About the Name of this blog

This blog's title refers to a Dani fable recounted by Robert Gardner. The Dani live in the highlands of New Guinea, and at the the time he studied them, they lived in one of the only remaining areas in the world un-colonized by Europeans.

The Dani, who Gardner identifies only as a "Mountain People," in the film "The Dead Birds," have a myth that states there was once a great race between a bird and a snake to determine the lives of human beings. The question that would be decided in this race was, "Should men shed their skins and live forever like snakes, or die like birds?" According to the mythology, the bird won the race, and therefore man must die.

In the spirit of ethnographic analysis, this blog will examine myth, society, culture and architecture, and hopefully examine issues that make us human. As with any ethnography, some of the analysis may be uncomfortable to read, some of it may challenge your preconceptions about the world, but hopefully, all of it will enlighten and inform.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing?

Post Mortem

The general consensus after the 2012 election is that it was a status quo election; the President remains the same, and both houses of Congress are still in the hands of the same parties that controlled them before the election, albeit with modest gains for the Democrats.

But the surface read does not really reflect the earth shattering implications of this election.  Some of these have been discussed (and dismissed to the peril of the groups dismissing them) and others have not been addressed by the mainstream.

First, this election proved the power of the changing demographics of the country.  Latinos, Blacks, LGBT, Women and Youth swung this election.  The reign of Old White Men is effectively over; and the politics of Racism will no longer win any statewide or national election.  They may still hold sway on the local and congressional district scale, but beyond them demographics will overwhelm racism.

Since the Civil Rights movement, the Republicans have built electoral strength on the power of White Outrage.  The messages were not even remotely coded at first, but until this election they were increasingly subtle.  Right wing pundits in this election pulled off that cloak and showed the white robes that lay beneath.  In their certainty that this country was fundamentally a country that wanted leaders that looked like them.  They called President Obama some of most vile names I have ever heard in politics and in doing so, tried to paint him as a caricature of the worst stereotypes imaginable -- lazy, stupid, incompetent and so on.

It failed.

In fact, it motivated the people who are not Old White Men, and who do not agree with that vision of America, to get out the vote and fight for their side.  And as a result, this obscene rhetoric guaranteed that the Republicans have lost large swaths of the country for a generation, just like the Civil Right Movement cost the Democrats the South for at least two generations.  It guaranteed that the so-called minorities, which actually when aggregated are actually now the majority of Americans, have now turned their backs on the Republican Party. 

But it did something more.  The elections of 2008 and 2012 have shown these groups that they wield real power in this country.  Acting as a cohesive whole, they have the ability to effect real change in the United States.  One of the great shocks to the Right in this election was that minorities and young people turned out to vote in numbers comparable to the 20008 election, even though many were supposed to be disillusioned with the Obama message of hope and change.

The thing is, the Right underestimated what these groups learned in 2008, that they can have real power.  While the Right dismissed them and talked about "takers," self-deportation and legitimate rape, these groups set out to show them just how wrong they were.

And in doing so, the Democrats proved without a shadow of a doubt, that to be the President in this country you now have to be President for all types of Americans, not just a segment of favored elites.

But the deeper lesson here is not that these groups are reliably Democrats; both sides moving forward MUST address the needs of these constituents.  They have found their power and their voice, and they will not quietly do what they are told to do.  The future of both parties depends on becoming more diverse, more inclusive and more responsive to the people.  These groups will never again willingly give up their power.

The second lesson of this election follows the first; divisive conservative position on social issues will Trump a pure economic message.  (pun intended)  It is true that this election was the Republicans' to lose, mainly because our instant gratification society felt that President Obama should have solved the economic meltdown in his first hundred days.  Even though the Republicans offered nothing but a slight repackaging of the Bush policies, if they had remained focused on their economic message, they might have won.  This would have been because they would not have alienated women like they did.

Instead, they brought social conservatism front and center in the election, and in doing so failed to recognize that the country is getting more secular, and more liberal, on these issues.   A majority of people under 50 no longer care what you do in your private life, and respect your ability to make decisions in regard to your body, you sex life and your overall personal happiness.  The more the Right clings to their rigid ideas on these issues, and tries to mandate how people handle their private lives, the more marginalized that they will become. 

The take-away here is that both parties moving forward need to articulate a vision for this country that is based in economic directions, foreign policies, and building a strong and unified nation.  No one wants to talk about these divisive issues.  One of the reasons the President won a second term was he continued to talk about America as a whole, not as a 47% solution.  I don't think anyone will ever again win a national election by setting one group in this country against another.

The next lesson, math rules.  Statistics have been incontrovertibly proven to hammer gut feelings.  When aggregated, polls are not skewed and facts do not have a political bias.

This is a hard one for Republicans to stomach this election.  They were so convinced that the polling was part of a liberal plot to suppress the truth that Romney did not even write a concession speech.  They created a fantasy world to justify their feelings that there was no way that "their" America would re-elect President Obama.  And when that delusional edifice came crashing in on them election night, it sent them into a spiral of despair.

However, I am not gloating here, the Democrats could just have easily been deluded, and in fact many of them were.  The pundits on the left did not use any epistemology for their positions either, except for the handful kept quoting Nate Silver.  And in the next election, if the models predict a Republican win, I wonder if the Democrats will bend themselves into intellectual pretzels like the Republicans did this year.

I personally did not out as much faith in him as I should have, partially for fear of dirty tricks like we saw in 2000 and the potential for them from groups like True the Vote, but more because he had only used his model for one Presidential election.  I just was not certain the mathematical model would hold true.  It did, and it did with stunning accuracy, and from this point forward, I will put my faith in the math.

Ultimately, I am not sure that this will end the reign of the Chattering Class, who sit and talk about how their side is certain to win, based on gut feelings and tea leaves, but I suspect that in the next election we will see more substantive discussion and less spin.  For certain, in the next election, people will have less faith in talking heads offering opinions with no facts or hard numbers to back them up.
The final major lesson of this election is that elective office is not for sale.  Money alone does not substitute for vision, nor can it buy an election.  Further, a few free-spending billionaires cannot dictate the direction of the country.  This is still a government for the people, by the people.

I did not actually think this would be the result.  I, like many Democrats, thought that Citizen's United was the end of democracy in America.  I was certain the Koch Brothers promise to purchase every second of advertising in the week running up to the election would transform the outcome. 

Instead, all of their money had the opposite effect, it motivated the Democrats, who knew that their had to have an impeccable ground game to combat the tsunami of cash flooding them.  And as a result, the Billionaire Band of Brothers got precisely as much good from their money as they would have gotten by flushing down the toilet.

And in the end, this result may have made Citizen's United the most overrated decision in Supreme Court history.  That isn't to say that it isn't a horrible ruling that must overturned soon, it just that it probably won't turn the United States into an Oligarchy.  And on that note, I feel like, for the moment at least, our Republic will be preserved.

The reason is, that I doubt that the wealthy will pony up next election like they did this election.  They did not get to be that wealthy by dumping hundreds of millions of dollars into lost causes.  They expect results for their money, and if they don't get them, they are going to be more resistant to dumping cash the next time around.

And there is an added pickup here, I think this debacle spells the end of the reign of Karl Rove; he has truly earned the nickname "Turd Blossom."  I just wonder if he will mysteriously disappear, just like the unfortunates who crossed the mob in the old days.  In any case, his reputation and power is pretty much finished at this point.

On another plus, all the cash that the Right dumped into this election will actually have a stimulative effect.  One of the problems with the Bush Tax Cuts, according to the CBO, is that the super wealthy typically do not inject as much money into the economy as the Middle Class.  All the money that was dumped into the media is now flowing around the economy.  The people who fought tooth and nail against the Stimulus Bill just did their own stimulus program.

Irony, your name is American Politics.

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