NEW YORK (Reuters) - The conventional wisdom has arrived: 2012 was a status quo election. President Barack Obama was reelected. Democrats continue to have a majority in the Senate. Republicans still control the House. Only two states changed their presidential votes from 2008 to 2012 (North Carolina and Indiana). Six billion dollars were spent and almost nothing changed!
The conventional wisdom is wrong. Things have indeed changed. Voters came out to defend the revolution of 2008. They rejected a return to the old order.
The status quo candidate in this election was Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Romney represented the old order that’s been in power since 1980: the Reagan regime with its power base of older white men. Bill Clinton, the only Democrat to win the White House during that regime, tried to make accommodations with it. They impeached him.
All that changed with the revolution of 2008. The New America, led by Obama, came to power. It was a movement of young people, working women, African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, union members, liberals, gays and other groups that had long been denied power.
A revolution always faces a counterrevolution. When the Bolsheviks came to power in Russia, they immediately faced a counterrevolution led by the White Army, which was fighting to defend the Czarist regime. When the Obama movement came to power in 2009, a counterrevolution sprang up immediately: the Tea Party. The Tea Party enjoyed a big victory in 2010 when it gained power in Congress and nearly killed health care reform.
Tuesday, the New America defeated the forces of reaction. There were some doubts about whether the 2008 majority would show up again. Many Democrats were disappointed in Obama and frustrated by his inability to deliver the hope and change he promised. But they did show up.
What drove them to the polls this time was not hope but fear - fear that the Tea Party Republicans would take over the country. Obama continued to draw strong support from women, gays, African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, liberals and union members. In some cases (Latinos, Asian-Americans, gays), Obama did better than he did in 2008. His big loss was among white men (from 41 percent in 2008 to 35 percent this year). They’re the old regime.
The White Army was routed. It retreated to Siberia - in this case, the House of Representatives, where Republicans retained their majority. Why did Republicans hold on to the House? Because the House is fortified against change. House incumbents are difficult to defeat. Their challengers are mostly unknown. Moreover, most state legislatures are controlled by Republicans, and they used their power over redistricting to protect Republican incumbents.
It’s hard to call this a status quo election when so many Americans are dissatisfied with the status quo. In the network exit poll, more than 75 percent of voters described the nation’s economy as bad. A majority said the country is seriously off on the wrong track. Only a quarter said they were better off than they were four years ago.
How did Obama escape blame? Votes blamed President George W. Bush - the old regime - more than Obama for the nation’s economic problems (53 to 38 percent). The revolution is not finished. It must go on.
Will we see change? Sure. We’re getting more and more evidence every day. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has signaled a willingness to make a deal on taxes (“We’re ready to be led”). High-income taxpayers will very likely see their taxes go up. The new health care law has been protected from repeal. Former Republican Party chairman Haley Barbour is now calling on Republicans to support immigration reform. If they don‘t, the whole country could go the way of California, where Latino voting power has reduced Republicans to a powerless minority.
The country will not go over the fiscal cliff. Obama has vowed not to let that happen, and Republicans in Congress know it would throw the country back into recession. Obama doesn’t have to face the voters again. They do.
Before this year, same-sex marriage had been rejected by voters 32 times. This year, it was approved by voters in all four states where it was on the ballot. It should now be possible for Obama to break the logjam and peel off some Republican support for tax reform, energy legislation and debt reduction.
Karl Rove was the Admiral Alexander Kolchak of the effort to hold back change, the supreme commander of the Counterrevolutionary forces. His American Crossroads Super PAC spent more than $100 million on attack ads. According to the Sunlight Foundation, only 1.0 percent of the candidates supported by his committee won. That is one of the lowest returns on investment of any independent spending group.
The Bolsheviks shot Kolchak. Rove was lucky. He just got humiliated on national TV.
Why did Democrats win? It certainly wasn’t the economy. It was the demography, stupid. Mainstream America is changing. Message to Republicans: Deal with it.
Bill Schneider is professor of public and international affairs at George Mason University and a resident scholar at Third Way. Bill Schneider