Thursday, November 04, 2010

the election results

I won't gloat over the results but a couple of quick observations:

1. The efforts to call it a mixed result because the Democrats held the Senate are unconvincing. Not only did Republicans win 60+ House seats, but they won all or nearly all Senate seats not within fifty miles of a coastline. Essentially the Democrats are limited to the northeast, a narrow strip of the Pacific coast line, scattered parts of the industrial midwest, and a handful of mostly African-American or Hispanic districts in the south and southwest. As we say in my family, the GOP took everything that wasn't nailed down.

2. While for the moment it favors the GOP, the geographic polarization above is rather frightening for the country at large. The areas remaining under Democratic control are small in area, but disproportionately large in population, and (not entirely coincidentally) just happen to be the places where the mainstream media and opinion-makers are concentrated. The already roiling political/cultural war--elite vs. mass, center vs. periphery--is likely to get even worse.

3. It will be interesting to see how the critics of the Senate (Balkin, Levinson, etc.) respond to the current situation. Sure, the Senate is bizarre, outmoded, and run by a group of aging white plutocrats. But it is also fulfilling its precise historical function: to provide continuity and even out the partisan ebb and flow of the more frequent House elections. If we had a unicameral legislature, we'd be that much closer to civil war.

One final thought concerns the turnout problem. People are often surprised that results are so different in "on" and "off" year elections. But a lot of this results from turnout, which is never much more than half in off-elections, but can get quite a bit higher in Presidential years. This year's wave was strong enough that it probably wouldn't have mattered, at least at a national as opposed to statewide (read Pennsylvania) level. But a relatively small partisan shift, and the return of the missing voters, could make things look a lot different in two years. It certainly made a difference this time.


At 11:03 AM, Blogger Ellen Livingston said...

1. You make the northeast, "limited" strip of the Pacific coastline, "scattered" parts of the industrial midwest sound like insignificant snippets of irrelevance; I'd like to see how the rest of the country would fare without them.

2. Ditto "a handful of mostly African-American and hispanic disticts in the south and southwest." Get over it. Increasingly, this is the future of America. Don't try to "other" them as insignificant or somehow aberrational.

3. I think it is less "polarization" than simplistic, simple-minded black-and-white thinking promoted by our educational system and the media, as evidenced by the fact that many of the same people who voted for Obama in '08 are now donning tea-party hats. Clearly, they're not thinking the issues through very deeply.

4. I agree with you completely (!!) on point four. It is really two completely different electorates who show up for presidential and midterm elections. One of the many design flaws in our system that makes it difficult to get anything done. Frankly, this election is pretty consistent with the midterms in the first Reagan and Clinton administrations, and they both seemed to recover nicely. This year is a simple difference of degree (and not really as significant a degree from 94 as many pundits would like to believe) than a difference in kind.

5. You are so right. If you think this dictates the outcome of 2012, you don't know much about American politics.

At 1:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think the difference in turnout is that important. In 2004, Bush won the presidency with a big turnout; two years later, with a smaller turnout, he took "a thumpin'" to quote himself.

I do agree that suddenly the Senate looks like a good thing. In the House, there is virtually nothing protecting the minority, and so the House Democrats were ineffectual during Republican rule. So we need the Senate to slow thing down enough to ensure that there actually is broad support for a proposed policy. The Democrats used the filibuster in the Bush year (most importantly, I think to stop "regulatory reform") and so I refuse to go along with the demonization of the filibuster. (I would agree, though, that today's procedures are wrong; you can now filibuster at virtually no procedural cost.

I actually doubt that African-American and hispanic districts are the future of America. African-Americans are 10% of the population, no higher than fifty years ago. Hispanics will eventually disappear as they intermarry, just as Germans disappear and just as (whisper) Jews will disappear. They will also become more conservative as they get more prosperous -- which they will. This is exactly the pattern that all other ethnic groups (except Jews, who seem to think that the Torah commands them to be Democrats) in this country.

Yes I am sure that there are people who switched from Obama to tea party. That doesn't make them benighted. Rather, they want change (although they'd have difficulty defining exactly want change). Obama ran as a change candidate, and in many people's mind has not followed through. So these people switched to other candidates who promised change.

BTW, Ellen, I wonder how the heavily Democratic areas, like the Pacific coast and northeast, would fare if the rest of the country disappeared.


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