Opinion: Okay, Let's Get Over Ourselves - Hype Week

ADDITIONAL CONTRIBUTORS Matthew DeMello

If you’re a liberal, obviously you had every reason to celebrate last week. And celebrate you should! In fact, keep celebrating. Remember when President Bush won a second term, despite leading us into a completely pointless multi-trillion dollar war with no end in sight? Yeah, well now the other side gets a little taste of that action, and it’s just as well that they should.

That said, if you’re a liberal with a job in the media, ranting about politics on a professional basis, you probably need to tone it down by now. There’s no denying that liberalism scored huge points in the 2012 election by re-electing the president, legalizing marijuana in two (yes, TWO) whole states, gay marriage in two more, and all not to mention how monumentally diverse our Congress just became literally overnight.

Obama supporters in Washington, D.C. on election night.

Image courtesy of Streetmatic.com.

Considering that, by definition, liberalism is a political philosophy that breeds unending frustration and dissatisfaction from those who espouse it, it’s easy to understand how seeing all this progress in one evening could cause any well-to-do lefty commentator to become so drunk from even the slightest semblance of validation that they publish something like this:

“The first post–baby boomer president was returned to the White House with the widest, clearest reelection win since Ronald Reagan won 49 states in 1984, yet a smaller mandate than his own 2008 victory.”

That’s from an article titled, “Welcome to Liberal America” by BuzzFeed Editor-In-Chief, Ben Smith, who would be delivering a remotely factual statement to his readership had there been no election in 1996, when President Clinton kept the White House with 379 electoral votes and a near double digit lead over his closest contender, Senator Bob Dole.

Like many in the news media, Smith also described the president’s victory as “sweeping,” though lacking the sweeping-ness of Reagan’s domination in 1984. On the more rational side of such frothing, there have been less-than-compelling arguments for the president’s reelection being decisive, or at strongest, a mandate on raising taxes on those making more than $250k a year. All this while others on Planet Progress somehow consider a 50-48 split in the popular vote reason enough to deem the 2012 election a “landslide” in no uncertain terms. To others, it was definitely won by more than a nose hair… in comparison to the 1960 election. Yes, because the electoral college is a great way to detect how the electorate feels.

If not only for these reasons but for the unending overanalysis of a campaign season that absolutely came down to the wire, I cannot see how the president’s victory was a “decisive” affirmation of his policies at all, and I voted for the guy. If anything the 2012 election (like, as I’ve mentioned before, the 2004 election before that) taught anyone, it’s that yet again, Americans chose what they saw as the lesser of two evils when facing an incumbent with a less than savory record and a uniquely clumsy challenger.

For all that’s been made of the influence of minorities (African-Americans, women, the youth vote, Hispanics, etc.) on the election, where the analysis descends into fiction is where the “coalition,” as Van Jones calls it, is treated as a homogenous seal of approval of the President’s agenda on the whole – it’s not.

Despite the Obama campaign’s early and fervent attack on Governor Romney’s character, Mitt Romney himself navigated the assaults rather clumsily, especially for a candidate with as many campaigns under his belt as he has.

As Rolling Stone‘s Matt Taibbi put it in a recent op-ed, conservative media after the election can’t possibly hope to attract these voting blocs, given how they talk about them. In short, if you talk to people like they’re moochers and categorize those not in the ruling class as the reasons our society isn’t efficient, that won’t make them vote for you even if they would be inclined to:

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing among conservatives of the Rush/Hannity school in the last few days, a lot of concern about this outreach question, and honestly, the tone of the discussion is beginning to sound like the last days of a failed 1950s marriage. The husband who’s gone all day at work comes home and throws his hands up in the air in mock frustration: what do you want from me, another Cadillac? Another fur coat? I just got you new shoes last week!

Their tone only follows suit with the messaging of Romney’s campaign. And this is not to mention that, from the beginning, influential neo-con figureheads were decrying the inexperience of his staff. Both the impact and utter lack of damage control following the infamous “47 percent” video crystalized all of Romney’s campaign and character flaws all too perfectly; or at least more so than any political cartoon, SNL skit, FunnyorDie video, or tasteless campaign ad ever could. Yet, as The Onion has so thoroughly observed, the only thing more poetically ironic than the fact that Mitt Romney said any of the campaign-damning nuggets out loud was that Barack Obama still had such a difficult time beating him anyway.

Which makes perfect sense given the difficulty the President has had in communicating his own domestic agenda to the public in the last four years. If Fox News can be credited with any substantive coverage during his first term, it’s that watching the Affordable Care Act be fashioned did carry all the aesthetics of sitting in a disease-ridden sausage factory. His success in demonstrating the worst of Washington in the process (closed door meetings, back-room deals, palpable derision, and the lack of civility, all of which fueled the fires of an already crippling legislative bipartisanship) had less to do with smear campaigns from conservative punditry than the president’s damn-the-lobbyists-full-speed-ahead pragmatism. With great credit to his own volition, the president couldn’t have stood in starker contrast to the candidate who came to power promising to change the culture of American politics – likely a foolish commitment to begin with.

But by winning the 2012 election, this means that suddenly everyone loved Obamacare all along? The legislation may have earned immunity from being repealed before its implementation, but health care wasn’t the center of the 2012 election. No single issue was. It was more so the fact that an activist president descending into the ugliest of politics to achieve his larger ideological goals was evidently more appealing than someone who thinks half the country is a bunch of slackers, but not by much. Even after Hurricane Sandy solidified these character archetypes, the popular margin was still razor thin (by ’96 standards).

It would behoove the professional left to think of the race on these terms, lest they risk turning into the GOP circa 2004 — doomed by their own elation at being the center of gravity for too long. Fine if Nate Silver’s math is a fitting damnation of the right’s ignorance of facts, but the proper lesson to glean from Dick Morris’s embarrassment is not letting ideology interrupt analysis — a lesson conservatives have yet to get their heads around. If the “coalition” is to maintain its strength through the mountainous challenges ahead (such as the upcoming fiscal cliff) it’d be better not to categorize themselves as anything less than just that – a coalition of disrespected outcasts.

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