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A Day in History

Nov. 12, 2012
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 One of many wrong things claimed before this year’s election was that there was no way 2012 could be as historic as President Barack Obama’s 2008 election as America’s first African-American president.

In fact, 2012 was always destined to go down in history as the year Americans re-elected their first black president or the year they kicked him in the teeth and threw him out of office.

The outcome was never really as much in doubt as those in denial wanted you to believe.

Despite some recent unpleasantness, Wisconsin not only continued to be a progressive Democratic state in presidential elections, but again made state and national history by electing Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin as its first woman senator and the first openly gay U.S. senator.

Those positive outcomes arose despite tens of millions of dollars in outside money clotting the airwaves with vile, distorted political attacks. The reason was a growing, permanent change in the American electorate.

It’s a change Democrats long recognized and continually incorporated into their party. And it’s one Republicans futilely resisted either out of narrow-mindedness or because they’re blinded by real hatred. It’s why Democratic conventions look like America and Republican conventions don’t.

Republican Mitt Romney won nearly 60% of the white vote last Tuesday, dominated by males. The last Republican to do that, George Bush the elder, won the presidency by a landslide. This year, Romney got crushed—332 electoral votes to 206.

That’s because Obama won just about every other conceivable demographic—all of the groups Republicans have been systematically driving away from their party.

Obama won 93% of African-American voters, 71% of Latinos, 73% of Asian-Americans (!) and 55% of women. Obama also ran especially strong among college-educated whites and young voters under 30.


Looking Forward

When people ask how President Obama could win Wisconsin by seven percentage points just months after Republican Gov. Scott Walker successfully beat back a statewide recall, the answer is pretty simple. The Wisconsin electorate that votes in presidential elections is much larger, much more Democratic and far more diverse than those who vote in off-year or special elections.

Republican attacks saying that polls showing Obama and Baldwin ahead overrepresented Democrats were either ignorant or intentionally dishonest. More Democrats than Republicans have voted in every Wisconsin presidential election since the 1988 Dukakis-Bush race. 

Instead of trying to open up the Republican Party to the country’s fastest-growing constituencies, the party’s brazenly un-American response has been to pass laws trying to reduce voting by people of color, seniors and college students. That just makes those Americans mad.

And who could have predicted so many male Republican candidates would express such incredibly stupid thoughts about rape during an election campaign?

That includes Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, who described rape as simply another form of conception. Ryan and the Republican platform oppose abortion in all cases, even to save the life of the mother. So much for being pro-life.

You can expect much of the Wisconsin media to continue cheerleading shamelessly for Ryan, but his national political ambitions have dimmed. Not only did Ryan fail to carry Wisconsin for the Republicans, he couldn’t even carry his hometown of Janesville.

Even more damaging, Ryan got exposed as a charlatan. Before his nomination, Ryan had a largely unexamined media image as some kind of bright, young intellectual in the Republican Party.

In the harsh light of the national campaign, reporters began noticing many of the things Ryan said weren’t true, including almost his entire convention speech. An Internet search of “When did Paul Ryan become a liar?” produces millions of hits.

Both Tommy Thompson and the media showed how out of touch they were with the changing electorate by expecting the four-term governor to cruise to election over Baldwin.

It couldn’t have been a worse year for Thompson to run, not as the ordinary guy he’d been as governor, but as the multimillionaire he’d become since leaving office.

Romney, Thompson’s presidential candidate, made a quarter of a billion dollars closing companies and outsourcing jobs, and the party’s only real economic strategy was to fight for continued tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. 

Ultimately, voters chose Baldwin as the positive candidate of the future, providing a strong, new voice for ordinary Wisconsinites instead of looking to the past.

Across the country, the new electorate kept surprising commentators looking backward by continuing the national movement toward marriage equality and even legalizing marijuana, a commonly used substance classified as a dangerous drug by generations that have used it without any more serious consequences than increased Oreo consumption.

If a growing multiracial electorate is really going to force politicians to abandon hypocrisy and start upholding America’s professed ideals of equality and tolerance, this year could just be the beginning of the political history we can all make together.


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