FISH WRAP: ELECTION 2012

by E.C. Fish on November 12, 2012

ISSUE OF THE WEEK — THE ELECTION, ON A SLAB, WITH A TOE TAG: For all the hours of broadcast time and all the reams of newsprint and all the bandwidth of bloggery that has been devoted to the aftermath of the 2012 election this week, there is one niggling detail that has been pretty much glossed over: the Republicans lost.

For a party that holds free-market competition as a philosophical first principle (give or take the odd no-bid contract), the Republicans are remarkably sore losers, and if there is one liberal trait of note in the centrist-dominated “liberal media,” it is the tendency to pass out participation ribbons. These tendencies have coalesced into the usual useless and self-serving post-election discussions of mandate, with Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-MD) pointing at the (narrowed) majority in the House as a mandate for the GOP agenda, while the reflexive centrists of the mainstream media are piously intoning, “America voted for divided government,” and fetishizing bipartisanship.

HORSESHIT HANGOVER: This, of course, is a continuation of both the pre-election analysis that had this trip to the polls pegged as a squeaker, and of the mathematical denialism that had some Republicans convinced that they were headed for a Romney presidency and Senate majority well after it was apparent that neither of those things would happen. As such, it is complete and utter horseshit.

Republicans lost fair and square. Despite the useless speculation about a “minority presidency” (feel free to take a moment to meditate on the irony of that, if you need to) before the election, Barack Obama won both the electoral and popular vote. Despite the Beltway cheerleading about “divided government,” Democrats expanded their majority in the Senate and and their minority in the House. Republicans managed to maintain their majority through the miracle of gerrymandering, thanks to their 2010 gains in state elections. If Tuesday’s election had been held using the pre-redistricting map, that majority would have disappeared. Nor, thanks to our failure to institute anything like proportional representation, did they win the majority of ballots cast in House races nationwide.

They lost. Given the opportunity to vote for the Republican agenda, the majority of Americans failed to do so. It is a short and rather obvious leap from that fact to this modest proposal: that the Republican agenda and the assumptions behind it should figure into the national agenda in proportion to its electoral popularity, which is to say, hardly at all.

It’s a leap that has yet to make it into the national dialogue, which for much of the last week has been replete with excited talk of unity agendas and grand bargains, set against the background of the “shock doctrine” scenario of a “fiscal cliff” — such cliff having thus far been measured by the yardstick of Republican assumptions. The importance of pulling together in the face of this “crisis” (with the accompanying gross overrepresentation of Republican priorities) is presented as both a pressing national necessity and a test of leadership for President Obama.

This rises to the level of horseshit poisoning. Stripped of all its hype — hype that, you’ll note, just lost an election — Republicans have next to no leverage in upcoming negotiations unless they are willing to continue to practice the politics of extortion and obstruction — politics that, you’ll note, just lost an election.

It is well past time to recognize that congressional Republicans have spent the last two years taking every olive branch the Obama administration and Democratic Senate have offered and whittling them into switches. While the House majority will indeed be an integral factor in any possible solution to the current fiscal situation (a situation caused, by the way, by the last “bargain”), the administration’s best response at this point would be to present their agenda — an agenda that, you’ll note, just won an election — to the Senate and let the House vote against it. If the Republican agreed-to tax increases and spending cuts do kick in at the end of the year, there should be no one but Republicans to blame, and they’ll have precious few hostages left to take once the deal goes down.

If this seems in any way harsh or impolitic, try a little thought exercise: To what extent would we be discussing the Democratic agenda if the Democrats had lost? I strongly suggest that Republicans and their priorities be given every bit that much consideration with the situation reversed.

THE FINAL PANDER: While the Republicans post-election were still pressing for much of their discredited agenda, some Republican voices in the media and Congress have raised the serious possibility of compromise on immigration. While this is a welcome development, it seems more a response to an electoral reality — Hispanics are the fastest growing demographic in the country, and voted overwhelmingly against Republican candidates this year — than anything like a genuine change of heart. Other voices in the Republican party have devoted a similar amount of energy trying to shout the first group down.

Any Hispanic voters who may be swayed by this are invited, in the spirit of the thought exercise above, to consider just what treatment they would have gotten in the event of a Republican victory on Tuesday, and then to respond accordingly.

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E. C. Fish is the editor and publisher of The Spleen.

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