SANDERS: A triumph of process over substance
For those of us who opposed the re-election of the president precisely for his announced effort to “transform” America into something tradition had never favored, there has been an even deeper and troubling result from last week’s election.
Most of the postelection blather has been just that. Exit polling always has been extremely unreliable, and much pseudo-intellectualized and often fact-free pontificating has been based on it. (Republicans, conservatives and “private people” — including yours truly — notoriously refuse to talk to the young lady with the clipboard as we rush home from the polling booth.)
What passes for “analysis” is more often than not either apologia for wrong predictions or justifications for slogans that may or may not have had anything to do with Mr. Obama’s victory. Long after all this postelection hysteria has died away, historians will see another set of facts. Nevertheless, buoyed by a cloying media, conventional liberal orthodoxy already has enshrined some postelection cliches, as false as its pre-election propaganda.
No, Virginia, it was not decided by the rising tide of Democrat-captured minorities: Texas has just elected an outstanding slate of Spanish-speaking Republican officeholders at the state and federal levels, and two GOP governors have Hispanic names. No, it was not charisma of the Democratic candidate: The adulation of Barack Obama wore thin this year even among his acolytes. No, it was not Republican obstructionism of the president’s program in the Congress: All prominent House Republicans retained their seats, and the party retained its firm hold in the chamber. In the Senate, despite net Democratic gains, conservative Democrats will continue to flirt with Republicans in opposition to Mr. Obama’s economic program. (That’s why Majority Leader Harry Reid has not produced a budget in 31/2 years and why the president’s latest proffer was rejected by a vote of 90-0.) No, it was not Gov. Romney’s poisonous personality: He played out his role as Big Daddy as well as the strategy demanded, although he might have erred tactically by being too “decent.”
No, the sad news is that the apposition of increasingly defined and diametrically opposed approaches to the nation’s problems resulted in little real discussion. While the campaign disproved the notion that debates are meaningless, the prospect of a real clash of ideas in the second debate was sabotaged by a muddled and prejudiced moderator.
The president never presented a program, and Mr. Romney, hoping to finesse his way to victory, did not lay out “solutions” that would require extensive negotiation if he had won. Shattering another of those mantras offered by the talking heads, there was no great contest for the undecided voters and independents. This year’s campaign was, from start to finish, a fight to mobilize the bases.
And that, it seems to this writer, is where the bad news begins. It was a contest of process, not of ideas. The Obama camp won because it never abandoned its 2008 campaign structure, but instead beefed up its databases all during the first term. The president threw his followers a bone once in a while, avoiding the pitfalls of leadership while keeping his campaign apparatus intact. Impoverished intellectually and behind the curve because of the energy expended in the Republican primaries, Mr. Romney’s campaign machine was never a match. The very fact that the president had three times the regional command posts in the states was the giveaway.
Sadly, again from this writer’s point of view, the Obama campaign was able to painstakingly identify its voters and march them to the polls. There were loyalties, of course — some youthful new voters who live off late-night shows saw a president for the first time mouthing their meaningless gabble. Black voters, further impoverished by Mr. Obama’s very economic policies, nevertheless trooped out in tribal loyalty in crucial areas such as Tidewater Virginia to join their unlikely comrades in arms, the pampered government bureaucrats living upstate in Northern Virginia.
Although it could not reproduce the enthusiasm of the 2008 crusade, the Obama campaign constructed a new kind of political machine powered by the digital revolution to replace the almost forgotten door-to-door visitations and turkey-on-Thanksgiving tactics of former big-city machines.
It cannot be but a sad commentary on the American political process. Databanks have replaced ward heelers.
• Sol Sanders, a veteran international correspondent, writes weekly on the intersection of politics, business and economics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and blogs at yeoldecrabb.wordpress.com.