It is funny how quickly things change in politics.
I remember very clearly sitting in the Tap Room of Pat’s Pizza in Orono on election night in 2004, watching the returns come in which showed the re-election of President Bush, the increase of the GOP Senate majority, and the increase of the GOP majority in the House.
I was with a number of friends of both political parties, including a very sullen looking Democrat. As I turned to him to try to give him a “cheer up, you guys will be back” pep talk, my future wife turned to my friend, dumbfounded, asked, “Wait a moment, you’re a Democrat?”
My friend, drink in hand, sheepishly nodded. He had been working like a dog to elect John Kerry, and the sting of defeat was still so fresh.
She paused, puzzled a bit, and asked him, “Why?”
He turned, raised a finger in defiance, ready to answer her. But suddenly, he realized that no words were coming. He could not describe what his party stood for, or why anyone should be a Democrat. The entire country, it seemed that year, was Republican.
Defeated, he put down his finger, sunk back into his drink, and softly mumbled, “I don’t know, Erin. I honestly don’t know.”
After the election, given the president’s margins with Latinos and advantage over the Democrats on almost all issues, Karl Rove began waxing poetic about a permanent conservative majority in the United States.
What a difference a few years makes.
This is an important lesson to remember as the political pundit class releases the Krakan of bellicose and hyperbolic overreactions about the results of Tuesday’s election.
It is very easy to view the world through the prism of today, and assume that things will always be as they are, and that one party or ideology will dominate in perpetuity as a result. But it won’t.
Sure, the Republican Party just got a few of its teeth knocked out, and has some real problems that it needs to overcome to build a durable majority coalition in this country. Much as we may revile the leftists for saying so, it is in fact undeniable that the Republican Party is in fact too old, too white, and too male.
But let’s stop and pause for a moment. How did we go from what happened in 2004 to 2012?
A few months before the scene I described for you above, I was in my apartment watching the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and up walked a young, brash speaker I had never heard of. His name was Barack Obama.
Much to my surprise, as I listened to him describe not only his life story, but his belief that “We are not a collection of red states and blue states. We are the United States of America”, I found that his message spoke to me, even as a Republican.
Barack Obama spoke to our deep need for catharsis, and it engulfed me. I was never naive enough to believe the message genuine, but nonetheless, the spirit and attitude he sold this country was exactly what so many of us on both sides of the aisle had wanted to hear. Including me.
But, in the wake of his small and bitter re-election campaign, I think there is a similar untouched sentiment out there that someone will pick up on to once again realign politics in the next presidential campaign.
Indeed, the Republican Party is “Too old, too white, too male”. But so too, the Democratic Party is “Too young, too non-white and too female.” The goal of both parties should be to broadly appeal to a representative cross-section of all Americans.
It is the fault of both parties, but particularly the strategy of the Obama re-elect, for increasingly chopping up the electorate and then pitting these groups against each other, for their own electoral benefit.
The promise of Obama in 2008 was not realized in 2012. Had he fulfilled that promise, I may have voted for him this year. Alas, he did not.
Today, we are all sick and tired of being pitted against each other. Black vs. white. Women vs. men. Rich vs. middle-class vs. poor. Educated vs. uneducated. Gay vs. straight.
The president made this Civil Cold War among interest groups worse.
The next great political realignment will be from someone who recognizes this, and crafts a campaign that no longer panders to the middle class by promising to take more of the evil rich man’s money, and no longer panders to the fearful nativist white voter by attacking immigrants.
Someone will authentically reject that model and then govern accordingly. Only time will tell when such a person will emerge, and from where. But they will emerge. And they will win.