Thursday, November 29, 2012

Nuts & Bolts

1. Anonymous commenting for this blog is now enabled.  Comment at will.

2. I tweet (occasionally).  Follow me here.

3. Today's photo news: "I'm glad you like the room, but only I am allowed to stand on the seal."

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Fossils Unearthed

Proving once again that the House Republicans are impervious to modernity, their Steering Committee announced new committee chairmen for the coming Congress, all of whom are men.  Nothing to worry about, though... it's not as if the GOP just lost a presidential election because of a massive gender gap.

And heading up the Science, Space, and Technology Committee is Lamar Smith, a Christian Scientist.  (Although the alternatives were not promising either.)

Election Post-Mortem

As the final voting tallies from November 6 roll in, Obama's popular vote lead has grown to about 3.5%, well over 4 million votes.  A few pundits, like Dave Weigel and David Corn, have observed (with glee) that Romney's total percentage will round out to 47%, confirming for posterity that he was the 47% candidate in every possible way.  (This must be especially gratifying for Corn, who published the September 17th story of the Romney 47% video in Mother Jones that crippled his campaign until the first debate, if not permanently.)

The popular vote data has more interesting stories to tell.  Check out this 2008-2012 National Vote Tracker.  A few quick reactions:

  • Maybe it goes without saying, but a lot of swing states weren't nearly as close as expected.  Wisconsin (7pts), Colorado (5.5pts), Iowa (6pts), even Virginia (4pts).
  • Some swing states were not really swing states.  Pennsylvania was clearly going Obama, but Michigan was a total blowout.  A nearly 10pt win for Obama there made Michigan less competitive than Missouri or Georgia.
  • Obama lost Georgia by less than 8pts.  Hello Atlanta.
  • Obama lost once reliably Democratic West Virginia by 27pts.  Goodbye coal country.
  • Nobody lives in Wyoming or North Dakota.
  • Washington D.C.'s vote total went up 10.5% since 2008.
  • Hurricane Sandy effect?: between 2008-2012 the raw vote drop in New York was 17.08% and in New Jersey 8.63%.  Nationally the raw vote dropped 2.94%.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Filibuster Debate

Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid squared off today in a battle over a possible change to the Senate rules regarding the filibuster.  McConnell, as leader of the minority, naturally is opposed to any such reform.  He thought differently back in 2005 when he was in the majority, but ever since 2006 he's learned to love the filibuster, as this helpful color-coded chart from Kevin Drum illustrates:


Apparently the debate got a little feisty today and McConnell told a few untruths that Ezra Klein caught, one of which was an invocation of Constitutional principles about protecting the rights of the minority.  Klein writes (and of course he's right) that this argument is a shameless abuse of history.  There is no filibuster rule in the Constitution.  Nor was the Senate supposed to operate in a markedly different or more deliberate fashion than the House.  As Sarah Binder's super-handy history of the filibuster explains, their respective rule books "were nearly identical" in 1789.
Both rulebooks included what is known as the “previous question” motion. The House kept their motion, and today it empowers a simple majority to cut off debate. The Senate no longer has that rule on its books.

What happened to the Senate’s rule? In 1805, Vice President Aaron Burr was presiding over the Senate (freshly indicted for the murder of Alexander Hamilton), and he offered this advice. He said something like this. You are a great deliberative body. But a truly great Senate would have a cleaner rule book. Yours is a mess. You have lots of rules that do the same thing. And he singles out the previous question motion. Now, today, we know that a simple majority in the House can use the rule to cut off debate. But in 1805, neither chamber used the rule that way. Majorities were still experimenting with it. And so when Aaron Burr said, get rid of the previous question motion, the Senate didn’t think twice. When they met in 1806, they dropped the motion from the Senate rule book. Why? Not because senators in 1806 sought to protect minority rights and extended debate. They got rid of the rule by mistake: Because Aaron Burr told them to.
And the first time the filibuster was ever used?  1841, when William King, this guy, threatened Henry Clay with a filibuster after Clay tried to bring an end to debate over re-chartering the Second Bank of the United States.

So enough with the Founding Fathers nonsense regarding the filibuster.  They didn't trust the masses of people to vote in elections, but they fully expected Congress to vote on bills.  Nowadays we seem to do the opposite.  It's time to fix that.

A Few More Climate Thoughts...

As climate change hurls more disasters our way, it would help to have a modern infrastructure designed to better handle crises. James Surowiecki and Nicholas Kristof make the case that we ought to be investing a lot more.  Both argue that decades of low taxes have resulted in roads, bridges, levees, and power lines in pitiful shape after half a century of fixes on the cheap.  My new senator has made the same point.

Meanwhile, Kristof links his case to the latest report from the NOAA on the state of the climate.  Here's the part that caught my attention (emphasis mine):
The average temperature across land and ocean surfaces during October was 14.63°C (58.23°F). This is 0.63°C (1.13°F) above the 20th century average and ties with 2008 as the fifth warmest October on record. The record warmest October occurred in 2003 and the record coldest October occurred in 1912. This is the 332nd consecutive month with an above-average temperature. The last below-average month was February 1985. The last October with a below-average temperature was 1976. The Northern Hemisphere ranked as the seventh warmest October on record, while the Southern Hemisphere ranked as second warmest, behind 1997.
October 1976, apparently the last October it was cold by global standards, was the month I was born.  I don't remember being especially chilly at the time, but I'll take the NOAA's word for it.  Now I have to shake the feeling that my birth was somehow the harbinger of earth's doom.

The Age of Climate

It was difficult for a student in history, even for an Americanist, to avoid encountering the work of the brilliant historian Eric Hobsbawm while blundering through graduate school.  He was too influential.  He wrote for the most part about Europe and he wrote without apology as a committed Marxist.

Hobsbawm died two months ago, 95 years old.  Most people, if they've heard of or read Hobsbawm, know him as the historian that re-classified the centuries, the long 19th century from 1789 to 1914, the short 20th century from 1914-1991.  It was his way of defining eras (although he took his inspiration from Braudel) as his book titles make clear: The Age of Revolution, 1789-1848The Age of Capital, 1848-1875The Age of Empire, 1875-1914; The Age of Extremes, 1914-1991.

I was thinking about Hobsbawm in those October weeks when the presidential election was thrown into doubt after the first debate.  Contemplating a 21st century unfolding under the leadership of Mitt Romney and a resurgent Republican Party was, well, unsettling, and it helped in those doubt-ridden moments to take a longer view of events—Hobsbawm is good for that sort of thinking.  And then inevitably, I couldn't help but wonder (probably like everyone else who read his books) what sort of title our strange 21st century deserves.  The answer I arrived at (pretty quickly, too) was this: we are in the century of the environment, the age of climate change.

Global warming is a corrupted public debate that really shouldn't be a debate at all.  The science is quite clear and absolutely dire.  Yet somehow there's a significant portion of the national population that does not believe it or doesn't care.  Right-wing media deserves some of the blame.  It's easy, for instance, to vilify Fox News for spreading misinformation, and we should since they reach such a large audience.  On the other hand there's a good argument to be made that anyone watching a show with hosts this vapid is really looking to be misled.  The editors at the Wall St. Journal opinion page, however, really ought to know better.  They published this letter by 16 scientists—at least half of whom were linked to the oil and gas industry—claiming there was nothing to worry about regarding global warming.  Afterwards the Washington Post and Forbes called the Journal out for biased journalism.  Forbes noted that the Journal editors not only published a letter riddled with falsehoods, but refused to publish this letter from 255 other scientists arguing, with actual facts, that global warming was real. (Yes, when Forbes takes on the WSJ, something is afoot.)

If Forbes isn't compelling enough, it might be worth considering this 2011 column from that radical tree-hugging pinko hippie rag known as the Economist:
A HUNDRED years from now, looking back, the only question that will appear important about the historical moment in which we now live is the question of whether or not we did anything to arrest climate change. Everything else—the financial crisis, the life or death of the euro, authoritarianism or democracy in China and Russia, the Great Stagnation or the innovation renaissance, democratisation and/or political Islam in the Arab world, Newt or Mitt or another four years of Barack—all this will fade into insignificance beside the question of whether we managed to do anything about human industrial civilisation changing the climate of Planet Earth.
(Side note: Brits are great—see my love-fest for Hobsbawm above—but they need to use more Zs.  "Civilisation" looks too weird to me.)

When climate scientists and environmentalists present the unvarnished truth, the scope of the challenge that climate change presents humanity becomes all too clear.  James Hansen, NASA scientist and modern-day climate Cassandra, has been publicly calling for urgent action on climate change ever since he testified before Congress about global warming in 1988.  This spring he published an editorial in the New York Times about the Canadian plan to extract oil from its tar sands that would mean "Game Over for the Climate."  And that piece was not nearly so grim as Bill McKibben's article in Rolling Stone, "Global Warming's Terrifying New Math," which lays out the tremendous financial stake the fossil fuel companies have in continuing to sell oil, gas, and coal.

As October rolled by, it was all the more depressing to realize that climate change, the most important issue of our time, went virtually unmentioned in the presidential election.  Not one of the moderators during the debates raised a question about it.  But, as McKibben has noted, nature will provide a series of "teachable moments" as global temperatures continue to rise.  Hurricane Sandy was the latest, causing Michael Bloomberg to endorse Obama and Businessweek to publish this cover article in the last week of the campaign.

It would be tempting to read into recent developments, like the acceptance of the climate change scientific consensus by centrist publications like Forbes, the Economist, and Businessweek, that the public debate had passed a tipping point and political action might ensue.  It's hard to say, though, since all the political oxygen is getting sucked up by the "fiscal cliff" debate (a jaw dropping irony in which the entire fourth estate agreed to call something that isn't really a crisis at all an apocalyptic name while politicians continue to ignore climate change).

One dismal view is that, as Sandy recedes in the rear-view mirror, climate change will again sink back into the black hole of national politics.  After all, there isn't much incentive for Democrats to raise policy initiatives designed to fight climate change when the House is controlled by Republicans who deny that climate change is occurring.  In fact, the chairman of the House Committee on Energy and the Environment, John Shimkus, had this to say about rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide:
It's plant food ... So if we decrease the use of carbon dioxide, are we not taking away plant food from the atmosphere? ... So all our good intentions could be for naught. In fact, we could be doing just the opposite of what the people who want to save the world are saying.
Yikes.  We're in trouble.  And while Republican congressmen are the worst offenders, it doesn't help that a supposedly common-sense Republican intellectual (and in this case I use that term loosely) like David Brooks blamed the politicizing of global warming on Al Gore and not Republicans like Shimkus.  Why?  Because Gore made An Inconvenient Truth and won a Nobel prize.  After that, according to Brooks, "no Republican could stand shoulder to shoulder with him and survive."  It's a stunner of an analysis, not unlike blaming Lincoln for politicizing emancipation or Gandhi for politicizing nonviolence—"No British imperialist could stand shoulder to shoulder with Gandhi and survive."  So true, David.

On the more optimistic side, some people who are fighting for science, for humanity, and for the earth refuse to be silenced.  They continue to shift the public discourse.  The New York Times featured a series on Hurricane Sandy in this week's Sunday Review.  Bloomberg has written about growing momentum for a carbon tax for which even Exxon-Mobil has recently indicated support.  Whether the tax becomes reality or not in the coming year (and it's a crazy long shot), the business consensus is building that it will be better to transition to a low-carbon economy in a predictable way facilitated by a tax rather than abrupt emergency actions taken after disasters. Meanwhile, multiple outlets have called for Obama to use his executive authority and the expansive powers of the EPA to fight climate change without Congress. Fredd Krupp in Politico wrote that Obama should take immediate steps to limit methane leaks from natural gas distribution. Chris Mooney in Mother Jones offered this five part climate plan for Obama's second term.

It still looks bleak, but with Obama in the White House and in charge of the EPA, there's a chance for progress in the next four years.  What we really need, of course, is consensus for action from across our political spectrum and across the international community.  Republicans have to make this their cause too.  Climate change is the great test of our era.  Sooner or later we will all be soldiers in this fight.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Now Playing

Laura Cantrell's Humming By The Flowered Vine.

For a good post-Thanksgiving, snack-on-leftovers-while-grading-papers atmosphere.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

On a day of Thanksgiving, it's worth a moment to remember what Woody Guthrie asked a long time ago.
In the squares of the city - In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office - I see my people
And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin'
If this land's still made for you and me.



The Great Depression... when the 47% and the 99% were one and the same.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Or Old Conservatism...

Robert Becker in Salon thinks Republican "rebranding" is a joke.

New Conservatism?

David Brooks arrives at the conclusion that the intellectual future of conservatism is bright because of an "epidemic of open-mindedness" since November 6.  Unfortunately for Brooks, Ross Douthat had already pointed to this vibrancy of conservative thinking in a 2010 blog post in which he mentioned many of the same names Brooks apparently just discovered this month.  Moreover, Douthat argued the problem was not so much in "epistemic closure" but in the link (or lack thereof) between conservative thinkers and Republican politicians.
"Conservative domestic policy would be in better shape if conservative magazines and conservative columnists were more willing to call out Republican politicians (and, to a lesser extent, conservative entertainers) for offering bromides instead of substance, and for pandering instead of grappling with real policy questions.
 Brooks offers no such analysis.  Not only is he about two years behind, he is constructing an imagined narrative of conservative resurrection.  "The party," he says, "will evolve quickly."  That may yet be the case, but it is hard to see why should anyone take Brooks's word for it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Waterloo

Was there ever a moment in which conservative fears led to such decisive and extraordinary action as the debate over secession in 1860-61?  The meaning of secession, and thus the meaning of the Civil War, has been so smothered in deceit that it can come as a shock to return to the clarity of the original debates.  What they perceived, rightly or wrongly, in the election of Lincoln was the death knell of their slave society.  South Carolina, which led the exodus from the Union in December 20, 1860, justified their action by citing "an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery."  Mississippi, which voted to leave the Union January 9, 1861, was even more blunt in its declaration of secession: "Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world."

When we approach this moment each year in my history class, I usually ask my students to read Governor Joseph Brown's open letter to the Georgia state convention considering secession in December 1860.  Brown's arguments in favor of secession were almost entirely speculative.  Nonetheless, the letter is remarkably compelling because he directed it towards poor white Georgians who, he argued, had a significant stake in the slave economy despite not owning any slaves themselves.  It is the specter of economic catastrophe that gives the letter its power and its veneer of objectivity.  What did Brown see on the horizon with a Republican in the White House?  "My candid opinion is, that it will be the total abolition of slavery, and the utter ruin of the South, in less than twenty-five years."  And the consequences for poor whites of an inevitable Republican policy of abolition were particularly dire:
There are, in round numbers, 4,500,000 slaves in the Southern States. They are worth, at a low estimate, 500 dollars each. All will agree to this. Multiply the 4,500,000 by 500 and you have twenty-two hundred and fifty millions of dollars, which these slaves are worth. No one would agree that it is right to rob the Southern slaveholders of this vast sum of money without compensation. The Northern States would not agree to pay their proportion of the money, and the people of the South must be taxed to raise the money.... Suppose we had ten years within which to raise the $150,000,000, we should then have to raise, in addition to our present tax, $15,000,000 per annum, or over thirty times as much as we now pay.—The poor man, who now pays one dollar, would then have to pay $30.00. If the sum is to be raised by the tax upon others, the nonslaveholders and poor white men of the South, would have to pay nearly the whole of this enormous sum, out of their labor. This would load them and their children with grievous indebtedness and heavy taxes for a long time to come.
(As it turned out, no taxation was needed to compensate slaveholders for their lost property, since initiating a titanic civil war gave the Union a good excuse to confiscate Confederate property, including slaves, without paying them a dime in exchange.)

One broader point here is that if you were to replace all the references to slavery in the latter half of Brown's paragraph and replace them with, say, contemporary language about health care reform, it would sound pretty familiar.  It has always been an easy political play to predict the horrifying consequences of an opponent's victory, even when that opponent has taken great pains to speak and act moderately.  Lincoln was well aware of the feverish politics of slavery, but even he must have felt bewildered to watch all these states point to him as they seceded, although he had not even taken office yet.  You can almost hear the exasperation in his 1st Inaugural Address when he repeated—and declared that he was repeating—what he had already stated in other speeches:
I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.
But the South was seized in the grip of fear, for their slaves, for their society, for their future.  It makes it all the more ironic that they pursued the course of action that most swiftly destroyed all three.  Why not compromise?  That is always a worthwhile question.  Conservatives have too often used hyperbolic rhetoric to construct a "reality" in which drawing a line in the sand and refusing to step over it appears to be their only political option.  But as Joseph Brown discovered, standing athwart history yelling Stop is all well and good until William Tecumseh Sherman  comes your way with a mind to take Atlanta.  David Frum reminded conservatives of that same wisdom a couple years ago, when Republicans met their Waterloo at the hands of Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama.

It's a hard learned lesson.  I asked my students what they found more convincing, Joseph Brown's open letter or Abraham Lincoln's 1st Inaugural.  Over two-thirds said Joseph Brown.

2016 Watch

The Republican quest for greater relevance to the American electorate has its first albatross sighting.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Now Playing

The Staple Singers, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, 1961.

Don't knock, just walk on in.

Luck?

Center-right political commentary, even from the most reputable journalistic sources, has to constantly reaffirm its center-rightness lest it be accused of being ludicrously ultra-conservative or, worse, liberal.  This compulsion frequently leads to absurd admonitions of Democrats.  Consider, for instance, the reaction of The Economist to Obama's reelection:
This newspaper endorsed Mr Obama and is glad he won, but he was lucky: lucky for the second time to have faced a less fluent opponent weighed down by his party’s trunkful of baggage; lucky that the American economy perked up, a little, just when he needed it to; maybe lucky even that Hurricane Sandy appeared when it did. Mr Obama fought an appallingly negative campaign and scraped a victory in both the swing states and the popular vote (which he won by only 2.4%, the lowest ever for a successfully re-elected president).
Luck can play a role in elections, to be sure.  In 1980, when a helicopter crashed during Operation Eagle Claw, I think it's fair to say that was a stroke of luck for Reagan and terrible bad luck for Carter.  In 1960, when Richard Nixon injured himself while campaigning and did not recover fully from his hospital stay before the first debate with Kennedy, that's luck too.

But Obama's reelection in 2012 was not about luck.  That the Republicans nominated Mitt Romney was not good luck for Obama... Republicans decided to do that.  That Romney was the best electoral choice of the clowns on parade in the primary was also not a matter of luck, but of choice.  The Republican Party chose to move to the far right and better candidates (Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels) did not run for a reason.  The "trunkful of baggage" that the Republican Party piled on Romney's back is part and parcel of their legislative strategy of complete obstruction.  They chose an extreme strategy because they subscribe to extreme politics.  That isn't luck.  Had they been a normal opposition party, Obama might have had a more successful first term.  Nor is it lucky the economy perked up.  Obama was voted into office to salvage the economy.  He didn't do an amazing job even by liberal measures.  But he owns the meager recovery.  If editorialists and voters are going to hold Presidents responsible for the economy (a dubious attribution), then they shouldn't dismiss the good news as luck.

Hurricane Sandy?  Okay, forces of nature probably fall in the luck category.  But post-disaster presidential photo-ops aren't luck at all.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Oh Dear


From a New York Times contribution of Matt Kibbe, the leader of FreedomWorks, on Republican strategies for 2016:

Clearly anyone wanting to capture the Republican nomination for 2016 should realize that they will need a bold fiscal conservative economic vision to win supporters of the Tea Party community that started coming together in 2008 after George W. Bush introduced the TARP program. 
The strength of this community, bound by a set of values, is everything.

The Tea Party will not move towards the nation.  The nation must move to the Tea Party.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Students Ask...

Students lined up to ask questions of a panel I was a part of tonight regarding the election and the state of American politics going forward.  Here's some of what they asked:

  • Is there any hope for climate change legislation?
  • Just how steep is the fiscal cliff?
  • Just what are the automatic cuts in the fiscal cliff?
  • Will the Republican Party move to the center, mirroring the New Democrats of the 1990s, or remain on the far right because of the influence of the Tea Party?
  • Will Congress break out of gridlock?
  • Will Congress pass immigration reform, specifically some version of the Dream Act?
  • Will same-sex marriage recognition move forward and on what path?  Through legislation, an Amendment, or the courts?
  • Can we make the election process more efficient?
  • How should we measure the effects of Citizens United?
  • How will women voters continue to shape future elections?
  • What is the future of our foreign policy with China?
  • Is the American Dream still alive?  Can people still move upward in society in the same way they might have even ten years ago?

Seems to me like they're matching the Washington press corps question for question.

Moderate Wisdom

David Brooks in today's New York Times on the left-wing "strategy of confrontation and conquest" regarding the fiscal cliff:
It’s reckless to think you can manufacture an economic crisis for political leverage and then control the cascading results
David Brooks in May 2011 on the opening of the debt ceiling negotiations:
There is a lot going on behind the scenes of the debate over how to raise the federal debt-ceiling limit. Something good might happen. 
Events are being driven by the Republican leaders. The playing field on the debt-ceiling fight is tilted in their direction, so they want to make this fight as consequential as possible. They want to use this occasion to reshape fiscal policy for decades.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Price

Garry Wills on What Romney Lost
What can be worse than to sell your soul and find it not valuable enough to get anything for it?

The New Republican Party?

Reasons for hope: Bill Kristol thinks Republicans should just take Obama's offer on higher taxes on millionaires.  This has led to a strange alternate reality where everyone in the liberal media is listening to Bill Kristol, while the right tries its best to ignore him.

Reasons for skepticism: The rejection of moderation by Cathy McMorris Rodgers.  And (sigh) the anti-science whackjobs angling for chair of the House Science Committee.  Not fantastic news for those of us who think fighting climate change is kind of a priority after New York City flooded and all.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Election 2012


It’s been five days since President Obama won a second term with comfortable if not commanding margins in the electoral college and the popular vote (now 3+ million and still counting in a few areas).  The universe of pundits seems to have arrived at a consensus that the Republican Party has a serious demographic problem.  (That Romney lost after winning 60% of the white vote probably tipped them off.)  Nor does it appear to be easily or swiftly solvable.  It would be one thing if many non-white Americans didn’t like Republican leaders; it is a substantially more intractable problem that many Republican leaders don’t seem to like non-white Americans.  So it’s no surprise that many of the questions being asked run along the lines of: “How will Republicans adapt to this new American electorate?”; “Can Republicans reach Hispanic voters?”; “How can Republicans appeal to more women?” etc. etc.

I’m not sure I have the wisest answers, but I am reasonably certain those aren't the right questions.  Tactical policy reversals on immigration, gay rights, drug laws, and even tax reform—if they come about—would not provide a long-term solution to the dilemma of right-wing America.  If 2012 is to mean anything worthwhile to the future of the Republican Party (and therefore to the future of America), it has to take the form of an ideological reckoning.

From my perch as a teacher of US history, it is hard not to draw parallels to past moments of political crisis.  To me, the state of American politics between 2000-2012 has resembled most closely the ideological rigidity of the 1840s and 1850s, when the destiny of the nation was inseparable from the future of slavery.  Policy was not the driver of events in those decades, not really...  two different worldviews were in conflict.  As various compromises and “solutions” to the slavery issue fell apart, it became increasingly evident that legislative resolution would never work so long as the existence of divergent worldviews of Northerners and Southerners, free labor vs. slave labor, was at stake.

Worldviews are usually reliant on mythologies.  Over decades the Old South built a mythology around the twin pillars of paternalism and honor, both of which rested on the foundation of chattel slavery.  Identity, manhood, community life, religion, and every other cultural measure of the South emanated from this mythology.  Slaves were happy; planters were benevolent; family was celebrated; society was stable; tradition was honored; the South was blessed by a Christian God.  It was a decidedly conservative mythology and, like all powerful mythologies, it drew upon truths as well as falsehoods.  Utterly convinced of the superiority of their civilization, slaveholders dismissed all the signs that contradicted their worldview.  (Why was it that hundreds of slaves fled the South, while none voluntarily returned?)  Reality came in the form of a great Civil War when ranks of former slaves took up arms against slaveholders.  The Union marched.

The Republican Party in the 21st century has its own peculiar worldview that stems from the mythology of 20th century right-wing America.  Although this mythology draws far more from neoliberalism than conservatism, its resonance with the antebellum South is compelling: the free market brings liberty and happiness to those who work; the wealthy are benevolent job creators; heteronormative families are celebrated; society is stable (or could be if we protected our borders and deported illegal immigrants); tradition is honored (in red states); an exceptional America is blessed by a Christian God.  Should we wonder at the eerie overlay of the old Confederacy and the current Republican South?

The point, then, is not how Republicans will rethink their policy positions going forward, but will they have the courage and capacity to re-imagine their worldview?  Until Tuesday, Republicanism was a creed more than it was a set of legislative priorities.  History was abused for the sake of ideology.  The Founding Fathers were deified.  Americans owed sacred fidelity to Constitutional scripture.  The faithful professed their piety with an anti-tax pledge, anti-science dogma, and anti-data prejudice.  The apostates were purged from the party.  (For this reason, Frank Rich does not hold out much hope for real Republican change.)

Peggy Noonan unwittingly offered some of the best evidence of a self-contained, hermetically sealed Republican worldview on Monday, the day before the election.  Her prediction: a Romney victory.  


There is no denying the Republicans have the passion now, the enthusiasm. The Democrats do not. Independents are breaking for Romney. And there’s the thing about the yard signs. In Florida a few weeks ago I saw Romney signs, not Obama ones. From Ohio I hear the same. From tony Northwest Washington, D.C., I hear the same. 
Is it possible this whole thing is playing out before our eyes and we’re not really noticing because we’re too busy looking at data on paper instead of what’s in front of us? Maybe that’s the real distortion of the polls this year: They left us discounting the world around us.

As a professor of mine used to say, you can’t make this shit up.  Nor could anyone have foreseen Karl Rove’s now-legendary temper tantrum on Fox News on election night, but it makes a lot of sense in hindsight.  Defeat usually doesn't make people freak out, but existential crises do.  That, I think, is the significance of Obama’s victory.