Into and Out of Thin Air: The Democratic Base
Across the great, seemingly insurmountable divide, things are no better.
Four years ago Barack Obama received the most votes for a presidential candidate in American history and he did it with relative ease. In the Hispanic communities he promised sweeping reform to immigration legislation that had been trampled on by the Republican machine. In predominantly black urban centers, he pledged greater social and economic programs to increase employment opportunities, reduce taxes and provide better services, to all around relieve the burden. And for the youth, he simply tuned into their demographic, becoming what would later be called the first ‘Facebook’ president. He spoke of high ideals, and he spoke well; he captured the imagination of millions who had either lost faith in or had never known their political system and built a base out of thin air.
Voter turnout that year was the highest it’s been in 40 years. African-American voter turnout jumped two percentage points, with 95 per cent voting Democrat. 66 per cent of Hispanic voters turned out to support Obama—the best ever return for a Democratic candidate—and 71 per cent of first-time voters sided with the American Left.
But four years later he has accomplished little on these fronts. Immigration reform has yet to materialize into anything more than that once-pledged promise with no comprehensive bill in sight. Unemployment among African-Americans hovered for a long time at 25-year high, hitting heights of 16.7 per cent and twice the national average, and losses in the House have forced Obama to compromise on a repeal of Bush Era tax cuts that lay a heavy financial burden on lower-income Americans while barely skimming the pockets of the wealthy. Promises made couldn’t be delivered fast enough under the weight of a slow-moving and at times stalled Democracy; between economic crisis, two foreign wars and a rash of political infighting his fragile base corroded, disillusioned or bored by what they perceived as inactivity and at times backwards mobility.
Maybe politics didn’t agree with them. Maybe they didn’t understand or maybe they held to tightly to the promise of Hope and Change. Whatever it was, they stayed home in 2010; Obama lost the midterm referendum along with 63 seats in the house, six seats in the senate and the base he had built out of thin air vanished back into it.
The Fight For Middle America
With both bases in relative disrepair, 2012 becomes a fight for America’s independents, the middle ground that holds no allegiance and on which neither side holds an edge. This election will be won and lost in places like Ohio, Indiana, Florida and North Carolina, the swing states, past, present and future.
For Obama it’s an uphill battle; he spent much of 2008 campaigning on Hope and Change in America’s battlegrounds and beat John McCain by an average of only 1.9 per cent. A second time around, loose rhetoric might be a hard sell after four years of doom and gloom and pitted against a more moderate candidate, the votes could fall against him.
But that more moderate candidate, let’s call him Mitt Romney, has problems of his own. Assuming it is Romney, he has spent the past ten months as part of the traveling circus, tangled in the twenty different Republican lines born of their base and has set no clear agenda. Mitt Romney the man has the resume and pedigree of a president, but Mitt Romney the candidate is a mystery so slung by mud thrown by his own party that it will be difficult for any undecided voter to like him let alone discern what his candidacy is all about.
Indeed there is work to be done from both ends. What both parties lack is landslide-like support but what the Republican Party lacks is more deep seated than that. They did themselves a disservice when they favored infighting over forward thinking; not only have they missed an opportunity to seize upon Obama’s wandering political base and subpar approval rating (below 50 per cent and falling among independents) but they have decimated the party from within, leaving no prospects, clarity or cohesion for the future. Mitt Romney represents one of the last moderate and maybe electable Republicans we might see on a national stage for a while; a win and the crowning of a definitive leader might be enough to bring this tea party back from the brink but to do so he will have to reboot his campaign on his terms. To win the swing states, the middle ground, Romney will have to run more than an “Anyone But Obama’ campaign. Obama will have to offer more than just words to do the same.