In October 2010, US Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, famously told the National Journal: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Barack Obama to be a one-term president.” And that’s how he and his party acted.
Well, Mitch, how’s that workin’ out for ya?
No one can know for sure what complex emotional chemistry tipped this election Obama’s way, but here is my guess: In the end, it came down to a majority of Americans believing that whatever his faults, Obama was trying his hardest to fix what ails the country and that he had to do it with a Republican Party that, in its gut, did not want to meet him halfway, but wanted him to fail — so that it could swoop in and pick up the pieces.
To this day, I find McConnell’s declaration appalling. Consider all the problems we have faced in the US over the last four years — from debt to adapting to globalization to unemployment to the challenges of climate change to terrorism — and then roll over that statement: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
That, in my view, is what made the difference. The Republicans lost an election that, given the state of the economy, it should have won because of an excess of McConnell-like cynicism, a shortage of new ideas and an abundance of really bad ideas — about immigration, about climate, about how jobs are created and about abortion and other social issues.
It seems that many Americans went to the polls without much enthusiasm for either candidate, but, nevertheless, with a clear idea of whom they preferred. The majority seemed to be saying to Obama: “You didn’t get it all right the first time, but we’re going to give you a second chance.”
In a way, they voted for “hope and change” again. I do not think it was so much a ratification of healthcare or “Race to the Top” or any other Obama initiative. It was more a vote on his character: “We think you’re trying. Now try even harder. Learn from your mistakes. Reach out to the other side, even if they slap away your hand, and focus like a laser on the economy, so those of us who voted for you today without much enthusiasm can feel good about this vote.”
That is why Obama’s victory is so devastating for the Republicans. A country with nearly 8 percent unemployment preferred to give the president a second chance rather than Mitt Romney a first one.
The Republican Party today needs to have a real heart-to-heart with itself.
It has lost two presidential elections in a row because it forced its candidate to run so far to the loony right to get through the primaries, dominated by its ultraconservative base, that he could not get close enough back to the center to carry the national election. It is not enough for Republicans to tell their Democratic colleagues in private — as some do — “I wish I could help you, but our base is crazy.”
They need to have their own reformation. The center-right has got to have it out with the far-right, or it is going to be a minority party for a long time.
Many in the next generation of the US know climate change is real and they want to see something done to mitigate it. Many in the next generation of the US will be of Hispanic origin and insist on humane immigration reform that gives a practical legal pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. The next generation is going to need immigration of high-IQ risk-takers from India, China and Latin America if the US is going to remain at the cutting edge of the information technology revolution and be able to afford the government we want. Many in the next generation of the US see gays and lesbians in their families, workplaces and army barracks, and they do not want to deny them the marriage rights held by others. The Republican Party today is at war with too many in the next generation of the US on all of these issues.