Enough uplifting, all-purpose notions of why Obama and Democrats prevailed, some pertinent (like demographics), many laughable: it was Sandy the storm, tons of “stuff” Obama promised, or Democratic voter repression (right!). “No, no,” disbelievers shout, “Mitt was too moderate, or too extreme, his V.P. too fixated.” Or Obama was simply superior on the stump. Below such media noise rumbles a larger tectonic, thus my nomination for what made this election significant: a gang of rightwing contradictions reared up, then crashed and burned.
While this trend transcends any one folly, Romney was the ideal, fossilized Republican awash in a fantasy golden age when bountiful bosses generated jobs and pampered laborers. Likewise, what bizarre political deviance tabbed Paul Ryan as more than a shrill ideologue with zero national clout? For the first time, both misfits atop a national ticket lost their home states. Remarkably, even that matchless twosome, McCain-Palin, outpolled (and outwinked) the votes to Romney-Ryan.
And the good news rolls on: fake debates came and went, gaffes didn’t disqualify, and America survived another suspense-packed media circus. Reactionary donors didn’t buy the election, as feared, though they warped the discourse by exiling climactic issues: energy planning, Wall Street reform, drone killers, global warming, Afghanistan, education and immigration. Minor stuff, really. Did more billionaires ever waste more treasure failing to convince more doubters we all share the same economic interests? And the president got away with never fleshing in what a second term presaged, his pitch reduced to: “Not Romney.” Oddly, Mitt the bereft plied the same waters: “Not Obama.”
Frivolities aside, Republican dinosaurs tanked because they fell into their own quicksand of contradictions, exposing both intellectual fraudulence and ideological perversity. Even gullible Americans, eager to endorse UFOs and angelic (or satanic) intervention but not evolution, are growing up (and growing younger). Despite sham indirections, Romney-Ryan personified the rightwing swamp, swarming with deception, denial, blarney, and delusion.
Glaring contradiction #1: The evil of big government except when running wars, paying subsidies, or legalizing morality.
The Big Lie doesn’t always gain by repetition. The confluence of Romney’s robotic personhood reinforced the core vacuity of the GOP con game replayed one too many times: that big government is diabolical when serving up social justice or safety nets, emergency relief, science education and research, safety and environmental regulations. Drown that overpriced sucker. Yet, when empire building, jailing people or forcing women to give birth, paying out oil, resource, or farm subsidies, government is the glory of law and order, the foundation of civilization. Throw in abusing the rights of dissenters, accused terrorists and whistleblowers, then intrusive government cannot be too big. Contradictions rule the right, like those who worship Jesus but also capital punishment, sanctify the unborn but pardon killers of abortion doctors.
What Obama’s win, alongside surging Democratic senators, disrupted was the dubious marriage between billionaires dying to own the government and fundamentalists dying to institutionalize universal morality. This election exploded Reaganite propaganda that “big government” is the problem by spotlighting the true middle-class nemesis: reactionary, class warriors who demonize government for contesting their unbridled freedom to get richer. Federalism is hardly perfect. But a majority of voters reinforced Washington as the strongest bulwark against the terrors of predatory capitalism, economic cycles and man-made “natural” disasters.
Glaring contradiction #2: Plutocrats should run democracy.
America still boasts an increasingly inclusive, less racist electorate, and ethnic diversity honors a messy democracy. Did this election not displace white, affluent dominance with a much-poorer rainbow of minorities? The results clarified the battle lines between a concentrated plutocracy vs. the authority of a democratic majority. In this regard, Romney was the perfect candidate to set forth the contradiction that heartless plutocrats cannot rule a vital, compassionate democracy.
Whatever enduring Citizens United ripples, 2012 defined a new coalition that rejected the 1% Rove billionaires and demanded, at the least, fairer taxation. More bumps will come (if 2014 turnout is low) but 2016 should reprise the same question: will this demographically-enriched majority get to rule, even offset House gerrymandering, or will narcissistic robber barons sustain their unwarranted power? Along with bashing the wobbly billionaire-Tea Party alliance, this new coalition should declare open season on the perverse, plutocratic equation of money as free speech.
Glaring contradiction #3: The rugged individualism of the super-rich.
Either good government advances the “general welfare” (with public education, social justice, family and small business support), or we lose what’s left of our once vaunted socio-economic mobility. Thus, campaign debate over “who built what,” or the “profits” that accrue from tax dollars, are healthy checks on outdated myths. What more undermined the fiction of “self-made billionaires” this season than the display of desperate manipulation that disregarded collective, national needs for private, selfish gains?
What is tawdrier than a few hundred super-rich families investing a few hundred million each to enhance assets worth many more billions? As Elizabeth Warren proclaimed: "You built a factory out there? Good for you," yet “you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for.” And then she brilliantly defined the community-democracy partnership: "Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along." This theme deserves a replay every election.
Glaring contradiction #4: When ignorance is neither bliss, nor power.
The rightwing allergy to reality is now front and center: blunt denial of unarguable, tested knowledge defies reality and corrupts truth. Worse still is the projection of bad will onto honorable scientists: evolution and climate change aren’t just wrong or misguided, but hoaxes invented to hoodwink fools. Irony, anyone? Right, the right defies underpaid climate experts but imbibes the overpaid FOX goons dishing out fear, paranoia, and conspiracy theories. That fishy logic won't swim.
Thank any deity you like for Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, offering this year’s most unintended blessings. When jaw-dropping absurdities about sex go national, the media has to tell the truth and debunk the magic thinking of Biblical literalists. Did Akin and Mourdock not discredit the entire GOP platform, let alone amendment talk to ban all abortions or gay marriage? Knowledge may be complicated, even controversial, but this season we observed how simple, and simple-minded, bloody ignorance on parade can be, with direct political payoffs.
Glaring contradiction #5: When social wedge issues lose their edges.
So, now we know any party warring against millions of voters -- whether women, minorities, immigrants, gays, or the jobless poor -- contradicts its core interests. 2012 confirmed the shelf life of noxious wedge issues used to elect W. (free abortions, gay rights, looming gun bans) have long expired. Even slurs against the Muslim, socialist non-citizen boomeranged. When racist, homophobic code is decoded, then exposed, even mere headline readers gag on crude bait-and-switch politics. Indeed, we learned that when divisive wedge issues lose their edges, they morph into blunt instruments that bloody the maker, not the victim target. Bring on the Birthers, broadcasting the impervious, intellectual bankruptcy of the extreme, illiterate right.
The tide has turned: majorities no longer deem homosexuality immoral, nor marijuana a sinful crime, indeed, a helpful cancer drug. Rigid opposition to abortion elects otherwise hopeless Democrats (talk about irrational!). Sensible conservatives, all six of them, now defend gay marriage because staple relationships support (conservative) institutions that teach moral values, stabilizing the otherwise errant young.
Overall, the Republican Tea Party was slammed not simply because Democrats ran terrific campaigns, but because so many core GOP contradictions imploded, then exploded, the huge price for living way too long in deluded bubbles. That doesn’t mean billionaires or Tea Party wingnuts will clean up their intellectual acts, nor develop Christian tolerance to other points of view. But this election turned the corner, displaying how entrenched, unbaked contradictions, when outliving all usefulness, reverse into weapons of self-destruction. Reality, like truth, will out in a world where contradictions are exposed, and for me that’s what made this election memorable.