President Barack Obama easily won re-election, as was expected by the members of the reality-based community of statisticians based on the poll averages. His final electoral vote total will be either 303 or 332 depending on Florida. All those pundits who sneered at the statisticians and listened to their ‘gut’ which told them that Mitt Romney was going to win would do well to remember Carl Sagan’s response when he was asked what his gut feeling was about an issue for which there was no convincing evidence either way. He replied, “I try not to think with my gut.” If you want an exhaustive list of pundit predictions for the election, see here. Of course, one of the benefits of being a modern pundit is that there is no price to be paid whatsoever for not just being totally wrong but for being stupidly wrong by ignoring data.
While watching the returns come in last night, it was pretty clear even before 9:00 pm that Obama was going to win. Based on the returns from the various precincts, the statisticians in the news organizations have a pretty good idea of how the election is going long before they project the winner for each state and their tone and expressions usually reveal what is going on. When Florida and North Carolina were not called soon after the polls closed, it was clear that the last-minute ‘Romney surge’ that his deluded backers were pinning their hopes on was not going to materialize. At that point I knew that Obama was going to win and the only thing of interest was to see how close he would get to the predicted count and see how the other races and issues in the election would turn out.
This was a largely content-free campaign. The Romney camp was right in that Obama did not really present an agenda for his second term. Meanwhile Romney managed to run on a fraudulent economic agenda in which he promised to cut taxes, raise defense spending, reduce overall spending, and balance the budget, presumably with the aid of fairies. What was remarkable was how rarely he was pushed by the media to produce even the barest of the outlines of numbers to back up his claim. He also changed his positions repeatedly without a hint of shame and without eliciting hoots of derision. Add to this his refusal to release his tax returns and we have opened the door for future candidates to run by ignoring their past, hiding their present, and not revealing their plans for the future, as long as they check off certain ideological boxes that appeal to the party faithful. What this election has shown is that a candidate who is so brazen can win the nomination of a major political party.
While it is encouraging that Romney was trounced in the electoral college count, the fact that he could garner the support of a hefty chunk of the electorate, close to half the population, is deeply disturbing. Is this a high-water mark of support for such a dishonest campaign or is it a sign of worse to come? In coming days, I will try to see what the future might hold, as I did after the 2008 election.
There is no question that we saw a vicious level of overt and covert racial animosity to Obama that was sickening. All the code words in which he was portrayed as not really American and did not share American values (spoken by recognized Republican and religious leaders) and all the dog-whistles such as the cruder charges of being a Kenyan/Muslim/Communist usurper, and the calls that ‘we’ (i.e., white people) should take ‘our’ country back (Whenever I hear that I am reminded of the classic Mad magazine parody in which Tonto asks the Lone Ranger, “What do you mean ‘we’, Kemo Sabe?”) were ugly and despicable. I have not been Barack Obama’s biggest fan but I am glad that he won convincingly so that these people could not have the satisfaction of seeing their vitriol pay off.
Obama has now done again what he does best, which is campaign for office. There is no question that he knows how to put together an excellent campaign operation that is disciplined and effective, able to deal calmly with setbacks like his first debate and not panic. He was able to overcome once again not just being black but also having a foreign-sounding name that had Muslim overtones, and that he had a childhood background that was, to put it mildly, highly unusual. In his favor, there has never been even a hint of personal corruption and it did not hurt that his own family is like the Huxtables. I think that all these things undoubtedly reflect credit on him and enabled him to withstand and overcome all the viciousness aimed at him.
But what must never be forgotten is that he is also a servant of the oligarchy and it is now essential to keep a close eye on what he tries to do. Freed from the constraints of needing to get re-elected, he may strive to ingratiate himself with the moneyed classes that run this country by doing things that please them. One danger sign is if he starts talking about the need for a ‘grand bargain’ to avert the ‘fiscal cliff’. These are code words to signal attacks on the middle class and the poor and I will have more on it later.
But for now, I take pleasure in having the smirks wiped off the faces of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan and their racist supporters. And for such small mercies, I am grateful.