Thursday, November 15, 2012

After the Vote: Nothing and Everything Has Changed

“We went through all that, and nothing has changed.”

That view keeps popping up among the myriad analyses of the interesting, and frequently annoying, election campaign just completed. The Geezer, months ago, predicted four more years of Washington gridlock should President Obama be reelected. I’ve changed my mind.

Yes, the arithmetic in the political landscape changed only slightly. Republicans lost some seats in the House (they may well regain them in mid-term elections, as often happens) but retained a majority. Democrats gained only a couple of seats in the Senate, keeping a majority, but falling well short of the 60 needed to be able to easily push legislation through that chamber.

However, the legislative power positions changed dramatically. There are reasons for confidence that some useful things will get done in the months ahead

Perhaps most important, the Republicans took a real shellacking in areas that bode ill for the future of the party. President Obama won handily among young women, and barring major changes in Republican approaches those voters are likely to be Democrats in the future. Hispanics turned out in large numbers. Just a few years back, 44 percent of them voted for George W. Bush. This time, 70 percent backed President Obama. The Democrat even was favored by Cuban-Americans, who previously were pretty solidly in the conservative camp.

Why the big shift in the Hispanic vote?  I became acquainted with many Hispanics in contacts with workers and contractors in 11 years of serving as a homeowner association accountant. We also had several Hispanic neighbors. With few exceptions, these folks were hard-working, religious, family-oriented, and quite conservative on social issues. They were as likely to vote for Republicans as Democrats, and some did in the recent election.

My Hispanic contacts also were proud people with a low tolerance for insults. Governor Romney should have realized that when he talked about “self-deportation.” Republicans should have been aware of it when they opposed the “Dream Act.” Latinos are the fastest growing segment of the American population. If the Republicans don’t clean up their act in relations with them, the party is doomed. Republican leaders know that.

So we will not see gridlock blocking reform of our antiquated immigration policies, something President Obama promised before his first term and was unable to deliver. Now it will happen, either in one big package or in pieces of new legislation.

There will be some form of “amnesty” for illegal immigrants, although the Republicans will call it something else. It would not be surprising if Republicans introduce all or several reform bills. They need to claim credit for positive actions that might help them get back into the good graces of Hispanics.

Women gained representation in Congress. This development coupled with the clear message from female voters that they want to halt attempts to roll back women’s rights should put a stop to right-wing proposals on abortion and contraception, issues thought to have been settled long ago. Those issues have diverted Congress from tackling current problems.

Tea Party arch-conservatives lost ground and influence in this election. The most extreme of them (think Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock) failed to win seats Republicans normally would win.

President Obama gained power well beyond what the arithmetic shows. After his first election he decided to use Democratic Party majorities in Congress to win passage of the Affordable Care Act. He spent a lot of political capital. That almost cost him reelection, as the adverse reaction obviously was greater than he expected. All that is behind him now.

Now the candidate who vowed to dismantle Obamacare “on my first day in office” has been soundly defeated. Romney and other Republicans admitted along the way that Obamacare includes provisions they support. It also has some problems that need fixing. We can expect compromise here. Obamacare will stay, and the parties will work together to repair flaws in it.

Of course, the crisis of the moment is the possibility the nation will “fall over the fiscal cliff” at the end of next month as Congress and the President refuse to work out a new compromise to curtail the federal deficit. That is very unlikely to happen. President Obama phoned House Speaker John Boehner soon after the election ended. They are said to have agreed to be cautious about public pronouncements that would make fiscal negotiations very difficult. The rhetoric has been rather mild.

One action may simply be a postponement of legislation until the new Congress convenes in January. Worry warts might find that frightening.  It would be a positive act. The longer we wait for financial actions that reduce government spending the more time the economy has to continue recovering. The federal budget is not like a household budget. Governments should cut spending when times are good, not when they’re tough.

Pre- and post-election polls showed who has the power. The American public gives Congress a scant 10 percent approval rating. President Obama won about 53 percent of the popular vote and a landslide in the electoral count that really matters. If the Republican-controlled House fails to propose or approve a way to step back from the “cliff,” the blame will fall squarely on them.

Another reason for optimism about dealing with the deficit is that the heavy work has been done. President Obama and Congressman Boehner were close to a deal 18 months ago. It was said to have been killed because of Tea Party opposition that Boehner could not overcome.  Now the Tea Party types are much less likely to block constructive action.

Considerable analysis of alternatives preceded the Obama-Boehner deal that almost became reality. Many ideas came from the Simpson-Bowles Commission, a nonpartisan group whose leaders offered many sound proposals, including tax increases as well as spending cuts. Lots of data are already assembled to guide budget and deficit decisions.

He now has the power to move ahead
In his first term, President Obama had to move with caution after his party lost big in the mid-term elections. The economy, which is well on the way to righting itself as economies do when they emerge from down cycles, was very slow to gain ground. Mr. Obama could ill-afford any rash actions that would end his days in office.

Some say the President now must take some sort of heroic action to “create his legacy” or “become a significant president.”  Nonsense. Mr. Obama already is assured of an important place in the annals of history.

Firsts are the stuff of historic presidencies. Mr. Obama, of course, is the first African-American president. He will be credited with being the first president to end two wars. And, he succeeded in moving the nation forward on the path to universal health care, something Democratic Party leaders have tried and failed to do for more than 80 years.

President Obama by nature seeks compromise with his political opponents, but he now can be very selective about making concessions to the Republicans in Congress. All he really has to do is say “Yes” or “No.” He’s in the catbird seat.


PiedType said...

A good analysis, but I still fear a continuing stalemate in Congress. Obama won, but I put more credence in the popular vote than the electoral vote and in my book, there's no way he got a "mandate" to do anything. Congress is still divided along roughly the same lines and I just don't see how that gives the president any more leverage than he had before. Nor do I have much confidence that a chastened GOP will choose to be conciliatory rather than spiteful. I do, of course, hope there will be much compromising, deal-making, and problem-solving. So much needs to be done. It's high time our representatives stop playing their partisan games and get to work.

Dick Klade said...

Agree that President Obama doesn't have a mandate. But now he has a true bully pulpit without worries about reelection. He could just dig in his heels and let us go over the cliff, picking up the pieces later. It should be an interesting next few months.

joared said...

I agree there's reason to believe we may actually gain some meaningful legislation now. I don't expect a lot, but some. I do hope they don't "kick the can" down the road by only extending the current taxes with the final resolution put off ... again ... until next year. There has been more than ample time for all parties to know the issues and they should resolve this issue by the end of this year. There will be plenty more to address in 2013.

schmidleysscribblins, said...

Good analysis. I am hearing that some of the Republicans who signed the "no new taxes" pledge are saying the pledge was binding for only one term. Now that they are relected they are no longer bound by the pledge. We shall see.

I still don't think demographics played a big role in the elction and I am a demographer who has studied this phenomena for years.

People of all races want the same things, a vibrant economy and help for the poor and sick. On that the two parties agree despite the rhetoric you might hear from the media.

I still maintain as I have all along that Simpson Bowles is the way to go. After the baby boom passes through the retirement years, the dependency ratio will level out again, but until then we all will pay their way as we always have. We can't expect the younger generation to pay the whole bill.

Thus cuts in benefits on the one dside, plus the capping of deductions as Romney suggested and small alterations in the top rates are all on the horizon.

We must get back to a pay-go system. Dianne