Thursday, November 8, 2012

The ‘status quo’ election that changed everything

STATUS QUO. Get used to seeing the phrase from now on, especially juxtaposed with the words “2012 election.” The words themselves, or their equivalent in meaning, have been dropped already by everyone from Erick Erickson at to George Will, in publications from the Christian Science Monitor to The Washington Post. Karen Tumulty of the Post laments that the election “left intact a polarized governing structure in Washington that has been unable to produce much more than gridlock over the past couple of years.”

Over at the Weekly Standard, Fred Barnes huffs that what happened Tuesday night “was a status quo election, with Democrats entrenched in White House and Senate and Republicans firmly in control of the House.”

David Lightman at McClatchy Newspapers said the same thing: “Nothing changed. Barack Obama will remain the president. Democrats will still control the Senate. Republicans will still control the House of Representatives.”

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What conservative and mainstream media refer to as a “status quo” election indicates a view of what happened Tuesday night through the narrow, reflexive, Beltway lens.

They’re weighing the impact of the election through the zero-sum-game perspective of wins and losses in the House and the Senate, calling it a “nothing changed” situation on the basis of the way party control shifted, or failed to shift, in the House and Senate. As if the election was just about the people in Washington, and not at all about the citizens who sent the people to Washington, or kept them there, in the first place.

This election was bigger than that — way bigger. From the renewal of the contract of the first African American persona in the executive branch to breathtaking advances by women into the Senate; from passage of landmark laws on marriage equality to approval of other laws on personal use of marijuana; from the full rise of Latino Americans as a force in electoral politics to the proven ability of everyday people to confront voter suppression efforts by their own state governments and win ... there’s abundant evidence there was nothing “status quo” about what happened on Tuesday night.

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START WITH the demographics of the election itself. African American voters turned out for Obama with 93 percent participation — no big surprise there, given the similar overwhelming response to Obama’s 2008 campaign.

But Latino turnout for Obama hit 71 percent, a new high. The president scored similarly well with single women (67 percent), Asian Americans (73 percent) and voters under 30 (60 percent). LGBT Americans voted for Obama by a 54 point margin, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.

“We're not in the '50s any more,” William Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer, told the Times. “This election makes it clear that a single focus directed at white males, or at the white population in general, is not going to do it. And it's not going to do it when the other party is focusing on energizing everybody else.”

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Look at the evolving demographics of Congress. On Tuesday night, a record number of women were elected to the United States Senate. When the 113th Congress convenes next year, 20 of the senators will be women, an all-time record of exactly 20 percent in the upper legislative body. The entire New Hampshire delegation — governor, House members and senators — will be composed of women, a “first in the nation” status that tops what Dixville Notch is famous for, hands down.

Consider the laws Americans were voting on at the state level. Despite the potential for messy entanglements and conflicts with federal law, voters in Colorado and Washington state approved measures easing criminal penalties for possession of marijuana for personal use.

“I don’t see D.E.A. agents sweeping into Colorado and Washington and enforcing drug laws that were previously enforced by local agencies,” said Norm Stamper, a former Seattle police chief , to The New York Times. “It would be extremely poor politics. The will of the people has been expressed.”

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VOTERS IN three states — Maine, Maryland and Washington — approved marriage equality measures, and in Minnesota, Amendment 1, a ballot measure intended to change the state constitution in order to deny same-sex marriage, was rebuffed by the voters.

“It is clear that marriage-equality opponents are fighting a losing battle and our movement for full equality is at a tipping point,” said Sharon Lettman-Hicks, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, to The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart. “More and more Americans are realizing that LGBT people deserve the same protections to care for the people they love.”

Diversity made its presence known in some other ways. On Tuesday, the state of Hawaii elected Mazie Hirono to the Senate, making her the first Asian American woman elected to the body, and the state’s first female senator; Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay senator, was elected in Wisconsin; and the state of Nevada elected Steven Horsford, already the state’s first Democratic Leader in the state Senate, to be its first African American congressman.

Nothing “status quo” about any of that.

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And then, add to all of the above the one thing that makes the events of Tuesday anything but a nothing-changed election:

It’s the clock, the clock of evolving demographics, the timepiece that’s ticking loudest for the Republicans, who face literally structural changes in who and what defines the contemporary GOP.

That fact — that post-election need for the conservative movement to finally look itself in the eye and see the ways it’s ill-equipped to cope with a demographic evolution that’s constantly revealing itself — has nothing to do with the status quo, and everything to do with the future.

Image credits:  Cartogram of 2012 election results weighted by county: Mark Newman, Department of Physics and Center for the Study of Complex Systems, University of Michigan. Obama waves, sign at Obama HQ on Election Night: via MSNBC. Elizabeth Warren: Reuters.

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