I finally gave up and went to bed last night at 3:30 am, having followed election night as far as my weariness (and wariness) would take me. Here in Prague we are six hours ahead of New York and nine ahead of the West Coast, so the outcome was unclear election-wise at that hour. As I closed down my computer, the map of America was awash in blood-red states falling to Mr. Romney. I awakened this morning to much the same surprise Harry Truman must have felt, beating Thomas Dewey in the ’48 election. Pundits are not reliable. The Chicago Tribune misspoke Truman’s demise with a famous wrong headline, “Dewey Defeats Truman,” 64 years ago and the bleeding stopped across America while I slept.
I view this as a watershed victory, without ironic reference in to Hurricane Sandra. Old white America has finally lost its 236 year grip on the nation and its politics. It’s a well-earned loss, the nation recently becoming more ethnically mixed before the very eyes of a heedless old white power structure. It’s a celebratory loss as well and, after a hundred years singing in the shower, the unheard finally found their voice at the polls. Blacks and Hispanics are no longer a tiresome annoyance to the old white men. They are a power, ignored at the cost of political survival and I don’t limit that circumstance to Republicans. Democrats were co-conspirators every step of the way.
So it’s a new day in American politics and we have yet to see what influence that will have on our disfunctional Congress. Partisan politics will either give-way (and ultimately disappear), or those who fail to assimilate will be weeded out in coming elections. They know it. Paul Ryan retained his seat in the House, but he’s a smart and certainly sobered guy whose future depends on distancing himself from his inevitably narrowing base. So it is with Blue Dog Democrats and the Republicans who coalesced to stymie the American legislative process. The American voter wants jobs, a recovered middle class, affordable health care, more equal voice given to women, an end to Wall Street’s stranglehold on their economic choices, honest banking and a Congress no longer bribed to carry water for the corporations. Those wants have become needs. They will have them. Have them from both sides of the aisle or change the composition of the aisle to suit the need. This election is not an anomaly, it’s a new and nearly missed awakening. The fat lady has finally sung.
Personally, I was more impressed by who re-elected President Obama than the victory itself. Young voters, who were so disappointed by his first term performance, did not turn away or sit this one out. Brown and Black America flocked to Obama in breathtaking numbers. Women, another power that will no longer be taken for granted, showed their strength at the ballot box. We are not a nation in retreat. “We are” (in the words of Marine General Oliver Prince Smith) “advancing in a different direction.”
The pundits will have their say, as pundits do and blame the loss or celebrate the victory for all the wrong reasons. They will claim Hurricane Sandra or last-minute negative campaigning as the driving force and they will be wrong. Wrong, because they live and practice their punditry in a closed loop, chattering among themselves from inside the Beltway in Washington. The zoo no longer remembers the jungle. The electorate is beyond the Beltway and polling is at best an unreliable prophet of what is to come.
We may (and likely will) make missteps along the way. It won’t be smooth and certainly won’t please everyone during the process, not me and not you. But that’s what watersheds are about and why they are so rare, defined as ‘events marking a unique or important historical change of course.’ The process many had begun to believe didn’t matter, suddenly mattered.
The American electorate advanced in a different direction during this election.