Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

07 November 2012

Working Together

The President’s win last night was more relief than a triumph. The triumph came in the victories of Elizabeth Warren, Claire McCaskill, and up to twenty other women in the Senate.

Pardon my reverse sexism, but I’m a firm believer in women as compromisers and deal-makers. When grown men start squabbling like two-year-olds, they need a mother. Women are also healthy cynics on financial gambling, which seems to come from the Y chromosome. In any event, it’s about time.

My eyes misted a bit when the networks declared Obama the winner, and again when he won nearly all the swing states. But there were no tears like four years ago.

After all the hoopla was over and I turned off the TV, one of conservative commentator David Brooks’ best columns came to mind. It was about the aftermath of World War II. In it, Brooks described the sobriety and humility that touched our nation after winning the worst war in history.

There was no triumphalism. No one in any position of power wanted to crush our enemies, who had already surrendered unconditionally. No one wanted vengeance, as European leaders had demanded after World War I.

We were all too exhausted and relieved that it was over even to think of that. Instead, we adopted the Marshall Plan, rebuilt our enemies and turned them into model democracies. We did what Jesus would have done. The results today are the world’s first, third and fourth most successful economies.

The campaign just ended was a lot like war. It was all attack and very little uplift, on both sides.

I don’t mean to imply a false equivalence. I will go to my grave believing that the GOP started it all, very early, by adopting Rush’s plan of making the President fail, and doing so in his first days in office.

And the GOP was by far the worst attacker. When the President didn’t fail, it did the next best thing: it set out to make believe he had failed. As the President’s first term devolved into a two year-campaign, it accused him of doing all he nasty things it had done to run him down.

In his own way, Romney ran a campaign that was every bit as dirty and dishonest and John McCain’s four years ago. The recent hail-Mary lie that Chrysler was about to move its Jeep plants to China was merely emblematic. And while Mitt’s concession speech was gracious, it wasn’t nearly as gracious and apologetic as McCain’s.

So our electoral war was nasty, brutish and long. But it’s over now. It’s time to think about healing the hurt and running a country that’s been nearly dead in the water for close to two years.

As Lincoln said after our greatest division, “a house divided cannot stand.” We’ve been divided for too long. We’re starting to lose not only our focus and edge, but our international prestige and the world’s patience.

Unfortunately, we still have the main ingredients of gridlock: a Democratic Senate and Republican House, fueled by Tea-Party fervor. So how can things be different?

Of course they won’t be different unless both parties try hard. But there are three good, practical reasons to try much harder this time.

First, for four more years we will have a centrist President who has compromise and cooperation in his soul. It’s not just his 2004 “no red or blue America” speech, or his book on bipartisanship, “The Audacity of Hope.” It’s not just his attempts to make deals on health-insurance reform, the debt deal that ultimately led to our Fiscal Cliff, and the American Jobs Act. It’s also his bending over backwards so far, especially on tax cuts for the wealthy, that progressives like me started to complain.

Notwithstanding the caricature the GOP painted of him in order to win this election, the President is a dealmaker and compromiser. If the GOP strides to meet him, he will go more than half way. All he needs is a willing “partner for peace.” He made yet another overture of that kind in his acceptance speech last night.

The second reason why there should be compromise is a practical one: time is not on the GOP’s side. From the day of the President’s inauguration, the plan was to make him fail so that voters would blame their misery on him and dis-elect him. That ploy almost worked, in part because Mitt is so good a salesman.

But a miss is as good as a mile. The ploy always depended on the laws of economics. As all competent economists knew and have told us repeatedly, recessions caused by financial crises last at least several years. The GOP gambled on recovery coming too slowly to re-elect the President.

That almost happened, but the GOP lost. Next time it will lose much bigger. After four more years, the economy will be much improved, if not fully recovered. (Not much of this will have anything to do with politics, but that’s how economies work.)

So there will be no blame to allot, only credit. The GOP won’t get much credit if it blocks every presidential initiative and lets us fall over the Fiscal Cliff.

The final reason for the GOP to compromise is demographics. If you looked carefully at the TV screens last night, you would have noticed two things. The folks at the GOP campaign were old and white. The Dems were younger and rainbow colored.

If you knew nothing else about the election, you could have told who won just by looking at those two rooms. The Dems’ room looked like America’s present and future. The GOP’s room looked like America’s past.

Demographics and attitudes changed enough in four years to re-elect an African-American president in a still-racist country with a still-ailing economy. They also changed enough to pass several state initiatives approving gay marriage.

Just think of what will happen in another four years. The GOP will have to meet the needs of all the good-looking, multicolored youth in that roomful of Obama supporters, not just for good jobs, but for real deficit reduction, sustainable energy independence, affordable education and health care, and a climate that doesn’t continually pound our South and East coasts with storms like Katrina and Sandy.

If the GOP won’t or can’t do that, it will go the way of the Whigs.

The writing is on the wall. The keep-the-nation-dead-in-the-water-and-blame-the-President-strategy failed. It will fail worse next time. Continuing the same strategy with a much-improved economy and a younger, more savvy, more diverse and angrier electorate would nicely fit Einstein’s definition of insanity.

It’s possible that GOP leadership is insane in that sense. Many Tea Partiers seem that way. But it’s also possible that the GOP played the blame game because its last president’s record was so dismal and it had nothing else to offer.

The next few weeks and months will tell. Was the strategy of blame a symptom of insanity? Or was it the product of a very cynical and nasty—but quite rational—GOP leadership believing that winning is not just the most important thing, but everything? If the GOP maintains the same scorched-earth obstructionism with an improving global economy and an electorate growing younger, more diverse, more demanding and better informed, not even Fox’ alternative reality—to which the GOP screens were tuned all last evening—can save it.



  • At Wed Nov 07, 03:46:00 PM EST, Blogger Greg hodges said…

    Dear Jay -

    Let me cheer in agreement with your assessment of that Long Night.

    Another fascinating point I'd like to add is the money dumped into the presidential election. I was of the belief that the ill-famed Citizens United ruling would crush Obama's chances under a deluge of well-funded half-truths and misinformation.

    I am glad to say I was wrong with this worry - Americans are a tad smarter than I gave them credit. Here is a breakdown:


    Basically, although each campaign spent about $1B, Obama had 3 times as much money in small donations (~$214M, each under $200) while Romney had three times as much money in PAC donations (~$369M). Ironically, the spending was an even wash - and Obama still won over 300 electoral votes, including swing states like Virginia & Ohio.

    Take care, and as always I enjoyed your post. Thank you, and get a good night's rest.

    - Greg

  • At Tue Nov 13, 10:49:00 AM EST, Blogger Jay Dratler, Jr., Ph.D., J.D. said…

    Dear Greg,

    Thanks for your comment, and sorry for posting it late. I’m traveling again, and I guess I just missed it in the post-election rush.

    Just before retirement, I lived for eleven years in Ohio. The pundits, who are mostly from outside that state, all say the auto bailout saved Obama there.

    There’s some truth in that, but there’s also something else. People in the Midwest like lies and self-promoters much less than people on either coast.

    I think the President’s good character was his still-secret weapon. As I wrote before, he’s really more a Midwesterner or New Englander than his roots in Hawaii and Indonesia would suggest.

    Anyway, I'm vastly relieved that the best candidate (by far!) won again. Although I predicted Mitt would lose, based on his narcissism and near-absence of relevant experience, I still, like many, had panic attacks toward the end.

    Like so many obnoxious self-promoters in our society, the GOP and Mitt had soooo much self-confidence. Now maybe they’ll begin to understand it’s not the messenger, but the message. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.




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