment numbers, or other campaign issues.

Their responses were alarming in another sense, too. If there is a decrease in voting turnout, then it sure makes it easier for politicians to do whatever they want, if they know that a certain group of people don’t vote in large numbers. Why not slash Pell grants even more if you know a lot of young people don’t vote or won’t do anything about it? Why not slash education, which leads to tuition hikes?

By the end of the discussion, all I could  say is that in the past, throughout the history of our country, change happened not because of one politician and president, but because of movements, often fueled by young people. Any great movements over the last few years that led to a politician actually doing something was driven by civic engagement. I hope we reach a point in this country again where we can have meaningful discussions about issues.


Preview of 2012?

I’m taking a break from blogging about poetry  to write about politics. Last night, a  special election was held in New York State’s 9th District to replace disgraced Congressman Anthony Weiner, who had to resign over a sex scandal. Months ago, Dems thought for sure they’d keep the seat. After all, Dems have kept that seat for nearly a century, and it’s in a deep blue district, mostly in Queens and the Bronx. But last night, Republican Bob Turner defeated Democrat David Weprin. As soon as victory was declared, Turner said that this message will resound all year and into the presidential election in 2012.

Most mainstream papers/websites are saying that this GOP upset is  referendum against Obama. A lot of Obama supporters still think he’s going to win, especially since the GOP has moved so far to the right. However, it’s clear Obama is not going to win as easily as he did in 2008, due to the economy. Even officials in his administration don’t believe the economy will improve much between now and next November. Right now, unemployment is at about 9 percent, and in August, there was not a net gain of jobs. It seems the economy has stalled. The last president to win re-election with unemployment this high was FDR, and frankly, FDR was a lot more popular than Obama is. FDR had a larger vision for economic recovery through the New Deal programs, and he had more fire in the belly, a willingness to take on the GOP and big business. So far, Obama hasn’t really demonstrated that, thus alienating much of his core base.

This election should also worry Democrats because it served as a first test of one of the party’s key election strategies for 2012. Back in the spring, the GOP voted in the House and Senate for Republican Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget, which would basically end Medicare and Social Security as we know it– programs most Americans really like. Though the plan didn’t pass the Democratic-controlled Senate, every Republican is still on record as voting for the plan, and the Dems hoped to use that as a major issue in 2012. Weprin did use that as an issue over and over again in the special election, but he still lost. So what will Dems run on in 2012 if that strategy doesn’t work?

It’s also a folly to think that if the GOP nominates someone pretty conservatve like Rick Perry that they will automatically lose the presidential election. The Democrats thought they would easily defeat Reagan because he was considered too consevative, but Reagan won twice, easily.

A lot can still happen between now and the next election cycle. Right now, the county is in an anti-incumbant mood, and Congress’ approval numbers are even lower than the president’s. A path to re-election for Obama can be to run against the Republican-controlled Congress, like Harry Truman did, when he refered to them as the “do nothing Congress.”  If Congress refuses to pass even parts of the president’s new job bill, he can state over and over again during the election cycle that he tried to get the economy moving, but the GOP obstructed and blocked the bill.

Whatever happens in 2012, it’s likely this country is going to keep having change elections. Democrats made major gains in 2006 and 2008, and the GOP made major gains in 2010 and seems poised to make more in 2012. The pendulum keeps swinging back and forth, due to the poor economy and uncertain future of this country.