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 conservative.
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.
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 percent.
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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 regulations.
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.