Mediacheck

Six Takeaways from the US Election

What we learned about the American mood and how to win the presidency in 2012.

By David Beers 7 Nov 2012 | TheTyee.ca

David Beers is editor of The Tyee.

As Barack Obama ekes out a tiny margin of popular vote victory and tries to figure out how to govern, we feel his pain. Now he has to be president of America all over again. What did the election tell us about the nation he'll now be stuck with running? Some insights gleaned from around the Web:

1. Facts are no longer much use when appealing to the citizenry.

That's what the national media's top self-appointed fact-checker concluded on election eve. Writing for the New York Times' Media Decoder blog, David Carr titled his Nov. 6 lunch-time post "A Last Fact Check: It Didn't Work."

"[A]s the campaign draws to a close, it's clear that it was the truth that ended up as a smoldering wreck ... both candidates' campaigns laid out a number of whoppers, got clobbered for doing so, and then kept right on saying them.... 'There are no consequences anymore,' said Mark McKinnon, a political analyst who writes for The Daily Beast and was a strategist for president George W. Bush. 'It's like everyone's driving 100 miles per hour in a 60-miles-per-hour zone and all the cops have flat tires.' "

Carr notes that lots of web sites, including those of many newspapers, as well as policing tweeters, assiduously checked fact after fact, all to no avail.

"And yet both campaigns seemed to live a life beyond consequence, correctly discerning that it was worth getting a scolding from the journalistic church ladies if a stretch or an elide or an outright prevarication did damage to the opposition."

If facts don't drive voter decisions, what does? Framing, warned linguist George Lakoff, the noted expert on the topic. Back in August writing in Foreign Policy he told liberals to stop using the term "low information voters" to explain away opponents of the Obama worldview. He reminded that many who decide to back Obama do so based on little information, too. Rather, it's a split in values -- a differing sense of what is morally right -- that, as it turns out, divided American nearly right down the middle last night.

But Lakoff offers hope for Obama and anyone else who wants to shift that ratio their way. "Luckily, many people are liberal on some issues and conservative on others. These people are called 'moderates,' 'the center,' 'independents,' or 'swing voters.' They have both conservative and liberal moral systems in the same brain. How is this possible? Throughout the brain there are circuits that are mutually inhibitory -- when one is turned on the other is turned off. The more one is turned on, the stronger it gets and the weaker the other gets. This isn't just about politics. There are other moral systems that are contradictory and work this way. Think about the things you might find acceptable to do late on a Saturday night as opposed to a Sunday morning. It's a moral switch mechanism in the brain (and that's even before a few drinks enter the equation).

"So how do political parties best inform and influence voters who have both moral systems but switch back and forth?

"The trick is what you're already seeing on your television: the consistent and repetitive use of language that activates frames and moral systems. Never use the other side's language. And always say out loud the moral framing needed for comprehending the facts. For example, health care is a matter of both freedom and life. If you have cancer and no health care, you are not free and you could die! With the right narrative, it is a powerful message, and one that tells a deep truth."

2. Best to stop calling southern men 'rednecks'.

The biggest re-framing project facing Obama and his Dems involved figuring out a way to connect with rural and small town southern white men who voted overwhelmingly Republican. Framing them as "rednecks" isn't going to get it done, notes Lynn Parramore, writing for Alternet and reprinted yesterday in Salon.com.

"[I]t's hard for urbanites in other parts of the country to fully grasp. The rural and urban divide between the GOP and the Democrats is bigger than it ever has been. You simply don't feel the same way about the land you live on when you can see vast expanses of it and you have a sense that your people have lived on it for generations. The migratory, transitory, packed-in-tight experience of a city like New York, where I now live, gives you a completely different relationship to the landscape. Mitt Romney's mythological evocation of an America restored to its former greatness is particularly appealing when you have this kind of ardor in your heart. And when the heart wants to be healed, it will accept any lie to soothe it. This is called being human.

"What liberals and progressives don't seem to understand is that you don't counter a myth with a pile of facts and statistics. You have to counter it with a more powerful story. And that's what Obama and the Democrats have repeatedly failed to do. White Southern men want a story that makes them feel proud of America and what it can accomplish. I'm troubled when I hear lefties heap scorn upon the South, partly because I know that the antagonism is precisely what the Mitt Romneys of the world hope for. They want to divide us and keep those regional antagonisms stoked so that the cynical Southern strategy continues to work. Every time a San Franciscan or a New Yorker rails against 'rednecks' in the South, he has done Karl Rove's work for him."

3. Single women now rule the nation.

If southern white men are Obama's biggest challenge, his best friends are single women. In fact, for Obama's party, "Single women are the new white man" argues Hanna Rosin writing in Slate.

"Sometime over the last 30 years, working-class white men deserted the Democratic Party. For a long time we puzzled over this mass exodus. Many observers pinned it on the irresistible seduction of Ronald Reagan. David Paul Kuhn blamed the general wimpiness of the Democrats, and Thomas Frank blamed just general stupidity in What's the Matter With Kansas?. Over time we became less interested in why and just dismissed these white men as the most 'terrified, lopsided, confused demographic in all of America,' as Mark Morford recently put it.

"This election cycle we finally have a decent replacement for the working-class white man. The single woman voter -- especially the one up for grabs, who is more likely to have children -- is basically at exactly the economic and psychological place the married, white, working-class man was in the '70s. She tends to be working-class, the main provider for her family, and not all that hostile to the idea of government help. In recent focus groups in Virginia and Ohio, women were asked what they thought of Mitt Romney's dismissal of the '47 per cent.' Married women described it as 'honest' and agreed that 'too many people are wanting the help of government.' Single women sided with the 47 percent, saying they were just people who wanted to 'work their way up and be better.'

"This is what a union guy in Kansas would have felt in 1975 and what would have led him to vote Democratic before everything changed, and as Kuhn put it, the Republican party seemed to 'own masculinity itself.' " 

4. Here comes the cliff.

From southern men, single women, fact-liberated citizens of all demographic stripes, Obama will need all the support he can muster given he won the presidency but lost perhaps the most important election question: how to tame and whittle back America's mega-deficit. Recent polls show two thirds of Americans don't agree that to reduce the deficit taxes should be raised. Surely that was the factual and moral question the whole excruciating exercise of an election was waged to settle. But no, Obama, who relentlessly stated that taxes must be raised on the wealthy, is president, yet he faces a House of Representative dominated by tax hawks.

The country is now zooming towards what pundits quaintly refer to the "the fiscal cliff," a point where dysfunctional deadlock among U.S. lawmakers makes it impossible for the nation to pay its bills.

5. The Tea Party might cause two parties.

For Obama backers suddenly sobered by the task ahead and therefore rummaging through the Web for a silver lining, here's one made available a few days ago. Writing for Digital Journal on Nov. 4, Marcus Hondro flatly declared the election in the bag for Obama and, moreover, predicted "GOP may implode." Bring on the recriminations and infighting.

"There may be candidates in the future who could win the GOP nomination without pandering to the Tea Party. But to win in 2016 they'll face the vastly improved economic landscape. Romney had a chance because it's taken time for Obama to right the partially submerged ship that was the U.S. economy after the disaster that was George W. Bush and a dovetailing world economy. Further, the youth vote is overwhelmingly Democratic and every four years more young people enter the political arena and more older ones die and therefore exit; that's obviously a trend that will continue. The next election will find the Democrats, and whomever replaces Obama (an American president can serve only two terms), with a much easier road to victory.

"If the Republicans do lose in 2016, that's when the bloodletting will come. After three straight losses the divided house will be rife with infighting and finally it will split. It will be a historical moment in U.S. history, but look for three major parties, the Democrats, the Republicans and the Tea Party, in 2020. Some would argue it has been brewing a long time, given Ross Perot and Ron Paul, but regardless, with a 2016 loss it will finally arrive in 8 years. What then? Losing the zealots, those increasingly alienating the general American public, will actually help the Republican Party regain its footing. Without the weight of the Tea Party, they'll pick up fiscally more conservative Democrats and again be in contention for the White House.

"But in the meantime the Democrats will have a long run as the party of choice in America, with the next chapter set to get underway this Tuesday, Nov. 6."

6. And did we just see a great leap forward for the social revolution?

While the pundits wrung their hands over the near even deadlock between red and blue voters, drug reform initiatives passed in three states, Maryland passed an historic law on marriage equality and an out lesbian was elected senator of Wisconsin.

What was your takeaway from the U.S. election results? Please comment below.  [Tyee]

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