South Boston News & Record
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Got his number
SoVaNow.com / November 08, 2012It was too perfect — well, exactly point-four-six percent off the mark from being too perfect — that I awoke Wednesday, as an Obama voter, finding myself a member of Halifax County’s newest brethren: Election Day’s 47 percenters.
Tuesday’s final result in Halifax: Romney 52.13 percent, Obama 46.54 percent. Not a bad showing for the President considering everything the community has been through since 2008, when Obama tallied 48 percent of the vote in Halifax County en route to the White House. Leaving aside the argument of who did what to cause or prolong the Great Recession, the plain fact of the matter is that it’s been a rough four years for far too many folks hereabouts. The guy at the top is always going to have a tough time steering clear of the blame for a bad economy. Yet Obama’s standing barely slipped in Halifax County despite the worst headwinds since George Clooney sailed his fishing vessel into the Perfect Storm. Something is going on here.
Nationally, there are trends afoot that should be deeply disquieting to conservatives, although can I interrupt the narrative here long enough to cite one outcome from Tuesday night that just maybe, pretty please, everyone can celebrate as an unadulterated win for America? Never have so many billionaires thrown so much of their money into the rat poison of shadow campaigns and gotten so little in return for their investment. Heckuva job, chumps.
Thus ends the triumphalism of the morning after the election. Congratulations to both campaigns for carrying out the essential business of democracy American-style, and we’ll do it again next year (and that’s probably being optimistic about the timetable). Meantime, the only other thing Americans of different stripes might agree on is that this was a bitter and nasty campaign, and we should all be glad it’s over. I can honestly say the overriding emotion I felt after the race was called for Obama Tuesday night was relief. Relief at the outcome, obviously, because in my humble opinion the best man won. But more than that, relief because maybe now we can go back to the mundane task of raising families, doing our jobs and handling life’s ups and downs without feeling as though every encounter with neighbors, Facebook friends and fellow citizens could break out into verbal fisticuffs, if not the real thing, at the first off-putting thought.
It was a bitter election. It was not, nattering pundits to the contrary, a small one. There were big issues at stake. None is bigger than the one President Obama put his finger on during the impassioned, soaring victory speech he delivered early Wednesday morning: the need to strengthen the bonds of community in this great but imperfect union of ours. (If you missed it, you might want to watch the President’s speech on the Internet. It was his only real moment of eloquence of the campaign.)
On the one hand, the presidential race presented us with an incumbent who has taken an activist approach to some of the most daunting problems this country has faced in many generations — with the result being measures like the stimulus, the auto industry bailout, Wall Street re-regulation, the new health care law and other steps that would have been unthinkable a few short year earlier. We can quarrel over the particulars of Obama’s record, to be sure, but the animating spirit behind it — that we as a country have the ability and the responsibility to tackle problems in a proactive way, rather than let nature (or the market) run its course — is clear.
On the other hand, the Republican ticket represented the culmination of a decades-long effort to thwart the very notion of government itself, or at least those parts that don’t directly benefit the GOP base. The immediate aim was to roll back what we have come to know as the welfare state, although the loaded nature of the term obscures what’s really at stake here — in sum, the welfare, security and individual dignity that flows (in part) from government programs that create a floor below which all citizens of America shall not fall. The welfare state covers everything from the legal requirement that hospital ERs must treat patients in need regardless of their ability to pay, to such mainstay programs as Social Security and Medicare that ensure that the old and vulnerable do not live out their last years in poverty. On the opposite end of the generational spectrum, you have programs such as food stamp benefits to help see that a child whose parent has just lost her job doesn’t go to bed hungry at night.
It is fair and reasonable to argue about the proper scope of these programs, but what we saw during the campaign was the Romney/Ryan ticket struggling to both justify and obscure the rough edges of its hostility for the welfare state. Mitt Romney, railing against Obamacare, at one point in the campaign insisted that everyone already has access to health care because we do in fact have hospital emergency rooms. Even if the point about access were true — it’s not — who in their right mind would seriously propose organizing the nation’s health care around the most expensive, under-the-gun part of the system? When Romney wasn’t being careless about the harsh realities that ordinary citizens face, he seemed blithely unconcerned by them. Unconcerned, for instance, that an Ohio autoworker might face the loss of his good-paying job because the entire industry was about to go under, or that a homeowner who bought into the market at the wrong time might face insolvency after the Lords of Finance had been hitting up the punchbowl for a good part of the past decade.
Which brings us back to the magic number of the campaign — the 47 percent we kept hearing about, thanks to whoever had the foresight to aim their cell phone camera at Mitt Romney as he was making his pitch to fat-cat donors behind closed doors. Romney’s was the quote for the ages: “I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Yes, of course he lost the election right then and there. But he was also honestly stating the mindset of his party (if not the reality: The Southern base of the GOP also happens to be the part of the country that most closely fits the description that Romney offered.) Fortunately, the country wasn’t buying it — and the coalition that rejected the Republican ticket represents millions of Americans both above and below the 47 percent meridian.
Same’s true for the 47 percent in Halifax County that voted for Obama. Goodness knows, our little community suffers from levels of dysfunction and dependence that I wish didn’t exist, but it’s never made sense to me how yanking Medicaid benefits, downsizing the student loan program or walking away from unemployed textile workers was supposed to help matters. You can never generalize about what people want or expect in life, but one thing I do know is that if we chose to organize government around the idea that moochers and parasites are overrunning society, then we ought to acknowledge that their numbers can be found in every tax bracket. Why does the conversation stop when someone brings up that point?
I don’t claim to pretend know how the Republican Party should respond to Tuesday’s defeat, although it would be nice if it would drop its strategy of total intransigence towards the President and cooperate on getting some big things done. To be fair, however, this isn’t advice I’d be so quick to take if the tables had been reversed this election season. People disagree about stuff; such is life. What Tuesday’s outcome affirms, though, is there’s a broad consensus in America that the government has a role to play in making this a better country — a role, by the way, that has nothing to do with monitoring what goes on in the privacy of people’s lives. Obama’s re-election firewall didn’t turn out to be Ohio or Wisconsin or Nevada so much as it was this basic belief. What the opposition chooses to do about it after Tuesday’s outcome is up to them.