It’s been one week since the election.
Those who cannot breathe without the contact sport aspect of politics have turned their attention to the fiscal cliff, lame duck session of the 112th Congress, 2013 Inaugural events, and the hustle to post-up for positions in the Second Obama Administration—positions that open up as staffers from the First Term bid adieu.
The vast majority of those who voted, and those eligible who did not cast an Early Vote, Absentee Ballot, or on Election Day, have turned their attention to the debate over whether or not we’ll see a Dirty South Super Bowl XLVII, pitting the Houston Texans, against the Atlanta Falcons, in the city of New Orleans. And on to the matter of discerning whether to watch The X-Factor, (with Britney Spears, Demi Lovato, L.A. Reid, and Simon Cowell on the judges’ panel) The Voice, (with Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine, and Blake Shelton on the judges’ panel) or both—that is of course, until American Idol returns (with Mariah Carey, Nicki Manaj, Randy Jackson, and Keith Urban, on the judges’ panel) at which point all bets are off.
The final category of stakeholders are immersed in a discussion over meaning. At first glance, the Republican Party faithful, (and those who believe that the USA needs a healthy, vibrant GOP, and a healthy, vibrant Democratic Party in order to operate) have concluded that the demonization of Latinos, especially Latino immigrants, is a losing formula, and must cease. Viviana Hurtado, Ruben Navarrette, Laura Colarusso, Julia Preston/Fernanda Santos, Adriana Maestas/Sara Ines Calderon, Samantha Wyatt, and others, have made this point colorfully, comprehensively, and convincingly.
Concurrently, these same faithful are coming to terms with the rhetoric and policies that fueled the fire of the gender gap that delivered victories not only to President Obama, but to Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren, Senator-elect Tammy Baldwin, Congresswoman-elect Tammy Duckworth, Congresswoman-elect Krysten Sinema, etc. Sarah Stoesz, Susan Carroll, Hallmah Abdullah, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Olivia Waxman, Emma Gray, and others, have made this point colorfully, comprehensively, and convincingly.
But one final point remains.
Back in August, while I was on the road, engaging voters on behalf of Politic365’s #voiceyourvote campaign, in the days leading up to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, FL, and Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC, I wrote that President Obama deserved reelection because the GOP had yet to offer a vision for the future. It had, in plainest language, painted President Obama as the wrong leader for present-day challenges. But neither the Romney-Ryan ticket, nor any of the down-ballot Republicans, offered a vision for where America should go, once the economy was back on track. Once unemployment fell below 8%, and the consumer confidence, housing, and manufacturing numbers improved to their highest levels since before the Great Recession, undecided voters who were looking for a reason to vote against President Obama and the Democratic Senate majority, could not find one.
You see, it’s not just that women and people of color felt as though the GOP was a party of old white men disinterested in opening the Republican tent to them. It’s also that voters clearly understood that President Obama stood for universal healthcare coverage, a pathway to citizenship, equal pay for equal work, same-sex marriage rights, a protection of women’s reproductive rights, investments in Pre-K through college education, an expansion of green sector and STEM jobs, as well as a path toward deficit reduction that asked the wealthiest Americans to pay more. There was no such clarity on the other side. It’s not that Primary Campaign stances went through a rhetorical Etch-A-Sketch to adopt a more centrist tone. It’s that every position, from coverage for preexisting conditions, to the 20% across the board tax cut, were as fluid and mutable as a blob in a lit lava lamp. Even secular voters place a lot of faith in the wisdom of Proverbs 29:18. Those who sought a vision for the future from President Obama got one. Those who sought a vision for the future from Mitt Romney were redirected to either fetishize the past, (the 1980s and/or the 1950s) or focus on whatever economic indicators were still lagging in the present.
Perhaps the best thing for Republicans, and those rooting for the GOP to get its act together, to do, is to take a trip to the movies. Go watch Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.” Although not a Ken Burns documentary, it successfully makes the case that the 13th Amendment was necessary for the future of the Union, not simply an expedient act to add momentum to the push to end the Civil War. As David Edmund Moody wrote, “In order to achieve the impossible, Lincoln had to martial all his internal resources… When the arguments were moral, he articulated a larger vision.”
In the worlds of the Illinois Rail Splitter, a.k.a. Honest Abe Lincoln himself, “We can succeed only by concert. It is not ‘can any of us imagine better?’ but ‘can we all do better?’ The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise—with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”
Today, Democrats have successfully distanced themselves from those who once stood in the way of equality of opportunity for all Americans, regardless of race, gender, creed, cultural origin, or sexual identity. And now, the heavy burden falls on Republicans to confront and purge the racism they’ve enabled, and Andrew Rosenthal, Nsenga Burton, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Steven Hahn, Dan Payne, Eugene Robinson, as well as countless others, have documented, dissected, and decried. Then, once the GOP has invited women and people of color to the Party, it must define what comes next. When it comes to spelling out a vision for the US and its people, Republicans must answer one critical question: Where to?
Fundamentally, the lesson both major parties, and those who will work to bring forth a third voice in national electoral politics, must learn was best articulated by President Kennedy, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.”
To win elections, you must name American Dreams to work toward, not just ogres or specters to stand against.