We've all been enjoying some healthy schadenfreude as the GOP engages in what passes for "soul" searching in their crowd - i.e., each trying to come up with excuses for why they personally and their sub-groups are not responsible for their loss - but there is an equally important need for introspection following victory. Every result, positive or negative, carries its lessons. Here are some of the questions the Democratic Party should begin to ponder, whose answers are not the least bit obvious.
1. Is the energized minority participation in both 2008 and 2012 now permanent, or was it primarily a feature of Barack Obama's candidacy specifically?
We know that Obama's candidacy and presidency have played an historic role in greatly increasing the participation of minority voters, and in particular the black vote. But what remains to be seen is whether this has produced a lasting change in attitudes toward elections in these communities, or if it will disappear once Obama is no longer involved. Some drop-off is inevitable, even with subsequent candidates who are from those communities, since there is no longer the same power of novelty and the desire to affirm commitment to the change it symbolizes. But have we built a stronger coalition overall, or is this largely the magic of Barack Obama?
Will a greater percentage of black voters turn out for a white or Latino Democrat after Obama than before? If so, will the advantage last and produce enough quality leadership to be built upon and further extend that support, or will it erode as the slate of leaders inevitably sinks back into mediocrity?
2. Are Southern whites more out of reach than before Obama, even for white Democrats, or is the racial factor masking an overall Blue-ward shift?
Another way to ask this question would be: What would the electoral map have looked like in this election if Barack Obama - same guy, same policies, same charisma - were Barry O'Bama, white guy? It seems overwhelmingly likely that North Carolina would have reprised if not expanded on its 2008 performance, and entirely possible that a few additional Red states might have turned or at least been far closer, leading to a popular vote landslide. But the question is, are these people so overwhelmingly bigoted that they are now unreachable under any circumstances, even with a white candidate, because the Democratic Party has proven that it is the party of inclusion?
Maybe it's time to pursue a Reverse Southern Strategy: As Nixon and every Republican since has used race to divide the blue-collar coalition, perhaps we should use economics to divide the racist Southern bloc. As far as I've seen, this has never really been attempted - the South is so brutally dominated by Big Business, and transparent hatemongering has been so effective at making the working and middle-class obedient to the corporate agenda, they're mostly just written off. Maybe it's time for Austin, Houston, and Atlanta to lead a liberal revolt against the rest of their states and start seriously challenging for power in statehouses and governor's mansions on economic issues.
The South was once in our column precisely because of economic and class issues, and it's a good time to start testing whether they can be again - whether, with concerted effort, we can reintroduce real economic activism to a region where nothing other than fascist propaganda is usually heard in the media. They drowned out the economic discussions that were once heard in the New Deal coalition era by churning out all racism all the time, but maybe racism isn't really more potent a motivation than economics - maybe it was just promoted with greater passion, while progressive checkbook issues were articulated mainly by Northern liberals. Perhaps it's time to reawaken the passion in Southern economic populism. It may not be electorally necessary, but there's no reason not to pursue it.
3. Would the lightest of light blue states stay in our column in a competition between two mediocre candidates?
This is a question about how a state's fundamental attitude has changed, and whether they are on our side when all things are equal. I'm frankly more than a little bothered by the 2012 results: This presidency has routinely exhibited historical greatness and a level of leadership not seen in America since the Kennedy administration, while the candidacy of Mitt Romney was a transparent freak show making a mockery of pretty much everything to do with freedom, democracy, and honorable citizenship. And yet somehow we lost two states from 2008 and had a few points lower popular vote margin. If that's what happens in the second term of one of America's greatest Presidents, what the hell can we expect the next time a mediocre Democrat is running?
In other words, how many of these states were voting for Barack Obama personally, and how many of them were voting for the Democratic agenda he supports? And, tying back into Question 2, how many Red states were voting against Barack Obama the black man, and how many were voting against the Democratic agenda? The test of a true national shift is how things turn out when the opponents are evenly matched. With the GOP funding advantage due to Corporations United, it would seem they would have the edge when candidates are evenly matched. Which leads us to the next question:
4. What happens to Democratic turnout when our candidate is not a charismatic, history-making political genius?
Voter turnout in 2012 defeated the Jim Crow vote suppression, the dirty tricks, and the deranged alternate-universe ad campaigns, just as lack of voter turnout failed to do so in 2004. So what happens when the top of the ticket is no longer a GOTV dynamo and getting people to the polls largely rests on folks recognizing their best interests on the issues? My recommendation is that we not find out: We have two years, and in fact less if we count special elections, before the GOP starts successfully buying offices again via Corporations United, so in that time we have to either find a strategy that will defeat their buying 2014 or else go after the SuperPACs and propaganda media outlets with such fury that it's clear we the public won't tolerate Big Money interference in our elections.
5. What happens if the infamous 5 Supreme Courtesans strike down key provisions of the
Civil Voting Rights Act in order to give Republicans even more leverage over elections?
The suppression and dirty tricks we saw in this election would be nothing compared to what would happen if SCOTUS strikes down provisions of civil rights law requiring states with a habit of racial discrimination to submit their election plans and procedures to federal review, and overcoming it would require a level of turnout and public retribution against Big Money financiers that is probably impractical outside of history-making candidacies, which obviously don't happen that often. Worst case scenario, it would return our politics to the state of 2004 in perpetuity, or at least until political change could be affected on the state level in enough states to negate the GOP advantage.
Frankly, if they pulled that shit and started taking substantial numbers of offices through naked voter suppression, a second Civil War might be justified. It's one thing to use control of the Supreme Court to remove obstacles to their financial advantages through lawless decisions, but quite another to declare it legal to stop people from voting because they would vote in a way the state authorities don't like.
6. Where are the weak points in our coalition that Republicans will attempt to exploit in future elections?
We would like to believe that America rejected the GOP's bigotry and craziness in principle, but in fact it seems the GOP simply used too many scapegoats at the same time and created a giant coalition of their enemies: Teachers, firefighters, police, other public employees, union members, women, gays, secularists, atheists, agnostics, Unitarians, immigrants, compassionate people, Muslims, the poor, pro-choice people, the working class, the middle-class, Latinos, liberals, moderates, peace advocates, leftists, scientists, educated people...the list just goes on and on. For the past four years, they've been demonizing basically everyone who is not a rich white Southern fundamentalist Creationist Christian gun-nut anti-abortion warmongering heterosexual man six generations removed from an immigrant. And that just doesn't work, no matter how passionately fascistic Republicans are about hating all of them.
Had they been more selective in their choice of targets, their hatemongering might have been more effective. So what happens when Republicans inevitably decide to try driving a wedge between black and Latino voters? We know that will be their strategy if Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush is their nominee in 2016 - Rubio the token Latino, and Jeb with the Latina wife and mixed-heritage children - and/or if George P. Bush ends up being their nominee in that or some later election. Or if they don't nominate someone who directly embodies such a challenge, we know they'll eventually pursue something like the Southern Strategy to promote anti-black racism among Latinos - perhaps both.
We should expect this at any point and know well in advance not only how to counter it directly, but how to compensate for it by attacking weak points in conservative politics. They aren't so much a "coalition" at this point as a generalized mutual association of hatred and greed, where every stripe of unjustifiable opinion can be teamed up with money to pursue indefensible action - sort of like a criminal organization where everyone is in it for themselves alone, but teams up to screw over outsiders. But it is probably inevitable that Republicans will try to divide blacks and Latinos once the GOP concedes defeat on immigration, and we should be prepared for that.
2:43 PM PT: Whimsical observation: We held our 2012 convention in North Carolina and lost the state. The Republicans held their convention in Florida and lost it. Maybe our 2016 convention should be in Mississippi? :D