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Opinion

The magic number

SoVaNow.com / November 14, 2012
Well, well: with a few scattered votes left to be counted one week after Election 2012, Mitt Romney has fallen into what must be unfamiliar territory for a card-carrying member of the plutocracy: among the 47 percent.

That is to say, with the 47.9 percent of Americans who backed the Romney/Ryan ticket, 58.9 million voters in all. It’s an impressive number, although not nearly as impressive as the 62.3 million voters who cast their ballots for four more years of Obama. (Many of the votes still outstanding are from the West Coast, where mail-in voting is prevalent. The divide between Obama and Romney is likely to grow a bit further as this last trickle of blue votes comes in). Even here in Mecklenburg County, a traditional GOP stronghold, Obama received just a hair under 46 percent of the vote last week, not far off his 47.25 percent share in 2008.

It was a remarkable showing by the incumbent, considering everything rural Southside has been through in the past four years. 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, far too many folks in the community. The guy at the top is always going to take a portion of the blame for bad economic times. Yet Obama’s standing barely slipped in Mecklenburg 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 this week-after narrative long enough to celebrate one outcome from Tuesday night that just maybe, pretty please, everyone can agree is an unadulterated win for America? Never have so many billionaires thrown so much of their money down the rat hole of shadow campaigns and gotten so little in return for their investment. Heckuva job, chumps.

On second thought, here’s another result from last week that everyone can celebrate: the long, grueling, emotionally wearying campaign is over. Thank goodness. I can honestly say the main feeling I experienced after the race was called over 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 day-to-day living 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 victory speech he delivered early Wednesday morning last week: the need to strengthen the bonds of brotherhood and 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 choice in the presidential race offered 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 decisions that might have seemed unthinkable a few short years 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 their patients who need help 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. A few welfare programs benefit those who do not work, but in the main these programs help working families stay afloat. How many families could afford long-term care for elderly relatives without a program such as Medicaid?

It is fair and reasonable to argue about the proper scope of the welfare state and how much it should cost, but what we just saw during this campaign was the Romney/Ryan ticket struggling to both justify and hide 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 in fact we do have hospital emergency rooms that provide mandated care. 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?

Which brings us back to the magic number of the campaign — the 47 percent we kept hearing about, thanks to the unknown food services worker who had the foresight to aim a cell phone camera at Mitt Romney as he was pitching fat-cat donors behind closed doors. Among Romney’s now-famous diatribe was this quote for the ages: “I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Yes, of course Mitt Romney 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 46 percent in Mecklenburg 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 privatizing Medicare benefits, downsizing the student loan program or turning one’s back on unemployed factory 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 recognize that their numbers can be found in every tax bracket. Why does the conversation come to a halt in Washington 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.







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