So, America has just woken from Election Night, the partisan crowd having drunk happy toasts to the victor or drowned their sorrows. Let’s pick ourselves up, dust of the detritus, stop wondering where we got that policeman’s hat and wonder: what next?
Actor and Numerian have already posted their thoughts on Obama’s win, and I urge you to read both. I’ll be repeating some of their points here. In particular, Actor identifies the massive woes awaiting the Republican Party, which must either face its shrinking demographic and survive or turn ever further inward towards hardline social and fiscal conservatism and die. Numerian identifies many of the issues Democrats, liberals, progressives and lefties (intersecting, not congruent, sets) may look to hold Obama’s feet to the fire. If they don’t, then surely the Dems, like the GOP, have tacked as hard right as they can without courting extinction. However, Glenn Greenwald is not alone in thinking the usual mechanisms of dis-empowerment as practised by Dem apparatchiks will continue to operate.
First, lets talk about the Republican Party. They’re having a far harder hangover morning than anyone else, and initial signs are not good that they’ll react in a way that enhances their party’s survivability. Their problem is clear as the poignant morning regret of a drunken night before. As JPD puts it in comments to an earlier post:
It’s comforting to classify the Republican Party as the party of old, angry, white, rich men – but it’s not quite accurate. It isn’t the party of the intersection of those trends, it’s the party of all of them individually, with race maybe being the most pronounced.
Take a look at CNN’s exit poll data – Romney took a majority of whites, men and women, and he took a majority of whites across all age groups. Data reads a lot more like the Republicans are the party of whites – and all the privilege normally subsumed under the labels of rich, angry, etc. – full-stop.
Screeds have been written about why keeping on down that path is a recipe for demographic extinction as a viable party, and there’s not a lot of point in reprising all that here other than to note, again, that bigoted and crazy white folks are an ever-shrinking percentage of the electorate and no amount of bigoted white crazies whining is going to change that. There’s only so much voter disenfranchisement drives can do to put a finger in the electoral dyke – absent a very unlikely revolution which successfully overturns democracy in favor of an apartheid state, eventually the GOP as it’s current platform and leadership define it ceases to be able to win elections above State, then District, level. It may have already gotten to the first of those benchmarks. That the GOP is simply too bigoted or crazy for many, even many whites, to vote for seems to be the underlying reason why an incumbent was re-elected with unemployment hovering around 7 to 8% and the economy in the doldrums.
Yet today the GOP’s leadership – political and opinionmaker alike – are doubling down on the bigotry and the craziness. “The white establishment is now the minority,” said Bill O’Reilly. Karl Rove’s meltdown on Fox and Donald Trump’s meltdown on Twitter are being echoed all over the internet by rightwing pundits who are “convinced America is doomed beyond all hope of redemption“. We’re going to see a lot more racism, a lot more mysogeny and a lot more outright hatred from the hard right. The talk is of a “long war ahead“, of pushing “the eventual legislative compromises to the right as much as possible”. Already, the result is being spun back as having not given Obama a mandate, allowing a return to the status quo ante of GOP legislative obstructivism at every turn.
Only a few moderate conservatives are talking sense, and I’ve a feeling they’ll mostly leave the dying husk of the Republican Party before they’re pushed out.
But if the Republicans have finally managed to transform themselves so far Right as to leave a changing America behind, what about the Democrats? Glenn Greenwald points to the first of many hurdles they’re going to have to clear – Obama’s “Grand Bargain”.
It is widely expected – including by liberals– that Obama intends (again) to pursue a so-called “Grand Bargain” with the GOP: a deficit- and debt-cutting agreement whereby the GOP agrees to some very modest tax increases on the rich in exchange for substantial cuts to entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, the crown legislative jewels of American liberalism.
Indeed, Obama already sought in his first term to implement sizable cuts to those programs, but liberals were saved only by GOP recalcitrance to compromise on taxes. In light of their drubbing last night, they are likely to be marginally if not more substantially flexible, which means that such a deal is more possible than ever.
In other words, the political leader in whose triumph liberals are today ecstatically basking is likely to target their most cherished government policies within a matter of weeks, even days. With their newly minted power, will they have any ability, or even will, to stop him?
I predict right now that the words “Grand Bargain” are words the entire spectrum of the left will soon dread hearing. Glenn sets out the process: liberals will declare that cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits in any way is unacceptable, then administration officials will begin to elicit support for the notion that the proposed cuts aren’t so bad and are needed to save the programs from greater cut. Then “party right or wrong” Democrats will begin to say that Obama has no choice, really, in dealing with a crazy GOP to save the economy and matters will rapidly go downhill from there – “any progressives still vocally angry about it and insisting on its defeat will be castigated as ideologues and purists, compared to the Tea Party for their refusal to compromise, and scorned (by compliant progressives) as fringe Far Left malcontents”, especially with the next “most important election EVAH” coming on fast for 2014.
That is the standard pattern of self-disempowerment used by American liberals to render themselves impotent and powerless in Washington, not just on economic issues but the full panoply of political disputes, from ongoing militarism, military spending and war policies to civil liberties assaults, new cabinet appointments, immigration policy, and virtually everything else likely to arise in the second term.
But if the GOP seems set to consign itself to electoral oblivion, then in the long term this shabby process of co-option and aquiesence has the potential to do something similiar to the Democratic Party. My co-blogger Actor is fond of citing Duverger’s Law to explain why no third party is viable in the US electoral system – but I think he’s failed to think the implications of that law through. Essentially, it says that a purality system favors two party hegemony – but it says nothing about which two parties. Indeed, Duverger’s Law is specific that failed parties will become extinct and a portion of their membership will be absorbed by stronger parties. In the absence of a viable GOP then, it can be expected that an ever-rightward tacking Democratic party will absorb some of the GOP’s voters and that a new party will arise to challenge the Dem monolith. The obvious place for that party to come from is to the Left of the centrist Democratic party, where the bulk of potential but not currently active voters are, and a new stable dual-party monopoly would then be formed. It won’t happen overnight and it won’t happen even in four years – but it seems the likeliest scenario if the GOP cannot reform itself, and I firmly believe it cannot.