Thursday, November 6, 2014


“So, to everyone who voted, I want you to know that I hear you. To the two-thirds of voters who chose not to participate in the process yesterday, I hear you, too.”
—President Obama, at his press conference on Wednesday

What did the president mean exactly when he told the “two-thirds of voters who chose not to participate” that he heard them?

Did he mean that he understands why they didn’t vote and he is taking those reasons on board? Or did he mean that he is certain about how they would have voted if they had actually voted and that he was going to act as if they had voted (for Democrats)—even though they didn’t? I honestly don’t know.

One of the ways Democrats are finding a bit of solace in Tuesday’s election results is by citing the low turnout that is typical of midterm cycles, essentially painting the results as somehow less legitimate than presidential year elections. You could hear the president subtly invoke that view when he said this: “And as president, they rightly hold me accountable to do more to make it work properly. I’m the guy who’s elected by everybody, not just from a particular state or a particular district.”

And that raises an interesting question. As a politician, should the president be seen as more representative of what the people want since he and the vice-president are the only ones elected by the entire country? Could you not argue just as easily that this fact means that his mandate is more muddled because it comes from such a large population—sort of a least common denominator of political representatives? You can—and people do—argue that the members of the House of Representatives are the ones closest to the voters because they come for the localities they represent, are better known by more people who vote for them and must face the voters every other year.

I was raised to believe that it was every citizen’s duty to vote. But with the passage of time I have come to have respect for the act of not voting. Does abstaining not send just as valid a message as choosing a candidate to vote for? If people are discouraged from voting, do they not have the right to express that attitude by sitting out the voting process? And if they are simply not interested or do not feel informed enough, should they not be given credit for not wanting to make an uninformed choice? I’m not talking of voter suppression here—and make no mistake, all that negative advertising by both sides is meant to discourage the other side’s voters and it clearly works. I am talking simply about an eligible voter’s conscious decision not to participate. As we have seen in this week’s balloting, just because you choose not to vote does not mean you do not have an effect on the outcome.

In answering questions about the election results, the president and others have brought out the time-worn formulation of citing problems with “messaging” or “communication.” Others have resorted to another response that is also typical in these situations, although it seems to be more of Democrat thing than a Republican thing when they lose. They console themselves by calling the American people idiots.

A cartoon that has made the social media rounds shows a couple of victorious Republicans (you can tell by the dollar signs on their arm bands) facing a crowd of blank faces chanting things like “We want dirtier air and water so CEOs can make more money!” and “Send our jobs overseas!” and “Stop giving us benefits from our tax money!” This kind of condescension has been going on since at least 1956 when a woman was reported to have called out to a presidential candidate “Senator, you have the vote of every thinking person!” and Adlai Stevenson called back “That’s not enough, madam, we need a majority!”

If I was cleverer and more gifted at drawing, I might draw my own cartoon, which would have the blank faces calling out things like “I support gender equality so I vote Democratic even if it means voting against a woman!” and “I support racial equality so I vote Democratic even it means voting against an African-American!” That seems to the Democratic strategy these days anyway. And, while in some years that strategy works, in some years (like this one) it clearly doesn’t.

Speaking of things I saw on social media in the wake of the election, it was good to see people from both parties hailing the first election of an African-American from the post-Reconstruction South to the U.S. Senate. Tim Scott had already been filling the seat vacated by Jim DeMint as an appointee, but now he has been elected directly by the voters of South Carolina in his own right. Though it may not please some of my Democratic friends to hear it, there is something fitting about the fact that he was elected under the banner of the party of Abraham Lincoln.

And given that diversity in Congress is a good thing as is more equal numbers between men and women, the election of the delightfully named Mia Love to the House of Representatives from Utah is very welcome—if for no other reason than that her very existence seems calculated to confound the purveyors of identity politics. She is female, African-American and conservative.

She is one of several younger, fresh faces that have been spotlighted among Republicans—one of the benefits of being on the winning side of a wave election. Barack Obama was such a fresh face ten years ago when he was elected to the U.S. Senate and he went to captivate his party and the country. Now Democrats have to be wondering if they would not have been better off to go with experience and competence four years later and elect the first woman president instead of the first African-American president. No doubt the country certainly would have been.

Hillary Clinton might still get her chance. She certainly has all the advantages at this early stage for 2016. But when compared to the many new faces on the right and people like Elizabeth Warren on the left, she is frankly starting to look very last-century.

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