Tuesday's election did not, in my reading of polls, votes and
analyses, represent an anti-choice mandate, an anti-health reform
mandate, nor an anti-environment mandate. But don't worry, that won't
stop anti-choice, anti-health care, climate-change-denialist politicians
from "creating" said mandates both in their rhetoric and in their
actions. And it won't stop groups with huge sums of undisclosed
corporate money from funding campaigns on these issues to distract from
the reality of what is happening in the United States: increasing
inequality, eroding wages and quality of life, eroding retirement
security, and a mounting climate of hate.
In fact, I predict fights over these very issues will take precedence
in the next two years--despite the sixties-like "listen to the people"
refrain of the Republican party leadership and Tea Party candidates on
this day after the election--especially if President Obama and Harry
Reid continue to govern as weak conciliators rather than principled and
articulate fighters for a cause.
Exit polls, voting patterns and the fate of various ballot
initiatives underscore that there were two basic issues driving the
majority of voters. One was the economy, and the other was
dissatisfaction with the way President Obama has been "handling things,"
which in fact is not so much a repudiation of his policies per se, in
my opinion, but rather with the priority he placed on specific issues
over others, the long-time he allowed things to fester in Congress
without a clear "ask" from the White House and without strong and
impassioned leadership to get those things done, and without the
transformational leadership he promised in the 2008 campaign (as so eloquently laid out here by Marshall Ganz).
In terms of the President, it also seemed lack of motivation and lack
of feeling they were heard drove many potential voters--younger voters
to be precise--not to vote. The voters who showed up yesterday were on
average older and whiter than during the 2008 election and more
As ThinkProgress notes in today's Progress Report:
Riding a wave of discontent, Republicans overtook the House of
Representatives by great numbers, but foundered in the U.S. Senate,
where the media spotlight on Tea Party candidates like Sharron Angle in
Nevada, Ken Buck in Colorado, and Christine O'Donnell in Delaware
turned off voters. Newly ascendant Republicans are full of advice for
where the country -- slowly recovering from the economic collapse
caused by President Bush's deregulatory policies and tax cuts for the
rich -- should now go. "[T]here's a Tea Party tidal wave and
we're sending a message," senator-elect Rand Paul (R-KY) said, "that
government cannot create prosperity." "Across the country right now, we
are witnessing a repudiation of Washington, a repudiation of big government,
and a repudiation of politicians who refuse to listen to the people,"
said a tearful presumptive Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH).
"We hope President Obama will now respect the will of the people, change course and commit to making the changes they are demanding."
What was the wave of discontent based on? To borrow a well-worn
phrase from the Clinton-era: It's the economy, stupid. Not the health
reform bill, not gay marriage, not abortion. It's not even "illegal
immigration" despite the best efforts of folks like Sharron Angle to
play to people's basest emotions in inspiring fear of "others."
Instead, as polls show, it is the fact of a bad economy and the fear it
won't get better that drove most voting patterns in most places.
CNN and the Associated Press both report on polls that underscore these facts:
The economy wasn't just the most important issue to voters this year
-- with unemployment hovering around 9.6 percent, it was roughly twice
as important to them as the other top issues of concern combined.
Sixty-two percent of voters named the economy as their most
important issue this year. Health care ranked a distant second, at 19
percent, with illegal immigration and Afghanistan trailing at 8 and 7
That repudiation of health care reform was and is not the issue the
Republicans and Tea Party adherents are making it out to be seems
self-evident: Voters in only two states--Arizona and Oklahoma--approved
ballot initiatives in which voters attempted to prohibit mandated
health insurance, but these are largely symbolic as state law can not
trump federal law. Despite a close race between Democrat Michael Bennett
and Tea-Party/Republican Ken Buck, Colorado voters defeated a state
constitutional amendment that would have banned requiring people to
have insurance. That initiative, Amendment 63, failed 53 to 47 percent.
It would have also blocked penalizing people who don't enroll in
insurance plans and protected patients' rights to make direct payments
to their health care providers. And Amendment 62--the
initiative that would have declared life beginning at conception and
conferred full rights of "personhood" on fertilized eggs--failed
miserably in a more than two to one defeat.
Finally, a ballot initiative seeking to repeal environmental regulations failed in California.
While clearly in some extremely conservative states so-called social
issues are the be-all-and-end-all priorities for some in the far right
wing, at a much broader level it was the economy on one hand and the
deep disappointment of the progressive movement in Obama and the
Democrats on the other that drove the outcome of this election. Economic
fears drove older and more conservative voters to the polls in a
campaign funded by anti-incumbent, anti-progressive campaigns themselves
fueled by undisclosed corporate money, and the younger voters who
propelled this Administration into office on the basis of the
transformational promises made by Obama and the Democrats in 2008
largely stayed home because those promises were abandoned right after
Obama took the oath of office.
It seems to me right now that "listening to the people" would
translate to "focusing like a laser-beam," to borrow another phrase, on
the economy. According to the Progress Report, however, Congressman
Eric Cantor (R-VA), now poised to become the House Majority Leader,
said the election results are "a clear mandate for smaller government, less spending and new jobs" but promised to try to repeal health care reform "right away because that's what the American people want."
Not so much.
Neither do the "American people" want a Congress focused on efforts
to undermine women's reproductive rights and health nor focusing on
undermining the rights of gay people. The polls don't support this, the
outcomes of ballot initiatives don't support it, the concerns about the
economy underscore the real priorities. People want to eat, pay their
rent, send their kids to school and save for retirement. They want to
be able to fulfill their responsibilities and enjoy their lives to the
greatest extent possible. But there is so much corporate money involved
fueling a "let's keep the public distracted campaign" and so much
energy engaged in supporting this effort, it makes it easier to slip
through those tax cuts to the super-rich and gut environmental
But here is my prediction: We will see almost immediately a range of
efforts to focus on restricting reproductive and sexual health and
rights. A House of Representatives led by the Republicans and Tea
Partiers will give full reign to the likes of Congressmen Chris Smith
(R-NJ), Mike Pence (R-IN) and Joe Pitts (R-PA) to constantly push for
restrictions on women's rights in U.S. international policy. They will
try to pass a law codifying a global gag rule, try to reinforce and
strengthen abstinence-only until marriage funding in U.S. global AIDS
funding, and turn a blind eye to efforts to pass heinous laws targeting
homosexuals as criminals in places like Uganda.
There will be grandstanding on and efforts to eliminate the
non-existent funding of abortion in health reform and there will
immediately be pressure not to include contraceptive coverage as
preventive care in the regulations to be written by the Department of
Health and Human Services. Senator-elect Rand Paul is chomping at the
bit to introduce legislation conferring rights on fertilized eggs at the
national level, and he will have lots of support among the right-wing
contingent in the Senate and perhaps little push-back from the
relatively weak Democratic leadership that is there now. And much time
will be spent trying to repeal health reform, if not wholesale, than
those things such as mandated coverage for children with pre-existing
conditions that cause a health care executive or two to take a few
million less in compensation from their stiil-exhorbitant profits and
cry foul for "business productivity."
These and other efforts, having nothing to do with the election, but will nonetheless most likely be a large part of the result.