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It’s the morning after Election Day, the Armageddon-for-Obama the media have been predicting since about five months after the president took office. And it was indeed a Republican sweep, especially in the House. Now, brace yourselves for endless, often utterly unfounded speculation about what this election “means” and how it was a deeply negative referendum on Obama. Even worse, forecasts will begin almost immediately about who is going to run for president in 2012 and whom Obama can and can’t beat.
On the morning of election day, before the polls had opened, the New York Times headlined its lead story “Finding Clues to the Future In Flood of Midterm Data; Adding Up What Individual Races Mean for Obama, the Tea Party and 2012.” Already, on Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com, we’re warned, “Only 460 days until the Iowa caucuses!” Can we please get a respite, however brief, from the permanent campaigns and prognosticating that the press seems to thrive on?
As we brace ourselves for much self-righteous braying from the carotene-infused Mr. Boehner, let’s take a moment to remember the few things that actually did go right in this election. Crazy people, political illiterates and deep-pocketed moneybags were soundly rejected by the electorate. Christine O’Donnell, the “I‑am-not-a-witch” candidate, lost badly and cost the Republicans that Senate seat. Sharon Angle, who advocated privatizing Social Security and Medicare, proposed using Scientology to rehabilitate felons, and bragged to high school students that she couldn’t tell the difference between Asians and Latinos, also lost, despite huge amounts of out-of-state contributions in support of her bid. (Turns out the money couldn’t trump all those indistinguishable people of color who marched straight into the voting booth to pull the lever for Reid, who is about as charismatic as egg albumen.)
Despite all her money and much-vaunted corporate experience, Carly Fiorina could not beat Barbara Boxer. Nor could Meg Whitman, former eBay executive who reportedly spent a record $140 million on her gubernatorial race, beat Jerry Brown, previously known as “Governor Moonbeam.” Linda McMahon, drawing $50 million from her World Wrestling Entertainment interests, couldn’t beat Democrat Richard Blumenthal, who had veracity issues around his alleged service in Vietnam. This was another big loss for the Republicans who had been eyeing Christopher Dodd’s seat since he announced his retirement in January. Turns out voters in Connecticut and elsewhere weren’t completely keen on installing rich people with no government experience into elected office.
This is not to minimize the 60-seat Republican gain in the House, but what has been overlooked in the coverage is that the Democrats, after 2008, had a historically high number of seats in the House and the Senate, so it’s hardly surprising, given that despite a Wall Street rebound we remain (unofficially) in a recession, that they would get hammered in the midterms.
Predictably, various pundits, like Juan Williams, cast the results as a wholesale rejection of Obama. Former Bush strategist and current ABC-News contributor Matthew Dowd kept describing the Republican victories as races Obama had lost, while George Stephanopoulos reported that 40 percent of those responding to exit polls said they were voting against Obama’s policies (which specific ones were not reported). But the Associated Press analysis of the exit polling reported that only about 25 percent of respondents blamed Obama for the current economic situation; they were much more likely to blame Wall Street bankers. Those who voted Republican were, not surprisingly, very worried about the economy and have suffered financially in the past two years. This does not mean that Obama doesn’t have his work cut out for himself (which includes trying to whip his pathetic party into shape), but his approval ratings are somewhere between 44 percent and 48 percent, still much higher than ratings for either political party, and higher than Ronald Reagan’s after his first midterm election in 1982.
So down, but hardly out. Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle, Politico posted an anonymously sourced story claiming that prominent Republicans are uniting to stop a presidential bid by Sarah Palin because “Obama would crush her.” Palin’s response? To sarcastically refer to her detractors as “puppy-kicking, chain-smoking porn producers.” Enjoy – all is not lost.
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Susan J. Douglas is a professor of communications at the University of Michigan and a senior editor at In These Times. She is the author of In Our Prime: How Older Women Are Reinventing the Road Ahead.