On the one hand, I should be happy that I called it right once again. Months ago I predicted that Obama would win and I was right. But on the other hand…Obama won.
The practical effects of that election are that Obamacare, with all of the costs and “unintended” consequences, is here to stay. To me, this election was a referendum on Obamacare, so I am disappointed in what I see will be the declining state of healthcare in the country. So over the course of the next few years the cost of health care will go up and its quality will decline. That’s the perfect mixture to lead to Obamacare Part II: Single payer.
But that’s for the future. For now, the biggest take away is that not that this was just a win for a Democratic incumbent by a rather large margin, but it was the first of what will be the new normal in American national elections: The triumph of identify politics.
Of course identity politics are nothing new. That’s been around a long time, but we are entering a new era. President Obama’s campaign strategy, as leaked by Thomas Edsall on the pages of the New York Times last year.
For decades, Democrats have suffered continuous and increasingly severe losses among white voters. But preparations by Democratic operatives for the 2012 election make it clear for the first time that the party will explicitly abandon the white working class.
All pretense of trying to win a majority of the white working class has been effectively jettisoned in favor of cementing a center-left coalition made up, on the one hand, of voters who have gotten ahead on the basis of educational attainment — professors, artists, designers, editors, human resources managers, lawyers, librarians, social workers, teachers and therapists — and a second, substantial constituency of lower-income voters who are disproportionately African-American and Hispanic.
Considering that working class whites have been the mainstay of the Democratic Party since the New Deal, this was quite a startling change in campaign strategy. But the results speak for themselves. You can win the White House without working class whites. This isn’t really about demography though. That is an issue, and I’ve already heard it discussed on the post election babble on TV this morning. As Chuck Todd said on Morning Joe this morning, “The demographic time bomb went off.” But that’s not what I’m talking about; it’s really about how we identify ourselves.
That lesson will revolutionize American politics for the future. But I may have been among the last to pick up on the idea of whites as “the other” so I’m playing a bit of catch up. I didn’t even know that white was now being used as a pejorative; at least culturally. Politically it’s been going on for a while. That’s clear to the most casual viewer of MSNBC. Slate took the position that white men were out of step with the rest of America, with a 23 point gap between Romney and Obama among whites. What’s up with those white people? Why can’t they get with the program?
As the lamest, majority/minority in America, white people continue to both fascinate and repel the “normal” people of the country. As a San Francisco Chronicle columnist put it, “… older white males remain the most terrified, lopsided, confused demographic in all of America, perhaps even more acutely – and more embarrassingly – in this election than any other in modern history.“
It’s clear that since Obama carried only 39% of white voters, they are no longer necessary for a win.
Four years from now, as the demography of the United States changes, these trends will become more pronounced. In the political process at least, whites will be just another minority vying for power among a coalition of other groups. Single white women are already their own tribe. So what does that mean for our politics? Even if Romney had won, it would have been the last gasp of an archaic idea in US politics; political parties that are more or less based on policy decisions and ideas and to a lesser degree, ideology and the left/right continuum Eventually, I suspect that we will be voting according to our ethnic, gender, and sexual preferences. In other words, our politics will become more tribal.
This has been Democratic standard operating procedures for decades, but the Republican Party has mostly (not entirely) managed to avoid direct appeal to ethnic loyalties. But it was a doomed policy. General appeals to all Americans left out those who identified by ethnicity first. Decades of multiculturalism have taught the country that ethnicity was first. Eventually leaving a Republican party left with those who didn’t think of themselves as having an identity beyond their American national identity.
So the Republicans became the political party of white people.
That’s fairly standard outside of the first world nations that have representative governments. Political parties are drawn along tribal lines and politics is a game of acquiring wealth, status, and patronage through the political process for the winning political party; which is really a surrogate for a tribal or ethnic group or a coalition of ethnic groups. But that’s the lowest level of the political process, and our politics is reverting to it. Our democracy is becoming less advanced, not more.
There will be lots of Republican weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth for the upcoming weeks, with the usual cast of “experts” giving their opinions that the Republican Party is too far right, and needs to change. But we had in Mitt Romney one of the most moderate Republican candidates in decades, and in him a candidate who was competent and qualified. He was just in the wrong tribe.
So for the long term big picture, Identity politics will have more to with who supports what party then any public policies, programs, or ideology. Anyone who has studied anything about post colonial third world democracies knows what that looks like, and it’s not pretty.
We are all hyphens now.