By Paul Schwietering
A presidential election in which Republican nominee Willard “Mitt” Romney was, according to his press spokesman, closing the gap in the battleground states, turned into an electoral college rout as President Obama virtually ran the table in the states that were considered to be closely contested. As of this writing, (3 a.m. Nov 7), Virginia had not been called, or had Florida (with its 29 electoral votes) and the President already had 290 electoral college votes (20 more than needed to win). The popular vote was closer, due to the fact that Romney won many safe Republican states by large margins. Neither candidate spent much in the way of money or manpower in state that weren’t considered to be “in play,” which goes a long way toward explaining why a significant portion of voting-age adults don’t bother to vote, but that is a subject for another column.
Romney made a concession speech that was surprisingly non-partisan, especially considering the bitterness of the campaign in its closing weeks. In his speech, Romney congratulated the President and spoke of the importance of leaders “reaching across the aisle” to cooperate with the other party, particularly since we have critical problems that must be addressed in the coming weeks if we are to avoid a downturn in the economy.
President Obama’s acceptance speech was masterful. He expressed his gratitude to the American people for his re-election, mentioned that he had just finished speaking to Romney about meeting with him to discuss areas where they could agree on policy, and skillfully appealed to the highest ideals of his audience by mentioning examples from American history when our nation pulled together to overcome tremendous adversity and compared these instances to the hardships that millions of Americans have suffered since the crash. The theme that this country will overcome these present-day hardships just as it did those of the past inspired the crowd to roar its approval.
However, there was a discordant note on election night. A few hours before Governor Romney and President Obama made their speeches, when it became apparent that the Republicans would retain a majority in the House of Representatives, House Speaker John Boehner called a press conference and claimed that since Democrats had not managed to wrest control of the House from the Republicans, the Republicans had a “mandate” to fight any attempt to require millionaires and billionaires (many of whom pay a lower percentage of tax than their secretaries under the current tax code) to pay a penny more in taxes than they are paying now, regardless of the effect this stance will have on the deficit or the economy.
It is fashionable these days, and has been for the past decade, for observers of politics to be cynical. Since I like to go against the grain, I am reluctant to take a cynical view of this election. However, Boehner has demonstrated in the past that he will do whatever the most extreme fringe of the “tea party” Republicans wants in order to prevent Eric Cantor, who covets the speaker’s gavel, from outflanking him on the right and replacing him as Speaker.
The President’s acceptance speech was magnificent, but he has made many great speeches in the past. Making superb speeches has never been a problem for him. His problems are, 1) Entertaining negotiations over things that should be non-negotiable for any Democrat, then 2) Making preemptive concessions before the “negotiations” even begin, then 3) Selling out his side in the “negotiations” by giving 90 percent of what is being “negotiated” over to the opposition. President Obama was saved from making a disgraceful sellout on Social Security, not by his own advisers (who were mostly “Wall Street” Democrats), but by the piggish intransigence of the Republicans, who refused to take yes for an answer (90 percent wasn’t enough for them).
Some people never learn. I hope Obama isn’t one of them. He will have to grow a spine to deal successfully with the Republicans, and when their demands are shameful and unconscionable (such as making America’s elderly pay for the crimes of Wall Street billionaires) he must have the fortitude to tell them no, even if it makes the billionaires pout.
Paul Schwietering is a former Democratic state central committeeman.