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I don’t want to overstate things, but I believe that the 2012 election is the realignment election that we political scientists have been looking for since Ronald Reagan hijacked the nation and set the GOP moderates scrambling for a political home.

The general idea behind realignment is that voting blocs in the electorate shift allegiances, typically in response to major policy changes in one or more of the political party choices. These abrupt changes come about from one or more party reacting to major world events in a way that was not an option in previous elections.

For example, FDR’s election and subsequent New Deal is seen as a realignment in politics. Lincoln and the establishment of the Republican Party is a realignment moment, as was Andrew Jackson’s election. Since FDR, we political scientists have struggled to find a realignment model that makes sense of the obvious changes in the electorate that have occurred. Was it Reagan’s win? Nixon in 1968? The 1994 elections?

Nixon started the move of southerners from D to R, which led to Reagan victories and eventually the 1994 GOP breakthrough. But these gains did not turn the GOP into an electoral behemoth. They have instead shrunk the party, pushing moderates out of the party, moving the party to the far right, and giving Democrats a majority of Presidential votes ever since.

They created, in essence, a false realignment. Voters shifted in terms of party identification, but they didn’t change views. No grand policy changes were pushed. No new ideas moved voters to accept the formerly unacceptable…until now.

Obama 2012 is that realignment election, primarily because overall political attitudes and what’s politically possible have radically changed. LGBT folks are closer to true equality under the law than ever before. No US Senator can stand in that body and speak against gay equal rights without personally insulting one of their own. Two states voted to legalize marijuana, and marriage equality saw its first ballot win in 33 state-wide tries.

Look at the items up for consideration in the next four years: tax fairness with increases for the wealthy; defense spending cuts (not just cuts to rates of growth, but actual cuts); social security and medicare reforms that aren’t based on starving old people and giving them coupons for Viagra; clean energy; climate change; a peaceful, engaged dialogue with nations we disagree with; voting reforms; clean elections; responsible debt management.

How many of those things get done in a Reagan/Bush/Bush and even Clinton/Gore era? Sure, they were talked about in some whispers and maybe-some-days. But I remember DADT. I remember tax cuts for rich people. I remember privatizing social security and everything else. I remember deregulation. Those days are gone and gone for good.

Think of the things that Obama has done, like health care reform, that have expanded the role of government in America. Those things were just reaffirmed by 50+% of the nation. They are the new normal, the baseline against which all political considerations will be made.

Do you think Obama will stop there? Hell no, he won’t. He was proud of what he accomplished in four years, as well he should be. Stopping a disaster and reforming health care while advancing civil rights is hardly something to scoff at, particularly with a hostile and openly obstructionist opposition party. He has seen the lengths they will go to in order to block reforms, and just as he responded to that first debate with appropriate changes, he will respond to that first term with appropriate changes in this term.

So what will Obama do? What will he pass that will set the benchmark for the “new normal”? What will he cast into stone for a generation and beyond as political certainties?

1. Senate Reform. While technically not his issue, the Democrats will finally address this stupid notion that 41 senators can block the will of 59 senators. Harry Reid has said motions to essentially tie up the Senate will be gone. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Senate require filibusters actually involve filibustering. This will cut down on the impasse in the Senate and change the partisan tenor of that body. It will pay off to be part of the discussion rather than having no discussion, no agenda, no votes.

2. Election Reform. Every citizen should be afforded a safe, simple means of quickly voting. Six hour lines, ballot access laws that limit minorities, polling place disparities – these all need to go. My ability to vote (10 minute wait in a rural district) should not be easier than someone else’s (4-6 hour waits outside to vote on confusing ballots with broken machines). There will be an effort to make voting uniform, simple, and available equally to everyone.

3. Social Security Reform. Cue the cat-food commission crowd, whose howls will be set back by the reality that this president isn’t going to starve old people to cut a deal with dickheads. Will benefits be cut? Maybe at the top end, where we have to wonder why we pay out benefits to those folks anyway. Will SS taxes be raised? Hopefully, and probably by extending the range upward to reflect the ability of wealthier people to contribute more.

4. Climate Change. Watch as the President goes around Congress and regulates CO2 via the EPA without a single vote held.

5. Health Care Reform. Done and passed. It’s part of a long reform game, and what has been set in motion (eventual universal health care, affordable and available to all) is on its way. Absent a functioning, sane Republican party, setting this in motion and waiting for the market to work itself out is the best we can do. We’ll tweak some things, but this is where we’re headed.

6. The budget. Hello tax increases for the wealthy! Or as I like to put it, thanks for tipping the country a little extra for giving you the kind of service that results in 7 and 8 figure bank accounts. We will see real cuts in defense spending, because having an army that could conquer every planet in the solar system redefines “overkill”.

7. Immigration reform. Now is the time to make it safe, simple, and legal for immigrants to step forward and be part of the system. We will no doubt push for such reforms, and the Republicans would be wise to be a part of this process. There is no longer a path to 270 that insults and demeans the Latino community.

8. Normal diplomatic relationships. There is no need to get tough on China and Russia when we could partner with them. Fairer trade? Yes please. But we’re not in position to have those talks so long as we’ve got morons talking about war preparations with either or both of these countries or their allies.

These things are all the new baseline for American politics. Opposing these policies will now have real risks for Republicans. Asking to cut taxes for the wealthy will get you slapped on the hand. Pushing for bans on condoms or defending rape (how in the hell did we even get there?) will lose you a seat you probably should have won. Trying to privatize SS or health care (once the reforms truly kick in and go universal) will get you booted out of office.

The President is a man with both vision and an eye for the future, for legacy, for the long arc of American history. His presidency is a turning point for the country, as the impossible becomes possible, the possible becomes probable, and the probable becomes entrenched, sacred legal promises to all Americans, now and forever.

This is the realignment we have been waiting for. This is the new normal. This is what the next four years are about. This is, without a doubt, the best political moment of our lives. Savor it, be thankful for it, reflect on what it means for our children…and then let’s get to work on seeing this through. As much as we need him, he needs us. Together, this country will be great again. Today starts that journey.

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Comment Preferences

  •  It's nice to have fantasies, and I'd love for it (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    enhydra lutris, davethefave

    to be true.  But I see no reason for Obama to veer to the left when his course for the last 4 years was validated last night.  Deficit reduction/austerity is at the top of his list of priorities.

    NOW SHOWING
    Progressive Candidate Obama (now - Nov 6, 2012)
    Bipartisan Obama returns (Nov 7, 2012)

    by The Dead Man on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 02:22:14 PM PST

    •  you DO know you hold a minority view around here (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sporks, tojojo

      don't you?

      please take your negativity elsewhere. it's time for the grownups to get something done now.

      •  I could give a fig about your intimidation (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        davethefave

        You mistake reality for negativity.  The election's over, it's time to drop the hero worship bullshit and look at what's going on with clear eyes.  Like an adult.  

        Let the republicans bleat like sheep.

        NOW SHOWING
        Progressive Candidate Obama (now - Nov 6, 2012)
        Bipartisan Obama returns (Nov 7, 2012)

        by The Dead Man on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 04:05:49 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Presumptuous twaddle. Don't tell people (0+ / 0-)

        to go away just because you can't understand what they say.

        That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

        by enhydra lutris on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 07:08:32 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Actually, what was validated last night... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JTinDC, JGibson

      Was tax increases for the highest income earners, marriage equality, responsible deficit reduction, and universal healthcare. I believe those issues all have a little lefty in them. Austerity, which is failing so hard in Europe, doesn't need to be on our list of things to do.

      The diarist's post does have a bit of fantasy in it but we've got to aim high, don't we? And President Obama has as much of a mandate (as much political capital, as President Bush called it) as any second term President can have after receiving a majority of the popular vote -- first time for a Democrat since FDR I believe.

      The most dangerous... programs, from a movement conservative's point of view, are the ones that work the best and thereby legitimize the welfare state. Krugman

      by BasharH on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 03:51:22 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Then why was deficit reduction #1 on his agenda (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        davethefave

        last night.  Simpson-Bowles is going to come back and bite a lot of people in the ass.   I'll be happy to be wrong, but I'm not going to pretend the last 4 years of Obama's record and actions never happened.

        NOW SHOWING
        Progressive Candidate Obama (now - Nov 6, 2012)
        Bipartisan Obama returns (Nov 7, 2012)

        by The Dead Man on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 04:07:52 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Good, that means... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          johnthorpe, JTinDC

          Health reform happened, DADT repeal happened, and ending the Iraq War happened. I heard lots of things on his agenda last night, including climate change -- something that didn't really make a lot of appearances in the campaign.

          You can be happy to be wrong and I'll be pissed if I'm wrong. That's how it should be. I'm looking for him to let the Bush tax cuts just lapse and put the onus on the GOP to do something about that come January. Seeing as the Congressional GOP leadership has already thrown down a gauntlet, on Obama's night of victory no less, I'm pretty sure he'll slap them around a bit.

          The man did learn something after his first debate performance. He will have also learned something from his first term, I'm sure.

          The most dangerous... programs, from a movement conservative's point of view, are the ones that work the best and thereby legitimize the welfare state. Krugman

          by BasharH on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 04:17:08 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  It's the return of the Suxers. They held their (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            BasharH

            tongues for a few months while we all worked for re-electing the president, but now that that's done it's back to normal, a small but significant and very loud and persistant fringe who are convinced Obama was the lesser of two evils in this election.

            Ds see human suffering and wonder what they can do to relieve it. Rs see human suffering and wonder how they can profit from it.

            by JTinDC on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 04:42:37 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  Two reasons (0+ / 0-)

          1. Some people want to pay down the debt

          2. He can win over those folks by paying down the debt...on our terms.

          We've set this up with those auto-cuts and expiring tax cuts. Republicans can either play along on our terms or get smoked over and over until they do.

          This is the tipping point election. This is the affirmation of our policy choices, and this is only the beginning.

          FDR recreated government, but not everything good happened under his watch. Truman built on it. Ike built highways. JFK and LBJ expanded civil rights and tried to feed the poor.

          But FDR was the new baseline for future ideations of government. That's why he was a realignment. Obama is a similar baseline for change. That's why he, too, is a realignment.

          I know it's easy to dismiss, because it's easy to see the negative in this. Obama will make deals with Republicans. That's the nature of a divided government. But for the foreseeable future, those negotiations are on OUR terms, with OUR vision of government.

          Welcome to the new normal!

  •  Not even close. The "realignment" was in 2008 (0+ / 0-)

    Democrats had solid majorities in both houses and even flirted with a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate for a month or two. That was a historical realignment. Unfortunately, there was an even bigger realignment in the other direction 2 years later.

    The GOP has a virtual lock on the House now. The only prospect for breaking it would seem to be the 2020 Census and maybe a Democratic sweep at the stat level then, so we can eliminate the favorable redistricting that has locked in the GOP majority. And, that's being maybe too hopeful, because the GOP will surely be changing in ways aimed at solving their demographics problems.

    Coming Soon -- to an Internet connection near you: Armisticeproject.org

    by FischFry on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 02:33:11 PM PST

    •  I'd argue that realignment isn't a partisan thing (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      yella dawg, JTinDC

      It's an idea-driven thing.

      In 2008, those ideas were new and untried and largely opposed. They've been passed and reaffirmed. They are now part of our national story. Just like you couldn't touch Social Security (third rail and such), you won't be able to undo gay rights or health care or anything else.

      Hell, there is a case to be made that Bush won in 2004 largely from the anti-gay measure on the ballot in OH. That will never be the case again, because we've crossed a threshold to where that's not acceptable.

      There is a new normal. That is the realignment. The timing of 2010 is unfortunate and will set the House back a decade, sure. But we've still redefined what's "normal" and "American" to support. That's huge!

      •  The idea thing (0+ / 0-)

        I agree. Ideas -- or even more powerfully, presumptions -- are important. I'm not a political scientist, so I won't really understand how you're using "realignment" as a term of art. That said, I've long thought that Reagan really DID change our politics by insisting that rich people had no special obligation to the community at large. This idea took hold. It lead to a democrat, Clinton, "ending welfare as we know it" (that son of a bitch; I mean, really! I'm grateful for his work and all this time around, but he and I parted company when he passed "welfare reform"). A couple of weeks ago I thought that Obama might, just might, be able to inject a couple of key ideas or presumptions into the body politic that work, virus-like, just as Reagan's ideas did. The are, of course, the antithesis of Reagan:

        1) Rich people need to contribute more, because they've benefitted the most
        2) We're all in this together.

        We'll see how it works out.

        •  That's not an unpopular view (0+ / 0-)

          There's a lot of debate and disagreement over what is and isn't a realignment.

          I guess that, looking at the electorate we have, I am trying to redefine it this way, and under that definition, Reagan would be a realignment. You are very correct.

          I suppose my personal approach depends on how I viewed the Clinton years as they happened. I was a Republican then, so I saw him as the liberal anti-Christ, which is probably skewing my view of that era altogether.

          I do hope to be right in this notion of Obama being a realignment. It's entirely possible that I'm completely wrong (or partially wrong!)

          Thanks for adding to the discussion. :)

  •  If it is a realignment election (0+ / 0-)

    ...the Global War on Terror can be declared at an end and the infringement on civil liberties of the PATRIOT Act, NDAA, and warrantless wiretapping could be ended.

    If it is a realignment election, then the national security institutions that are 65 years old could be evaluated and streamlined, reducing the DoD budget and reorganizing the way that the US does intelligence.

    If it's a realignment election, the President has the mandate that will allow him to take the nation over the fiscal cliff in December and put the fiscal monkey on the GOP House in the new session.  The leverage there are the pork-barrel military expenditures in House districts.

    If it's a realignment election, the President can go anywhere in the country to do the retail politics to sell his agenda.

    50 states, 210 media market, 435 Congressional Districts, 3080 counties, 192,480 precincts

    by TarheelDem on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 02:49:17 PM PST

    •  That's an awful high bar (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      yella dawg, JTinDC

      By those standards, we've never had and never will have a realignment.

      Could Lincoln wander around the south? Not without getting shot. Yet he was one two quintessential realignments, along with FDR.

      On the other side, Reagan won 49 states and wasn't a realignment. Why? His ideas didn't even survive his own presidency, let alone beyond.

      They were refuted by his successor and VP and every winning candidate since, sans Bush the Evil...who implemented those ideas with such rousing success that not one Republican will speak his name in public ever again.

      This is the new baseline for American politics, which is why I have characterized it as a realigning election. The House will catch up soon enough as the south, as always, lags behind reality.

      •  yep. george w. bush has, indeed, become the (0+ / 0-)

        true "invisible man" (thankfully).

        yours is a good diary and a good starting point.  no one ever achieves EVERY single goal - but it is better to aim for the stars and only get to the moon than to only end up in hoboken.  (no offense to hoboken - that was my saying when i lived in ny - it was a distance thing.)

      •  What's so high about the bar? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        johnthorpe

        Barack Obama is a very engaging person when he does retail politics.  Part of the reason for the dismal House performance is that Democrats have been (with the exception of Howard Dean's 50-state strategy) been writing off huge chunks of the country as not worth Democrats' time and effort.  In state after state, state party organizations have withered.  Democrats are effectively foreigners--outsiders--even though there are Democratic voters in every county in the country.

        The most Republican parts of the United States must not be off limits to visits by the President of the United States.  It's past time for the President to visit these parts of the country and listen to what their issues are.  It is a diplomatic trip as necessary as any second term overseas Presidential trip.

        It's not just the South, as in most formulations, that lags behind reality.  The Great Plains from Canada to Mexico are pretty solidly Republican (minus eastern North Dakota).  As are the Great Basin states from Arizona through Idaho.   That's a huge chuck of territory to imagine will catch up to reality.

        50 states, 210 media market, 435 Congressional Districts, 3080 counties, 192,480 precincts

        by TarheelDem on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 03:58:15 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I agree with that idea (0+ / 0-)

          I think the attitude is more of "here's where we stand; let them come to us" ideologically.

          Others have noted that the electorate is changing demographically in our favor. Arizona, Tea Party Central, will be a swing state soon. We won NC once and were damn close this time. Virginia came down on our side.

          More importantly, as these things (universal health care, higher taxes for rich, progressive social policy) become the new normal, southern voters will have less reason to be reflexively against voting for us.

          The northern red blocs have shown over history that they can be progressive in many ways. The history of the United States is filled with farmer-fueled progressives, and many great moderate Republicans and liberal progressives come from that region. As our ideas become the mainstream, we will win more voters in those regions.

          This ideology is the new normal. Once that sinks in and filters through the system, more voters from red areas will come to us, and we will go to them and find open arms.

          That's realignment, and that's what's happened here.

  •  You're almost literally right about this: (4+ / 0-)
    We will see real cuts in defense spending, because having an army that could conquer every planet in the solar system redefines “overkill”.
    Since space is my issue, I can tell you that it's  actually the case that the Pentagon budget would be more than adequate to establish and maintain human colonies on or around every planet in the solar system over a period of a few decades.  That's how absurd their budgets are, and not much of it actually goes to defending the United States - it's just sucked into the contractor black hole.

    "They fear this man. They know he will see farther than they, and he will bind them with ancient logics." -The stoner guy in The Cabin in the Woods

    by Troubadour on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 02:58:31 PM PST

    •  Remember Bill Hicks? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Troubadour

      Comedian, died around 1994. Hated Rush Limbaugh and George Bush (the first one, obviously) with a passion.

      His shows usually ended with about a 4-minute lecture on peace and America, and how we could take what we spend as a world on weapons and use that money to feed and clothe the entire world and then explore space, inner and outer, together, forever.

      I'm paraphrasing but that's close to it.

      It would take a leap in human emotional evolution to get along well enough to do such things, but I think we'll get there. I hope we do, anyway. It'd be nice if the only time anyone thought of the world "nuclear" was in the context of energy plants or properly contained waste materials. :)

      •  I've seen that bit, and I agree totally. (0+ / 0-)

        Actually, it's closer than most people think.  There's something called the Overview Effect that happens in human psychology when a person goes into space and sees the Earth as a single, unified globe with their own eyes.  It's a profound shift in how people view things.  Once we get any significant number of people into Earth orbit, the rest will happen relatively quickly - they'll clamor to go back, and go farther.

        "They fear this man. They know he will see farther than they, and he will bind them with ancient logics." -The stoner guy in The Cabin in the Woods

        by Troubadour on Thu Nov 08, 2012 at 01:26:54 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  "Realighnment" is Superstitious Nonesense (0+ / 0-)

    I had the (mis) fortune to study history under one of the great "re-aligners."  Spent two semesters in college learning about "re-alignments" and how to predict them.

    It is superstitious nonsense.  Like Kobol.  Like the Rapture.

    Yes, elections can look like the planets have shifted orbits.  In 2008 I remember about this same time ( 1 day post) reading how the Democrats had essentially squashed the life out of the Republican Party.

    Re-alignment.  

    Not so fast, sadly.

    So let's talk Reagan.  Reagan took a formula from California, cut their taxes and they will love you.   Works.  He built a coalition based on selfishness, and persuaded Americans everyone would be better off by paying less and taking more.

    Poor Jimmy Carter knew better.  So, to his credit, did Bush 1 who dismissed Reaganomics as voodoo economics.

    Did Bush 1 lose because he raised taxes?  Because Ross Perot drew away a significant part of Republican support, the kind of 1992 Republicans we call Tea-Baggers 20 years later?

    Doesn't much matter.  Clinton won, and Gore won, but had the election stolen.  Reagan's realignment lasted 12 years, and Bush 2 wouldn't have happened had Bill's personal foibles meant Al Gore couldn't use his charisma on the 2000 campaign trail.

    Maybe we can have a re-alignment election.  But even FDR's was fading by 1940 and continued with Truman until 1952 only because of the War and its immediate aftermath.  And that was a near thing,

    Can we Dems of 2012 establish a long-term (positive) dominance of government?

    We'll need to return to the ground up organizing effort led by Howard Dean that was turning Red States (and Congressional Districts) Blue----before Dean was sent packing by OFA.

    We'll need to dominate the issues.

    To make clear that "vouchers" will destroy public education, medicare, and social security.

    Not magic.  Difficult exposition of important policy.

  •  One big item missing on this agenda (0+ / 0-)

    is media reform. "Mitt-mentum" was a phenomenon manufactured by the corporate media, and I'm pretty confident that Obama's margin would have been MUCH more decisive (not that 100 electoral votes is a thin lead by any means) had mainstream journalists actually done their jobs for the past 2 years.

    We need to rein in the mass media conglomerates that currently monopolize our airwaves, TV stations, and newspapers, and return control of these outlets to local communities. Restoring funding to PBS and NPR (the latter of which has in recent years slid into the same morass of false equivalences and pseudo-journalism as the rest of the mainstream media when it comes to American politics) would also go a long way to bringing about true "fairness and balance" to journalism.

    The netroots and alternative media has definitely been a great resource for real journalism, but that shouldn't be an excuse for allowing outright lies and manufactured scandals (c.f. Benghazi, "act of terror," birther movement, etc.) to dominate the discourse.

    Romney flip-flopped far more than Kerry ever did.

    by tojojo on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 10:24:15 PM PST

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