Whew. The Republic has been spared for four more years. Now what?
I don’t know, but as the quadrennial national convulsion called the presidential election abates and the dust begins to clear three things are coming into focus. First, Americans didn’t buy what the Republican Party was selling. Although many bought it – it was a close election after all – the majority rejected it, and they did so despite the unprecedented assault on them by Big Money and their plutocratic allies. A funny thing happened on the way to the election – the Majority prevailed. Democracy ruled. The Republic stood. By one estimate, the Return on Investment for the largest Republican Super PAC in the nation was 1%. Ouch. Voters didn’t support the Republican plan at nearly every level nationally, with the exception of the House. Even hot-button social issues on the ballot were resolved largely on the centrist side of the political spectrum.
Of course, when the dust fully clears we’ll still have the Status Quo politically, including a divided government in Washington (at a cost of six billion dollars!). That probably means more gridlock – but we’ll see. It depends on how President Obama leads and how Republicans respond. Hopefully, the message of the election got through, however, and we’ll get progress on pressing problems, instead of more finger-pointing and grandstanding. One can hope.
Second, the election had an undisputed winner: math. The statisticians nailed the forecast, much to the annoyance of pundits on the right. I followed math whiz Nate Silver’s blog 538.org right up to election day, as many others did. I was curious to see if his prognostications were accurate. All summer and fall he had predicted an easy Obama victory, based on his aggregation of data from poll after poll after poll. I was also intrigued by the pushback he was getting from the political cognoscenti, who relentlessly attacked him for being “biased,” which a curious charge to level at a math geek. Well, he nailed all 50 states and Obama’s margin of victory, creating in the process a paradigm-shifting triumph of data over opinion. It might even be the end of punditry as we know it, which would be a bonus.
This is important because Nate Silver’s triumph sends a clear message: facts matter. The statisticians nailed the election. Weather forecasters nailed the path of Hurricane Sandy. NASA scientists nailed the picture-perfect landing of the rover on Mars last August. Math geeks and scientists, in other words, know what they’re doing. Science today is extraordinarily sophisticated and not just in an academic way. It has real world effect, as Silver demonstrated so brilliantly. And if they’re nailing elections, they’re probably nailing other things as well – such as climate change, no? I was amused to read a Tweet from David Frum, a former speechwriter for President Bush, the day after the election in which he wrote: “Horrible possibility: if the geeks are right about Ohio, might they also be right about climate?”
What are the chances?
Third, very clearly the ‘face’ of America is changing. The traditional white voter is in decline and the nontraditional minority voter is on the rise, as polls showed. The lion’s share of the minority vote went to Obama too. This puts the Republican Party in the horse-and-buggy camp. Their response so far has been to search for a new driver, rather than change their mode of transport, which means they didn’t get the message. But the Democrats aren’t in much better shape. The repudiation of the Republican agenda isn’t same thing as a ringing endorsement of the Democratic agenda. And what would that agenda be, by the way? During the campaign, Obama carefully obscured his plans for a second term, so we don’t really know what’s on the menu – other than a lot more Business-as-Usual. Will he add new items? My fingers are crossed.
At any rate, we have four more years – only. The typical political cycle (i.e. voter frustration at the ruling party) means we’ll likely elect a Republican to the presidency in 2016, possibly Rep. Paul Ryan, which is a spooky prospect. I’m nervous for the Republic already. It might not matter, however. By then it could be too late. Pressing problems simply can’t be punted down the road any longer. According to the science geeks, four years is all we have to make substantial progress on the climate front, for example. By the time of the next political convulsion, a Tipping Point will likely have been crossed climatologically. Doubt my word? Don’t take it from me, take it from the geeks.
They know what they’re talking about.