Columnist Karen Rubin: America rejected GOP at voting booth

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The 2012 election was a repudiation of Republican philosophy, ideology and epically flawed candidates.

President Obama didn’t just win a lopsided victory in the Electoral College, 332-206; Obama also won the popular vote decisively, by more than 4 million votes.

What is more, Democrats won an unheard of 25 out of 33 Senate races – including the most avowedly progressive candidates – clearly rejecting the Tea Party, right-wing, religious fundamentalist darlings. And though Democrats did not take back control of the House (a virtual impossibility given the gerrymandering by Republican state houses after the 2010 red-tide election), Democrats cut into the Republican majority and in total, won more votes than Republicans when all the Congressional races are tallied (another measure of where “the people” are).

This is all despite the voter suppression tactics that were in place at every aspect of voting: from new obstructions to registering to vote (Florida even threatened criminal prosecution causing the League of Women Voters to cease registering new voters), illegal destruction of registration applications by a Republican-financed outfit (where are the federal prosecutions for this felony?). 

There were obstacles to vote at the polls with new, onerous voter ID laws that even after they were overturned by federal courts, were presented as if they still applied (talking to you, Pennsylvania), efforts to shorten early voting, particularly in areas that tend to vote Democratic (Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida); voter intimidation tactics through True the Vote; dirty tricks like giving false information where to email ballots in New Jersey when online measures were instituted after Hurricane Sandy; and most cynically, the allocation of too few voting machines and election workers in certain districts, forcing people to wait on line for hours, reminiscent of Jim Crow tactics.

The Democratic victory was also despite the billion dollars spent by Super Pacs, special interests like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and “dark money” on incessant attack ads against Obama and Democrats all the way down the ballot.

The Democratic victory was also despite CEOs of companies – egged on by Mitt Romney in a phone call to the National Federation of Independent businesses (“I hope you make it very clear to your employees what you believe is in the best interest of your enterprise and therefore their job and their future in the upcoming elections,”) actually threatening employees with loss of their jobs if Obama won.

In fact, that has come to pass: Murray Energy Corp. CEO Robert Murray said that more than 160 employees at three subsidiaries will be laid off, due to Obama-related regulations and taxes. He charged that a new carbon tax (which doesn’t exist yet) will subsidize Obama supporters and lead to the “Total destruction of the coal industry.” 

“The American people have made their choice. They have decided that America must change its course, away from the principals [sic] of our Founders,” Murray said in the prayer, which was delivered in a meeting with staff members earlier this week.

“Lord, please forgive me and anyone with me in Murray Energy Corporation for the decisions that we are now forced to make to preserve the very existence of any of the enterprises that you have helped us build.”

(I wonder if Murray prayed for forgiveness in August 2007, when nine men were killed and six were injured in a pair of implosions at his Utah coal mine, Crandall Canyon. Murray Energy subsidiaries paid $1.45 million in fines this year to resolve criminal and civil cases spawned by that disaster. That’s who these people are, and why they are so upset about “federal regulation”.)

It remains to be seen whether billionaire Westgate Resorts CEO David Siegel makes good on his threat to fire workers if Obama won. Before the election, he sent this letter to employees, noting that his business is showing record profit.  “What does threaten your job however, is another four years of the same Presidential administration.” He went on to say that although he “can’t tell you whom to vote for,” if Obama is re-elected, it would mean “fewer jobs, less benefits and certainly less opportunity for everyone.”

To me, this is extortion, but the Supreme Court calls it free speech.

But it seems the tactics may also have backfired, in that they seemed to fire up voters and make them more determined to vote. It is interesting that Obama won all those swing states – Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Virginia – which had some of the most aggressive voter suppression tactics (Arizona is still counting some 200,000 ballots). 

And yet, I would suspect the voter turnout would have been even greater were it not for forcing people to wait on lines for three hours, five hours, even seven hours (talking to you Florida). Instead of America as a beacon of democracy for the rest of the world, we look like just another Banana Republic. Shameful.

It was estimated that voter suppression tactics could deny 5 million people from their sacred right to vote – indeed, total turnout of voters was expected to be about 2 million down from 2008 – 129 million versus 131 million, including some 9 million ballots that may or may not be counted because people were required to make out provisional or absentee ballots. 

There are a number of ways to view the estimated 2 million drop in total votes: voters being less enthusiastic about their party’s candidate or perhaps this is the level of voter suppression as well as the Sandy impact of voters not being able to get to their polls, and at least some of it had to be people unable or unwilling to wait on lines for hours, or being turned away altogether, or being confused about whether they could vote at all so did not make the effort.

But this is undeniable: Obama was reelected by the most diverse coalition of voters ever – that is, representative of the demographic make-up of this nation. 

A record number of Hispanic and Asian voters went to the polls to help Obama secure second term, even while Obama lost support among whites (I would guess white men, primarily):

Ten per cent of voters were Hispanic – and 71 percent of them voted for Obama

Romney won 59 percent of white votes – the biggest majority by any presidential candidate in U.S. history who nontheless failed to win White House

African-American votes for Obama achieved 2008 levels

Democrats won younger voters (60-36 for Obama), while Republicans scored older ones

52 percent of men voted for Romney, while 55 percent of women voted for Obama (and women represented 53 percent of voters)

Why is this important? because it factors into the “mandate” – that measure of the people’s will that the election, the only poll that really matters, is all about – and also the actual amount of “political capital”.

That’s why House Speaker John Boehner’s reaction is so off base, continuing this mythology that the Republican right-wingers speak for “the American people, even stating that because Republicans retained control of the House, that demonstrated a “mandate” from “the people” to hold down tax rates. (The only mandate was to hold down taxes for 98 percent of Americans who have taxable income less than $250,000.)

Despite Boehner’s B.S. that he recognizes the election signals that Americans want Congress to get to work, to “lead”, he told Diane Sawyer, “Raising tax rates is unacceptable.” So his idea of “compromise” and “working together” is “You do it our way” – the exact same strategy that brought us to the brink of default. Amazing. 

And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – the guy whose number one priority was not to create jobs and get the economy moving again but rather to make Obama a one-term president – did not even bother to be subtle. He basically dug in his heels, showing even less inclination to compromise (that is, allow the Bush tax rates to expire on taxable income over $250,000) in order to reach a deal and avert the fiscal cliff, than Boehner.

Remember, when Republicans say the “compromise” they want “involves making real changes to the financial structure of entitlement programs, and reforming our tax code to curb special-interest loopholes and deductions” what they really mean is they want something approaching a flat tax and eliminating the deductions that working-class families depend on: deductions for mortgage interest and real estate taxes; college tuition credits; earned income tax credit and on and on, and cutting back Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Is that what the American people voted for? Don’t think so.

But if Republicans are smart, they will find a suitable compromise in the lame duck session because the cavalry – a slew of progressive Democrats – are coming to Congress in January and they will not be the wusses  the Democrats have been, who allowed themselves to be man-handled by the Republicans for the past four years: Alan Grayson (returned to Congress, winning by 25 points, in the biggest turnaround of any House election); Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Baldwin, Sherrod Brown, among them.

Patty Murray of Washington has already said that Democrats are willing to hold hands and jump off the fiscal cliff together, if necessary, rather than sacrifice the interests of seniors, students and working class Americans in order to give millionaires and billionaires an additional windfall of pocket money that is more in one year than the average working family earns in five years.

Democrats know that letting all the Bush tax cuts expire will not immediately push the U.S. economy into recession, but then they can systematically look like the good guys in reducing tax rates for 98 percent of Americans.

So the line in the sand should be to return to the Clinton-era tax rates for taxable income over $250,000 (that means that even billionaires get the lower tax rates for their first $250,000); eliminating the “carried interest” loophole that lets millionaire hedge-fund managers and Mitt Romney pay a mere 15 percent on their income; eliminating corporate tax loopholes that let companies like GE earn millions in profits without paying a dime in tax (if you want to lower the corporate tax rate, fine); eliminating tax incentives for off-shoring jobs and profits.

This may well happen before the new Congress takes office, and before President Obama’s second Inauguration.

So the first thing that the Senate majority leader needs to do on day one of the new Senate (I would like to see someone besides Harry Reid, with more gumption take over) is to change the rules for the filibuster – something that Republicans have abused egregiously to deny the majority rule of the people. (Where is it written in the Constitution that you need 60 votes to pass legislation? Answer: Nowhere). 

The Senate majority also should remove the ability for any one senator to stop a bill from moving forward by putting an anonymous hold on it, so the American people do not even know who is blocking the bill. How is the filibuster or anonymous holds democratic? As Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio said, there are better ways to protect the minority without giving the minority an autocratic power over the majority.

But as for the Progressives’ Christmas List for Obama’s second term:

Climate change has to be addressed – this is a necessity for economic, environmental and national security reasons, as Superstorm Sandy has demonstrated.  

Energy independence: policy shifted toward clean, renewable energy and investment in a smart grid.

A jobs program focused around Infrastructure bank and investments in infrastructure for our roads, bridges, tunnels, mass transportation; investments in research and development; and education.

Sensible gun legislation – the NRA campaigned on the fact that Obama would enact gun control legislation, so let’s give the NRA what it wants in order to exist. At this rate, 48,000 people will be killed through gun violence during Obama’s second term. There is no reason for anyone to have military-style weapons or ammo clips that can fire off 50 or 100 rounds in the blink of an eye.

Comprehensive Immigration reform – provide a path to citizenship, not just a work visa.

Implement Obamacare (which is only one part of the equation: access to private health insurance); now address health-cost reform – this too is vital to the economy, since health care is one-sixth of the economy.

Fix campaign financing: pass Disclose Act and legislative remedies to Citizens United and “corporations are people, my friend”.

Fix the broken election system: have standards for how many machines and workers per population of registered voters; put elections in the hands of nonpartisans, rather than party hacks with a stake and a bias in the outcome. After all, you wouldn’t have referees who work for one team making the calls.

After that glorious day in January 2008 when Obama made history and swore an oath to become president, those who voted for him had about 15 minutes to revel in heralding a new progressive era. But Republicans showed they would be even more ruthless in defeating Obama and use Obama’s desire for “post-partisan” compromise against him.

That can’t happen again. And hopefully, part of the reason Obama won in 2012  is because he is wizened enough not to cave and we’ll see real progress.

That’s why he lost the House in 2010 – Democrats stayed home because they didn’t see the progress they voted for.

It is unlikely that Obama will ever get his honeymoon. But he needs to use these next two years.

And if he does these things, it will come as no surprise because it is what he and other democrats campaigned on. 

No bait and switch. No pandering.

It is the political capital that we earned and now are entitled to spend.

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