DIONNE: Inconvenient truths of the 2012 election
Published: Friday, November 16, 2012 at 7:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 16, 2012 at 12:35 p.m.
Human nature and politics being what they are, Republicans will underestimate the trouble they’re in, and Democrats will be eager to overestimate the strength of their post-2012 position.
Begin with the GOP: As Republicans dig out from a defeat that their poll-deniers said was impossible, they need to acknowledge many large failures.
Their attempts to demonize President
Democrats are entitled to a few weeks of reveling because their victory really was substantial. Obama won all but one of the swing states and a clear popular vote majority. The Democrats added to their Senate majority in a year that began with almost everyone predicting they’d lose seats. They even won a plurality of the vote in House races; Republicans held on because of gerrymandering.
Just as important, the voters repudiated the very worst aspects of post-Bush conservatism: its harsh tone toward those in need, its doctrinaire inflexibility on taxes, its inclination toward extreme pronouncements on social issues and its hard anti-government rhetoric that ignored the pragmatic attitude of the electorate’s great middle about what the public sector can and can’t do. If conservatives are at all reflective, we should be in for a slightly less rancid and divisive debate over the next couple of years.
Yet Obama and his party need to understand that running a majority coalition is difficult. It involves dealing with tensions that inevitably arise in a broad alliance.
At the same time, there was a substantial middle- and upper-middle-class suburban component of the Democratic coalition that is moderate or liberal on social issues and sees the GOP as backward-looking. Many voters in this group bridle at sweeping anti-government bromides because they care about essential government functions, notably education. But they are certainly not classic New Deal or Great Society Democrats.
Such voters are central to what has become known as the
As Curtis Hubbard,
Managing a coalition that includes African-Americans, Latinos, white working-class voters and suburbanites in the new and growing metro areas will take skill and subtlety. And Democrats need to recognize that some of their core constituencies — young people, African-Americans and Latinos — typically vote in lower numbers in off-year elections. The party requires a strategy for 2014.
But these are happy problems compared with what the GOP and the conservative movement confront. They need to rethink their approach all the way down.
Many conservatives seem to hope that a more open attitude toward immigration will solve the Republicans’ Latino problem and make everything else better. It’s not that simple.
A party that wants to govern has to do more than run against government. For the right, this is the inconvenient truth of 2012.
E.J. Dionne Jr. is a columnist for the Washington Post.
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