The reelection of President Barack Obama is provoking an avalanche of punditry that does not need more from me. I just want to note a handful of highlights that may get lost in the avalanche.
Most important, the result averted a calamitous injustice. If Obama had lost, it would have been a victory for obstruction, lies, distortion, deceit and racism. A cynical and shameless campaign, concocted four years ago by Republicans obsessed with dishonoring the new president, would have succeeded. Supporters of Romney even put forth a campaign argument that amounted to blackmail: since the stubborn Republican House of Representatives would never work with Obama, they said, the good of the nation demanded Romney as president.
There is some question about whether the margin of victory was large enough to give Obama a “mandate” and, if so, what is the nature of that mandate. The answers are simple. All elections that produce a president are decisive and the mandate is whatever the president would like so long as he does not provoke angry and widespread opposition. No president, after all, had less legitimacy and less of a mandate than George W. Bush who trailed his defeated opponent in popular votes and owed his final selection to a biased Supreme Court. Yet President Bush had no hesitation about leading his country into a foolish and disastrous war in Iraq.
I suspect that most Obama voters want to see a more engaged president, someone who proposes legislation, threatens and cajoles legislators, and whips up public support for his policies with eloquent speeches. They do not want Mister Cool any more, sitting impassively in the White House, far from the fray. If he reverts to Mister Cool again, they will feel deceived by his aggression in the second and third debates and his fiery speeches in the closing weeks of the campaign. This expectation is probably far more important than any mandate.
There is a lot of talk about the need for the Republican Party to revamp itself somehow. The party is supported by a dwindling number of whites while the expanding populations of African-Americans and Latinos and Asians vote Democratic. Romney crippled his cause in the general election when he proposed during the awful Republican primaries that illegal immigrants “self-deport.” And the despicable attempt by Republican officials to decrease the vote of minorities by demanding photo IDs and curtailing voting days only backfired. African-Americans, with the historic memory of Jim Crow laws preventing them from voting in the South as late as the mid 20th century, defied these obstacles and waited on line for hours for their right to vote for Obama.
The trouble is that it is hard to see the Republican Party trying to please Latinos and African-Americans and, in fact, women of all races and young adults without engaging in a grand deception. The party’s nominating system is controlled by a band of ideological Know Nothings, anti-science evangelicals, rabid Tea Baggers, and stubborn extreme rightists. Until Republicans of wisdom and maturity break this hold, the party will nominate candidates like the fool in Indiana who believed rape is God’s will or candidates like Romney who acted like a wild-eyed extremist in the primaries and then tried for an unconvincing moderate makeover in the general election.
This presents Republican leaders with a dilemma. Even if they do feel the need to break the hold on the party’s processes, they surely want to do so without driving the extremists out of the party. That may prove extremely difficult to accomplish. So far I have seen no sign that there are party leaders who even want to try. Until they do, all talk of revamping the party is, as Vice President Biden might put it, a bunch of malarkey.