Make no mistake about it, America turned a corner last night. For the first time in a very long time, there is hope in at least some precincts of this deeply divided country that we now have a way to deal with the yawning political chasm that has for the past four years made this country nearly ungovernable.
No, I’m not suggesting that a chastened Republican Party -which not only saw its presidential standard-bearer go down in stinging defeat, but also saw its most extreme Senate candidates in traditionally GOP enclaves like Indiana and even Missouri rejected- will suddenly have an epiphany and realize that it has to begin to struggle back to the center if it hopes to remain a national party and not a club made up of regional cranks that gets its intellectual heft from the likes of Donald Trump.
There are already voices on the right arguing that Romney was not a real conservative, that he was a closet moderate
- Seamus McGraw
And I’m not suggesting that Barack Obama, who last night became only the fourth Democrat in the past century to win a second full term –joining Woodrow Wilson, FDR and Bill Clinton– will at last be able to claim a mandate to quell the unrest that will continue to roil a divided Congress and at last make good on his promise to bring hope and change to Washington.
I’m not even talking about the notion that, if nothing else, the election of 2012 made clear that there is a newly empowered electorate –far more diverse than it has ever been, with women and especially Latino voters who helped deliver states like Colorado, Nevada, and even Virginia to Obama– that will at last force our elected officials to realize that the complexion of the country has changed. I’m not implying that the GOP, which has lost five of the last six popular elections, in part because of its hard rightward drift on issues ranging from women’s health to immigration issues, has seen the error of its ways and at last understands that it really does ignore the fastest growing demographic in the country at its peril.
In the wake of last night’s historic election, there is, alas, little evidence that any of those things will happen any time soon. The makeup of the Senate in January will not be significantly different than it was yesterday. Yes, there are now more women than ever in the upper house – one in five members will now be women. And it remains under Democratic control. But those Democratic senators are likely to be no more able to gird themselves against gridlock and the worst excesses of the filibuster than they have been for the last two years. The House remains firmly under Republican control, and as the country now wakes up to the realization that it is now careening toward the fiscal cliff, it also must realize that in the end, nothing in the architecture of inaction really changed, despite the historic nature of the election.
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But at least in two states, voters took up the challenge and showed the rest of us the way forward. I’m talking, of course, about Colorado and the state of Washington, where patriotic and farsighted citizens, recognizing the “Groundhog Day” nature of last night’s election, convincingly passed measures that will give us the one tool we’ll all need to get through another four years of paralyzing partisanship. They legalized the recreational use of marijuana, effectively saying, roll a blunt, kick back and wait until the profound cultural and demographic changes that became apparent last night truly take hold and change the calculus of elections.
It’s going to take a while. In the wake of the Republicans’ stinging defeat, there has been no significant talk on that side to suggest that their rightward lurch through the primaries -on everything from how to handle Iran to how to fairly deal with the children of undocumented aliens- has alienated voters. There is no sign that their intransigence on anything that Obama supported in the past will wane in the next term. Instead, there are already rumblings that the loss was the result of a lack of partisan purity. There are already voices on the right arguing that Romney was not a real conservative, that despite his efforts to paint himself as “a severely conservative” candidate, he was a closet moderate and that the voters sussed that out and rejected him.
There’s no evidence to support that contention. In fact, exit polls seemed to make it pretty clear that voters were categorically rejecting some of the more extreme policies of the GOP. But when you’re a faith-based party, things like hard numbers from poll-takers are no impediment.
And so, even as the nation tries to walk off the worst effects of one of the most bitterly contested and most harshly partisan elections in recent memory, there are already voices on the right fighting the impulse among some Republicans to return the party to its center-right roots, to cultivate a Chris Christie or a more moderate Marco Rubio. The diehards are demanding that the party’s next candidate for president hail from the dwindling white, male, archly conservative quadrant of the Republican universe: a Rick Santorum, perhaps a Rick Perry.
That would be a recipe for another electoral disaster of course, especially in a country that made it abundantly clear last night that its demographics are changing and that reliably Republican states are in danger -a country where even Texas could soon become a swing state thanks to the emerging power of Latino voters.
But that won’t stop them from trying. In fact, the race for 2016 unofficially begins today, and as the GOP braces for one more lurch to the right, the rest of us are going to have to hunker down and find a way to cope with it all. Colorado and Washington showed us how best to do that. Sit back on the couch, roll a fat one and wait for the next four years to pass.
Seamus McGraw is a freelance journalist who has contributed to dozens of publications, including The New York Times, Playboy, The Forward, and Readers' Digest. He is the author of "The End of Country: Dispatches from the Frack Zone." He can be reached on Twitter @seamusmcgraw, or on Facebook at The End of Country.