Thursday, November 13, 2014


By Dominique Paul Noth

Obama Nov. 5 put the election in perspective.
Facts and figures pouring in a week after the Nov. 4 election are putting some balance to what was clearly a debacle for Democratic candidates in many states – which deservedly is causing major political strategy rethinking in Wisconsin and around the nation.  

But simultaneously the election proved there are factually correct reasons why President Obama is unbowed in the direction he has outlined for the nation.  If anything he has risen above the petty politics of party and electronic media. 

He was much maligned by talking heads on both sides for stating that while he was not on the ballot his values were. Stupid of him to point out the obvious, and the pundits roundly attacked that as political error. But they are result merchants married to political outcomes for the purpose of ratings not value outcomes important to the nation’s long-term development. The cable channels are also devoted to promoting short-term panic, and relishing how his opponents can pile on the panic. 

A little time has already brought some perspective on the weirdest paradoxes of this election. Attacking Obama worked for Republicans in red states. The technique elected people who will fight him tooth and nail in Congress, and this will harm many essential elements of national progress from filling administrative appointments to useful steps toward the future as the GOP wastes time investigating closed chapters of the past. 

But in those same states in ballot questions separate from party personalities, his values or general progressive values won again and again, statewide and in key regions. 

Much higher minimum wage (resounding even in red states), rejection of personhood, gun reform measures, not giving corporations the constitutional free speech rights of people, marriage redefinition, legalized marijuana, reducing criminal penalties for minor violations, paid sick days, and on and on. 

At the same time both parties (obviously Democrats more than Republicans but basically anyone who has the law explained to them) support continuation of basic tenets of the 
Affordable Care Act and intelligent immigration reform including a path to citizenship.

If anything many elected Republicans are distancing themselves from the constant calls to repeal Obamacare (same deal, different name).

These successes on the ballot and in respected polls were in much larger percentages than the individual appeal of candidates and even among voters traditionally from conservative and Tea Party camps.

The initial reaction of right-wing drones on social media to this article is probably that only an Obama devotee could respond this way to an election loss, but that is why Republican diehards are just as mixed up as Democratic diehards. This election requires rethinking on both sides. Just what do the terms conservative and liberal mean to any modern electorate?  Because it’s changing. Progressives can no longer wrap themselves in a mantle of beliefs without action and conservatives can no longer assume that platforms of the past have any resonance today.

Obama’s agenda, however, is going to pay an enormous price if as many suspect the GOP refuses to change, and so far Republican leaders clearly won’t.

The biggest loser Nov. 4 may have been Mother Earth given the events of November 12. A major leap forward in addressing man’s climate emissions is running afoul not just of GOP climate change deniers now in charge of major committees, such as James Inhofe.  The bigger enemy is the deliberate selective memory of GOP leaders who resisted any previous action on mankind’s role  using the excuse that China would never go along with major reductions.  But now that  China has made a major deal with Obama that the world’s two largest climate polluters will work together for 16 years, the GOP is sure to forget it ever made such a condition.

Given such ridiculous behavior on a climate issue even most Republicans and certainly business leaders want action on, look for speedy improvements in Obama’s poll numbers. If climate deals don’t do it, he has handled Ebola and the Mideast issues with far more maturity, control and without the hysteria of his opponents.

Statistics defy the glee taken by Republicans who will probably move hard to block the president and also defy the attitude of many Democrats and even of many progressives (not the same thing) that the voters will wake up and vote them back in when they realize the GOP now has more excuses for obstructionism.  The voters are saying something else and it is not good for any side.

This was an election revealing vast indifference to the electoral process even among those who voted on past legacies – and now those legacies are changing and even their votes reflect that.  Citizens who have righteous indignation over political inaction, no matter who is given the blame right now, may jump another way in the near future, so knee-jerk is their frustration.

Cynical it may be to bring the nation’s progress down to every family’s personal feelings, but that is what is winning at the polls – not clean air and green energy in general but can I get a job even if my grandchildren may be harmed by the methods? Not tax relief in the long run, not intelligent economic development, but what do I get for my piggy bank right now?

There is more faith in standing by opinions that are loud in an echo chamber rather than intelligent.  There is not much faith anymore in speaking up about values in the abstract if you don’t humanize what you actually are getting done.  There is a tendency to believe people who are acting boldly without questioning what in the world they are doing. At least they are doing something and talking about it. 

The failure to stand up and holler hurts. The Democrats’ candidates wound up looking jaded and out of fashion in strategy. The Republicans controlled the rhetoric and packaging so that even their most extremist candidates didn’t sound that extreme on the trail and were seldom challenged (but that may not work long either with a larger more balanced electorate). The GOP congressional opponents were spending more time trying to sound moderate to attract independents or “hey I’m not an Obama stooge” to comfort swing voters – and that struck everyone as inauthentic. Authenticity, even mentally challenged authenticity, seemed to have more impact.

In Colorado, Democratic Sen. Mark Udall has been a successful and quite likeable champion on intelligent energy policy and legislative action but he spent his campaign time talking grimly about the danger his GOP opponent represented to women’s reproductive rights and the environment.  Well, women’s rights haven’t yet lost an inch in Colorado and clean energy is still supported. But sober reliable Udall went down to defeat against a more charming personality who spoke in generalities and was never nailed for deception. 

It would be hard to make a case for progressive advances in a gridlocked world against hugely funded ad campaigns pounding away messages of failure and fear of the future, even if those attacks are exaggerated.  But it’s much harder if you don’t attack and correct the lies. 

Consider. 78% of the voters in some polls say the economy is bad and drove their choice. (This is about the same percent of voters who think addressing clean energy is a big winner for the US, ironically, which they link to addressing climate change as Obama has just done.)  Yet official unemployment has dropped from above 10% to below 6% in six years and Wall Street is at a record high.  The stagnant economy so many feel stems from the wage gap between the richest and the middle earthers, also a record that the wealthy have refused to address. Bush didn’t attack this. Obama has but he is the guy in the White House who is set up by corporate advertisers to get the blame.

He has fought for infrastructure and jobs plans, reduced the yearly national deficit by two-thirds and helped created a mind-boggling 4.7 million jobs in the wake of the Great Recession, to name just some highlights. But he’s sitting there as he was in 2009 when the Bush destruction took hold and he got blamed for it.  Obama is also aloof in manner, not one of the glad-handing politicians the US is used to and rigid on his own vision, probably more conservative than most Americans realize. Since he doesn’t play the mea culpa game with the public or the media,  it is even more convenient than usual to blame the president.

Every week for a year, it seems, Obama has been on the campaign trail urging the GOP to end their opposition to help him help the middle class with national programs, inviting their ideas, yet they used Nov. 4 to focus not on the country but on reducing the forces he needs to change things.  Was it belief that he is indeed "the other"? Was it frustration? Willful ignorance? Conviction that if Republicans were in charge they would despite contrary evidence do better?  All of the above, probably.

And curiously enough, his stalwartness in the face of such excess behavior has been  a vindication of his attitude toward  Nov. 4,  a determination to put his ideas for the country ahead of politics. The failure to recognize that and just to criticize him wholesale should not please any thinking citizen. It raises deep questions about the historic knowledge and modern education on issues of citizens, especially citizens who are driven to the polls at midterm more by brand than understanding. They exist in both parties.

Obama said he heard clearly from the third of the country who voted --  and please note that the Democrats still got about 47% of that vote --   but also heard the two-thirds who didn’t. That remark Nov. 5 may not have been politically astute to the TV commentators since he said aloud something that contradicted what they had been preaching – that this was a GOP mandate. Hardly, Obama was saying. He had the temerity to say he could live with a Republican majority in both chambers without kissing their, er, ring – after all, he wasn’t getting much done the way it had been.

But Obama was showing sound understanding of America. Nationwide, 36% of eligible citizens voted Nov. 4, compared to 58% for president in 2012. Beyond that, only 12% were voters under 30 and 38% were voters over 60 – doubling the actual eligible demographic percentage in those age ranges.

Not to excuse the foolishness of so many Democratic campaigns, particularly those candidates who ran away from the president and particularly the lack of playing up the very progress that the opponents pounded into the ground – the economy. There will be considerable discussion in both parties about how to proceed but the election was a reminder that midterm votes are not the nation speaking but the machinery. This is why politics is a profession and how you sell the sizzle is often more important than the taste of the steak.

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its famous entertainment Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with its still operative archives at  In that role he won top awards yearly. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as pieces at his Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for 

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