While there are several House races and ballot initiatives still being counted, the big news today is that President Obama was reelected in a decisive victory over Mitt Romney last night. (Note to self: Always have a concession speech on hand so people don’t think you’re a spoiled jackass.) In addition to the troubling developments that came out of this election cycle, there were many highlights and exciting moments that will affect us as an electorate for some time. Again, in no particular order:
The women’s, Latino, and African American votes determined the presidential winner—Clear majorities from each group voted for the Democratic side of the ticket, setting the pundits abuzz over whether the increasing conservative of the GOP pushed them away. Of course the opposite could be true: Democrats made pains to express their support of “everyday” Americans, the “47 percent” and the middle class. While the old school messages about workers and unions were not as present as in elections past, the point about supporting the auto industry served as a good proxy into the same target demographic, and exit polls showed that Obama’s funding of the auto bailout brought over working class white voters to vote for him in Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan. But outside of this issue in these limited states, it was the turnout of women and people of color who felt their interests were on the line who made the difference.
Women made big gains into Congress—So far 20 women make up the next United States Senate, the largest number of women in that chamber of the legislature ever. Some of these new senators, like Tammy Baldwin and Elizabeth Warren, are take-no-prisoners progressives, who will likely be mentored by Senate veteran Barbara Mikulski. I can only hope that their presence (and the resounding results from female voters) will help steer Congress away from some of the more extreme positions against reproductive rights. Women still are nowhere near parity with their percentage of the population, but 2012 is another steady step toward more female inclusion in the ranks of elected officials. And LGBT candidates across the country did fairly well in their races, too.
Same-sex marriage is much closer to a mainstream mentality in America—Three states had ballot initiatives to add same-sex marriage rights (Maine, Maryland, and Washington) and the measure passed in all of them. This is the first time that marriage equality passed when put to a vote–the states with same-sex marriage before this acquired it through their legislatures or the court system. Minnesota also refused to amend their state constitution to ban same-sex marriage, meaning that the National Organization for Marriage, the group organized to oppose marriage equality, lost millions of dollars and all of its contests this year. It has only been 8 years since anti-marriage equality initiatives and amendments brought out flocks of people to the polls, taking down John Kerry’s bid in the process. Eight years is not a generation, certainly, but younger voters who are overwhelmingly supportive of the issue have made a big difference in this election for the right to marry.
Puerto Rico made clear that it wants to be the next State—For the first time residents of Puerto Rico affirmed that they want to formally become the 51st state, voting in a non-binding referendum that would still take an act of Congress to make it reality. Residents haven’t voted for this distinction before, which would give them a real vote in the House and two in the Senate, and which could pave the way for improved infrastructure and more money to the island. That said, it’s up to Congress to act on any measure that would make Puerto Ricans full citizens, and with control still in the hands of the Republican Party, that isn’t likely, unless the GOP leadership decides it could be a means of capturing some more votes from this community in future elections.
Citizens United didn’t throw the election for big money—Between Super PACs, candidates’s committees, and the political parties, more than six billion dollars flowed into this election. If people worried that the Citizens United ruling would shift the results, those worries dissipated as the exit polls came back and the ballots were tabulated. Corporations as people somehow became the garrulous, halitosis-ridden smartass guy that nobody listens to for real advice. Although I argued yesterday that their funding of negative ads distracted many races from centering around the important issues, that distraction did not detract from the electorate’s understanding of their priorities or discourage them from voting for their candidate.
The media picked up the big election story as a mandate from America for politicians to work together—I recognize that this mood—part scolding, part ebullient—may not last into next week. But at least for now, the majority and minority party political leaders in both chambers of Congress are talking about coming together. Yes, Mitch McConnell set it up as the President coming halfway, not his own party, but compromise as a concept was not presented as an impossibility, which it certainly has been since the health care reform debates. The GOP will likely not want to look like it’s a slinking dog with its tail between its legs, but leaders are talking openly about moving past the stubbornness of Tea Party ideologues. And if the extreme conservative wing has been relegated back to the margins, it will be a marked improvement for the country.
UPDATE: I blame a frenetic day today for the notable absence of the most satisfying aspect of the 2012 election, which is this:
Next up after the lame duck session: entitlement programs and the fiscal cliff. This will be the first big test of the new Congress. Fingers crossed.