Why 2012 Is Not Like 2000

This post is my meta post-election round-up post. As such, it’s all over the place. Do with that as you will.
First on my plate is the hand-wringing among many democrats that we all be magnanimous with this win. Beyond the appeal to a certain moral ethic, this is couched in grand allusions to karma: don’t forget how we felt in 2000 when Bush won.

This strikes me as an odd thing to say. I’ll mostly leave the morality ethic alone. But to the latter point about 2000 I can only say that this is a complete misreading or mis-remembering of 2000.

The democrats didn’t lose in 2000. There was a great deal of despair and many emotionally overwrought appeals from progressives in 2000 but it wasn’t simply because the dems lost. It is because the election was stolen. Or, to be more politically correct: it was “won” on a technicality. I’d argue that the extremity of the progressive response to Bush’s 2000 win is as much about the system being unfairly manipulated as it was about Bush winning. And I’d say that was pretty fair. Naive perhaps, but fair. It’s tough to have the curtain pulled away from the disgusting internal mechanizations of politics. Just ask the Wizard. In 2000 the Left was angry and hurt and loud about it because hanging chads are supposed to effing fall off to protect us from the Wizard! There was a very real fear, based on empirical evidence, that the political system could not be trusted to even lie to us about our right to political representation. America’s modern political machine looked fragile, weak, and paid for and we weren’t making that up because our guy lost.

In contrast, Obama didn’t cheat in 2012. He didn’t call his brother, the leader of a battleground state, to nudge the results. It wasn’t even close. It was as fair a win as one can have in a political process so adrift in dark money and corporate interests as is ours. That does, indeed, make the emotionally distraught appeals to flee to Australia, hang the nigger president, and epithets for “real” America that the conservatives are dishing out in 2012 different than the liberal response to 2000.

So, maybe let’s stop making that comparison?

The obituaries of the Romney campaign are now being written. It’s typical post-election minutiae…and I love it. It’s the rare occasion that we get insight into how powerful people and institutions works. Some of the best articles I’ve read so far are about the data teams in the Obama campaign (almost all young-ish white guys, according to the pictures; it’s an interesting thing to analyze in the presidency of a black candidate) and the notion that somehow the team comprised of b-school strategists were gobsmacked by Romney’s loss.

There’s also some good commentary on how this diverse, fragile left might find a way to move forward together. It’s optimistic. I’m less so.

In part, that is because of what I’m not seeing in the post-election coverage. Lost in all the stories of what Romney did wrong is what Obama and his campaign did very right.

Yes, demographics are changing and they can be destiny. But to get too cocky about that is to forget historical lessons of minority rule, the inexorable ability of institutions to sustain and replicate themselves, and — most of all — just how unique Barack Obama is as a candidate.

This race isn’t won, this coalition doesn’t hold, this success isn’t inevitable if you have a democratic candidate that is not a soaring speaker, a brilliant strategist, and downright, insanely, insanely, insanely lucky. Or, a candidate surrounded by a team as vehemently devoted to him or her as they are politically savvy and well-connected. Obama wasn’t kidding in his speech election night when he said he has the best political team ever. They got a black man elected president in the United States. I mean…maybe that’s old hat by now but in the historical sweep of things it remains an incredible feat. That is to say, Obama is a needle in a haystack.  If we run Joe Schmoe from Ohio in four years there is no reason to believe that he or she will benefit from the demographic shifts that benefited Obama. That’s because, like every good candidate and leader, Obama shaped the electorate as much as it was shaped to produce an Obama presidency.

We forget this to our peril.

edited to add on 11/10/12

I came across the following passage in today’s reading:

Department of Education Secretary Robert H. Finch was quoted as saying that the recent presidential election Finch ” would be “the last election that will be
won by the un-black, the un-poor and the un-young.”

Finch said that in 1968 as then President Richard Nixon won 30 percent of the Latino vote, ending the dreaded terror of the black voting block.

I’m just saying. History is not on the side of a stable minority-majority voting block.

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