A Tale of Two Countries

So….some reflections from this Tuesday’s elections.

We shouldn’t be surprised that Republicans took the Senate. Most seats up for election were in the reddest of red states, and the Democratic challengers didn’t exactly cover themselves with glory. (Mitch McConnell may be corrupt and despicable, but a candidate who refuses to admit she voted for her party’s nominee for President just turns everyone off. We have to remember that voters don’t get to choose between Candidate X and God. In races like this one, they have to pick between the devil they know and the one to whom they are just being introduced.)

In two years, the election landscape will be considerably different–and as one pundit sourly noted, there won’t be a black guy in the White House to motivate the racist voters.

Turnout was once again embarrassing. Preliminary reports suggested that nationally, approximately 24% of eligible voters went to the polls, giving the winners an average “mandate” from perhaps 13% of the electorate. Most of the low turnout was due to voter apathy, but a not-insignificant part was deliberate: between the millions of dollars spent on negative ads that can be relied upon to depress turnout, to “voter ID” laws intended to suppress the votes of the poor and minority Americans, the message was pretty clear: stay home.

Perhaps the biggest take-away, however, is the troubling picture of American “sorting” that continues to emerge. I’ve written before about Bill Bishop’s book The Big Sort, and the academic research supporting his thesis that Americans are increasingly “voting with our feet”–moving to places we find philosophically and politically compatible. This has been going on for more than a few years, and the electoral result is what has been called an “Urban Archipelago”--bright blue dots in seas of red. We have gerrymandered ourselves into cities that are overwhelmingly Democratic  and rural areas that are reliably Republican. We really are “two Americas”–an urban America that is noisy and diverse and young, and a (rapidly dwindling) rural America that is much older, much whiter and frequently much angrier.

Are there exceptions to that picture? Of course. But the overall accuracy of those descriptions is  demonstrable.

There are real equal representation issues raised both by partisan gerrymandering and population sorting: in the last general election, for example, Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives received more than a million more votes than Republicans–but because of the way the districts were drawn and populated, the GOP kept control of the House. It’s hard to see how this changes under our current redistricting rules.

The larger issue, of course, is turnout.

When I was a young, active Republican preparing to run for Congress, I remember the County Chairman telling me how grateful he was that “Democrats don’t vote.” Even then, with the vaunted Republican machine firmly in control of Marion County, registered Democrats outnumbered registered Republicans three to two. But Republicans got out their vote; Democrats didn’t.

Now, no one really gets out their vote. And that is a real problem–not just for partisans, but for America–because only the most polarized and ideological “wing nuts” can be counted upon to vote in either party. The result is that both are in thrall to the party “base.” That’s not so bad for the Democrats, although it does hurt at the margins, because the progressive base is anything but monolithic. But it is killing any effort to bring the Republicans back to a sensible middle-right, because the GOP base/TeaParty activists have all the characteristics of a cult. (Joni Ernst? Mike Delph? Ted Cruz?? I rest my case.)

I doubt whether yesterday’s election results were a “last hurrah” for the reactionary right incarnation that is now the GOP, but that last hurrah is close. If demographics are destiny, the Grand Old Party (which is currently the Old Party of Grandparents) cannot survive much longer. Rural areas are hollowing out as younger people opt for city life; survey research shows younger people, Latinos and other minorities rejecting the party by large margins, and the degree of overt racism shown by Republican office-holders to our first African-American President pretty much undercuts any effort to make inroads in the black vote.

The tragedy here is that America desperately needs two responsible, adult political parties.  Without an intellectually respectable GOP, there is no pressure on Democrats to bring their A game. We lose all around.

As we did Tuesday.


  1. I was eligible to vote in the 1980 elections for the first time and I didn’t vote again until 2004. Why? Because I lived in red states and didn’t care about politics until after 911. And I skipped 2006 but when President Obama announced his running in 2007, that’s when I stood up and paid attention. I voted for him twice and I will vote for Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren but I will not vote for Hillary (please). One of the last things I did in October was send in my mail-in ballot. If 2016 roles around and none of those candidates are on the ballot, I will not vote again. Maybe ever. I’ve left the country and have gone to Europe and hope to join the elections over here where Citizen’s United doesn’t pay for the elections. Good Luck America. I cry for my country because you gave me so many reasons to leave (guns, religion, tax breaks for the corporations and wealthy, women’s rights, gay rights, etc) and this election result is a huge factor in why we left. I’m a socialist and proud of it. I’ve gone to live where others believe as I do. Unfortunately, the IRS will follow me til death which no other country in the world does. I’m so lucky. 🙁

  2. Granted I am uninformed regarding much of what goes on in both political parties in public and behind the scenes but, the fact that McConnell’s opponent displeased the Democratic party in the past on any matter was not at issue. Removing McConnell’s power from the Senate on Tuesday was the issue and we are stuck with his increased power due to the embarrassing voter turnout. The same is true for the state of Indiana; we are in for a wave of Republican imposed laws and sell-outs that will take more of our rights away and continue leasing and selling off Indianapolis and Indiana or paving it over. Removing as many Republicans from office should have been the objective of Democratic voters; as I noted in my comment yesterday the staunch Republicans would vote for that party even though they are victims of the actions and non-actions of Congress and state level Republicans since 2010. Not voting elected the politicians we will suffer from beginning in January. I watched most of President Obama’s press conference yesterday; the man appeared exhausted, if not actually ill. I have never seen this man look so defeated; contrary to his positive reaction and promises. We know he will not be able to work with McConnell and Boehner because they will refuse to do anything but make more attempts to repeal or defund the ACA. This is where past history comes into play in this election. They will drag this on till January 20, 2017 when a new president is inaugurated. And the fault lies at the feet of Democrats who refused to take the time to vote on November 4, 2014. Beyond here there be dragons

  3. The pressure on the parties has to come from the voters. I completely understand voter apathy; after enduring a few hundred sound bite ads everyone is ready for the election to be over. However, the message needs to be that we can make it better by voting. Isn’t there someone or some way to rally voters? Given the sad state of our congress and state legislatures, it seems that there is plenty of fuel for a fire. Maybe we’re due for a real revolution where real people demand that elected officials do the jobs they were elected to do. Maybe we need recall elections?

  4. We know that the Republican political strategy since 2007 or so has been to, at every single opportunity, drag Democrats down to the level that the Grand Oligarchy Party had actually delivered with whatever power they could muster. I, personally, am surprised that it worked so well. For one thing it attracted big money. The part that surprised me was that it also delivered winning votes. Just shows my political naivete.

    The question for those of us committed to freedom and progress is what political strategy would work best for us? Obviously I’m not qualified to judge political strategies but I hope that we can find one that’s both effective and that allows us to be proud of America. Is there one like that?

    I don’t know. I just don’t know.

  5. The only thing I would add is the need for campaign finance reform. For the first time since I was old enough to vote, I had to talk myself into voting this year. I am almost a victim of the same apathy that I think affects many voters: the feeling that Congress has been bought, the feeling that nothing will change or improve, the feeling that “the system” has made our votes all but irrelevant.

    I voted anyway, because there was one local race (we had to elect a new prosecutor as ours opted to retire at the end of this term). The number of local races where one of the two parties didn’t even bother to field a candidate was remarkable. Jim Hightower said once, “If the gods had meant us to vote, they’d have given us candidates.” For some, there may not be much motivation to vote when there are few choices on the ballot.

  6. This year I think the Democrats lost more than the Republicans won. I think the failure to support the President and his policies was stupid. The ACA is GREAT for the 10 Million Americans who now have health insurance. And the next 10 Million that will sign up this year. The Republican alternative:”Shut Up. Go Home and Die”. I think we could have won that argument, had we tried. Running away from our president because the bigots don’t like him was a stupid stupid call. Going forward, I shudder at the thought of yet another Clinton / Bush contest. Is that really ALL our county has to offer us? Really?

  7. I understand disappointment leading to apathy; but only in a situation where you are prevented from doing anything to change the problem. We are not prevented – except for those who might have been caught in voter supression ruled by the GOP and the 1%. I drug out my Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (which is in reality very old); “apathy, without feeling, 1. lack of feeling or emotion, 2. lack of interest or concern.” If you are without feeling, lacking emotion and have a lack of interest or concern in this country – you should not be American citizens. Apathy allowed slavery to flourish here for hundreds of years and apathy has allowed the national drug situation to reach unbelievable levels. Apathy by entire European countries allowed the Holocaust to happen; murdering millions of innocent people and apathy allowed it to be covered up for years like a cat covering it’s shit. Shame on you; I am too disgusted, disappointed, disheartened and just plain pissed to become apathetic about current conditions of my city, my state, my country and my true fellow Americans. Our past shows that had apathy reigned in our founding fathers hearts and those who were willing to put their lives on the line to free us from British rule, we would be following Queen Elizabeth’s dictates today and wondering if Prince Charles with his old girlfriend Camilla would be our next leaders. Had apathy reigned 150 years ago in the supporters of our union and President Licoln’s heart regarding the abolishion of slavery, I would be allowed to buy my black friends and my biracial great-grandchildren and put them to work for me. Those of you who are too apathetic to first THINK, the ACT, and go to the polls to vote can stick your apathetic hearts where the sun don’t shine. Sheila; I apologe and hope this is not too strong in some of my language but I am sick to death of even the word “apathy” because it is laziness and stupidity and it brought about the election results this week that so many are unhappy with.

  8. The GOP today must feel like the dog who finally achieved his life long goal from chasing buses. Now that I have a mouthful of moving bumper, what happens next?

    I’ll bet that they’re considering that they should have given some thought to governance.

  9. How anyone could lose to Mitch McConnell is beyond me. McConnell had so much baggage you would need a large crane to move it. As a Baby-Boomer IMHO no President since LBJ in 1964 had more potential power than Obama had in 2009. Obama had a Democratic House and Senate, he also had a very enthusiastic following. Unfortunately, Obama brought into his administration a bunch of Clinton retreads including Hillary. I never felt Obama had a strong philosophical political direction. Bottom line, the mothers in ancient Sparta told their sons going off to battle , “Come home with your shield or on it.” Obama threw his armor, shield and sword away and ran from the Reactionary Republicans. A perfect example is when the Occupy Demonstrations happened Obama sat silent. These demonstrators were energized but Obama and the Democrats failed completely to plug into that energy. I got Obama’s message Wall Street was more important than Main Street. He allowed the Reactionary Right to savage the Occupy Movement.

    Obama’s attempt at healthcare was a failure. He should have insisted that Universal Health Care (Medicare for all) be on the table. The ACA roll out was a dismal failure.

    The Democrats if they expect to win on a State and Federal Level have to do more than say, “Hey Look at least were not a Republican.” The Democrats would have to redefine themselves in word and deed as friends of Main Street, not Wall Street.

  10. It’s an old saying but it’s true: Bad officials are elected by good citizens…who don’t vote! (See Tuesday’s election results.)

    I know we’re all awaiting that Republican agenda we’ve never seen but heard so much about. Rough road ahead, fellow Dems. Buckle up!

  11. Patmcc, I’ve noticed for a while how effectively the GOP strategy of selling “Obama can do no right” has worked on Democrats as well as Republicans. Puzzling to me. Perhaps liberal open mindedness is a curse as well as a blessing.

  12. I certainly understand the urge to live in an area where you are surrounded by people who value the same things you do. Right now, I feel very isolated politically and economically, even religiously. The Extreme Right have co-opted patriotism as they have destroyed the gains of the last 60 years for the majority of Americans. They are, by and large, selfish, self-righteous, bigoted and mean-spirited. They have theirs because they deserve it. Those that aspire to the same things but have not had the same privileges and luck are not worthy. They want to retain power at all costs. What is truly amazing is that they do not see their own destiny as the ultra-wealthy continue to pick them clean. Very soon, we will all be in the same boat as it sinks under the weight of regression.

  13. Ok, first of all, Democrats have to stop sh*tting on their base. When Democrats run to the right of the Republicans, the base (people like me) just don’t feel the love. Democrats never, NEVER allow their candidates to be primaried, and any suggestion that a real democrat run in Indiana is shouted down with, be realistic, stop being so childish….etc. So, yeah, I can see why voter turnout is down. But it has taken 6 years for all but the most ardent party hacks to realize Obama was a put up job. I just don’t see why the Republicans vilify him–he’s been a great Wall Street president and criminalized investigative journalism.

  14. “In two years, the election landscape will be considerably different–and as one pundit sourly noted, there won’t be a black guy in the White House to motivate the racist voters.”

    It won’t be, because there’ll be a woman in the White House to motivate the same folks, except for sexist reasons.

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