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“Pure Partisanship”: The Battle For Voting Rights Isn’t Over

Sean Barry showed up at the same polling place in Mount Airy, Pennsylvania, where he cast his ballot for Barack Obama in 2008. But when he got there, the poll workers informed him that his name was nowhere to be found on the voter rolls. They also told him he wasn’t alone; other regular voters had arrived only to find their names missing. All of them had to submit provisional ballots. Allegations of an illegal voter purge were already swirling, and Barry felt uneasy. “I feel unsteady about my vote being counted,” he said. But in the end, with or without Barry’s vote, Obama won Pennsylvania easily.

Voter suppression was only going to have an electoral impact if the race got within spitting distance, and in the end, the attempted voter purges, voter ID laws, and partisan decision-making by elections administrators were not enough to swing the 2012 presidential election to Republicans. It was supposed to pick off the votes of poor and minority voters who vote disproportionately Democratic. Instead, the efforts seemed to have the opposite effect, in some places, galvanizing communities of color. But the issue is far from resolved, and were it not for court orders in many states limiting the suppressive policies, the situation could have been much scarier. Voting rights activists now need to do what they can to keep awareness high post-election. If they do, they may have a chance to reframe the entire debate around casting ballots.

There’s little doubt that the plan to make voting harder backfired in several swing states with large minority communities. Turnout among voters of color, those most likely to be impacted by suppressive tactics, was high, particularly in swing states. African Americans matched their record vote in 2008, while Latinos came out in even higher numbers than last time. In minority precincts in Virginia, Florida, and Ohio, voters waited for hours to cast their ballots. People rarely stand for six or seven hours just to vote for a candidate—this was about their rights, too.

It probably wasn’t a shock to the grassroots organizers spreading the word about the new voting changes. In August, when it appeared Pennsylvania’s voter ID law could disenfranchise a huge chunk of the minority community, I spent time with Joe Certaine, a longtime community activist who was leading the effort to get people IDs. He told me turnout would be higher with the law than without—because no one wanted to see their hard-earned franchise taken away. “The people united will never be defeated,” he said. “It’s just that simple.”

But it wasn’t just people power—Pennsylvania’s voter ID law, like those in Wisconsin, Texas, and elsewhere, was not in effect on Election Day thanks to legal battles. A voter purge in Florida, which targeted disproportionately minority voters, stopped before a court could order it not to, while courts intervened in similar purges in Texas and Colorado. Many of those ongoing court battles will resume next year, and help set the tone for the next election.

Those same people who stood in seven-hour lines to make their voices heard would be well-served to get involved in the efforts to reform the election process as a whole. Given the outcome of the presidential race, there won’t likely be any major post-election legal challenges. But make no mistake, around the country there were plenty of problems—ones with easy solutions. For instance, if there were stricter national standards surrounding how voters are registered and how voter rolls are maintained, we wouldn’t have seen the disturbing reports across Philly of regular voters showing up to discover their names weren’t listed—possible evidence of a last- minute purge. (A spokesperson from the Pennsylvania Secretary of State said the “list maintenance” was “nothing more intensive than normal.”)

Removing partisanship more generally would make an even bigger difference. In Ohio, Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted restricted early voting hours and made a series of decisions about provisional ballots that may result in some legitimate voters losing their vote. By moving election administrations to a non-partisan process—like the one in Wisconsin—rules about where, when, and how to vote would be made without regard for which party they help. It’s hard to imagine a reason other than partisanship for why long lines are particularly prevalent in minority precincts, for instance, where there seems to be a perpetual shortage of machines.

After elections, most people stop caring about provisional ballots and voting hours, the seemingly drier aspects of the democratic process. But this election may have illustrated bluntly what’s at stake. Fights over strict voter ID laws around the country helped show that in-person voter fraud is largely a myth, and exposed the partisan Republican agenda behind those laws. The first evidence of a shift in public opinion already came last night, when after polling showed the measure would win, Minnesota voters killed a proposal to create a voter ID law. Voting rights activists may be able to build on the unprecedented coverage of voting issues this election and the organizing they’ve already done to make fair elections a policy issue going forward. Just because the election is over doesn’t mean the battle for voting rights is.

 

By: Abby Rapoport, The American Prospect, November 7, 2012

November 8, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Magnitude Of The Moment”: When President Obama Won, So Did America’s Future

What Barack Obama tried to tell America, in the hour of his remarkable victory, is that the nation’s future won on Election Day. Seeking to inspire and to heal, the re-elected president offered an open hand to partisan opponents in the style that has always defined him.

“Tonight,” he said, “despite all the hardship we’ve been through, despite all the frustrations of Washington, I’ve never been more hopeful about our future.”

In the days ahead there will be time to absorb the magnitude of this moment -– achieved under the cloud of persistent unemployment and a multibillion-dollar campaign of calumny — but the president clearly knows that he returns to the White House with a renewed mandate. Against great odds, he won nearly all the same states that elected him in 2008 and won the popular vote despite an enormous, angry backlash in the old Confederacy.

Victory conferred on him the authority to speak of the days and years ahead whose agenda he will shape, not alone, but as a proven leader who knows that “we rise or fall together as one nation and one people.” He spoke of a future where the children of immigrants can dream of becoming doctors or diplomats, and the children of workers can dream of becoming president; a future not threatened by excessive debt, worsening inequality, and climate change.

It is an inclusive vision of a nation where politics can be big, not small, as he said, because the goals of public life are great for everyone – and where the best is still ahead because the adversity, prejudices, and illusions of the past are receding.

“That’s the future we share,” he said. “That’s where we need to go… Our economy is recovering, a decade of war is ending, a long campaign is now over.”

How can he “seize that future,” as he urged us all to do? The conventional wisdom of Washington punditry is already telling the president that he must “work across the aisle” with the Republicans, who will still control the House in January. But while he acknowledged the necessity to reach out to his opponents — and alluded to his long-held bipartisan spirit — he hinted that he has learned something else during his contentious first term and this hard, grinding campaign.

If he hopes to leave a legacy of accomplishment in his second term, he cannot count on the cooperation of the right-wing rump in Congress. If he wants to tax the wealthy, reject austerity, implement Obamacare, and begin to cope with global warming, he will have to rely upon on the people who entrusted him with their votes, their energy, their hope.

“The role of citizen in our democracy does not end with your vote,” he said. “America is about what can be done by us, together.” Mobilizing the public is not only the way to win elections, but the way to win an agenda for the future.

 

By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, November 7, 2012

November 8, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Word To The Not So Wise”: You Come At The King, You Best Not Miss

If you want a sense of how remarkable Barack Obama’s re-election victory is, think back to last summer. At the time, the president was struggling to reach a deal with House Republicans, who were threatening not to raise the debt ceiling and plunge the economy into a second recession. Unemployment was high—9.2 percent—Obama’s approval had dipped to the low 40s, and to anyone paying attention, the first African American president looked like a one-term failure.

But beginning in the fall, Obama began to reassert himself. With the American Jobs Act, he outlined a viable plan for generating economic growth and kick-starting the recovery. With his widely praised speech in Kansas, he outlined a populist agenda of greater investment and higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans. Over the course of 2012, he built good will with important communities, from LGBT Americans with an endorsement of same-sex marriage to Latino immigrants and their families with a measure meant to emulate the DREAM Act. What’s more, the economy began to pick up: Job growth increased, unemployment dropped, and the overall economic picture began to brighten.

Together with one of the most hard-nosed campaigns of recent memory, Obama managed to bounce back from the nadir of 2011 to one of the broadest re-election victories since Reagan’s 1984 landslide. At this point, news networks have called New Hampshire, Iowa, Wisconsin, Colorado, Nevada, Virginia, and Ohio for President Obama. Only Florida has yet to be called, where the remaining votes are in traditionally Democratic areas of the state. Compared with 2008, Obama lost only two states: North Carolina and Indiana. When all is said and done, Barack Obama will have won re-election with 332 electoral votes—a much larger margin than the last president to win re-election, George W. Bush

Over the next week, I’ll write about the details of Obama’s victory, in particular his huge advantage with nonwhite voters—without historic margins (and turnout) among African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans, it’s likely Obama would have failed in his quest for a second term. Indeed, it should be said that Republicans have themselves to blame for a good deal of this. If not for their categorical opposition to health-care reform, the Affordable Care Act would have never been passed in its current form. If not for their harsh approach to immigration, they might have won greater Latino support over the last four years. If not for their embrace of misogyny, they might have closed the gender gap. If not for their willingness to indulge the worst conspiracies about Obama, they might have made inroads with young people and college-educated voters.

In the meantime, it’s worth noting what Obama’s victory means for the next four years of public policy.

Obamacare will be implemented in full, and the United States will begin its journey toward universal health-care coverage. Millions of Americans will be covered by the bill’s Medicaid expansion, and millions more will—for the first time—have access to affordable health insurance. Likewise, Dodd-Frank will survive, and the federal government will begin to craft regulations that will—with any luck—prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial collapse. Obama’s re-election shields core liberal commitments—on social insurance, anti-poverty policy, and environmental regulation—from conservative assault, and gives Democrats a chance to reshape the Supreme Court and the federal judiciary writ large.

Thanks to last night’s results, liberals have four years to cement a host of policies and achievements that could prove as transformative as the Great Society or even the New Deal. And this is on top of an economic recovery that will almost certainly boost Democrats’ standing with the public.

It’s still far too early to make a judgment about Barack Obama’s overall historical standing. But by virtue of winning re-election, he has become the most successful Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson, and one of the most successful of the 21st century.

Not bad for the skinny Hawaiian kid with a funny name.

 

By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, November 7, 2012

November 8, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Especially Sweet”: Obamacare Gets Its Vindication

George Shultz once offered advice to Cabinet secretaries seeking to make a difference, advice that applies equally well to presidents. It’s easy to be consumed by your in box in these big jobs, Shultz explained. The flow of “incoming” could keep anyone fully occupied from the moment they were sworn in to the day they left office. The key to leaving your mark is to be sure you work on priorities you select and put into other people’s in-boxes. Don’t just work off your own.

This sound counsel captures why Barack Obama’s devotion to major health reform was so important — and why the risks he took to pursue that course must make his vindication Tuesday night especially sweet.

Obama didn’t “have” to do health reform. It wasn’t in his in box. A historic economic collapse was. He could have devoted himself exclusively to economic crisis management. (Though even if he’d done that, it’s not clear the recovery would be further along. After all, the Republicans blocked the sensible infrastructure investments in his Jobs Act a year ago that would have left 1 million more Americans working today — and unemployment at 7.2 percent, not 7.9 percent).

But Obama took the longer view. He knew U.S. health care was a scandal, with outsize costs and 50 million people uninsured. Now, thanks to the president’s reelection and the certainty that the law will be phased in by 2014, everything will change.

For the first time, Americans will have guaranteed access to coverage at group rates outside the employment setting. This fact got zero discussion in the campaign, but it’s impossible to overstate its significance. We’re the only wealthy nation where such access isn’t the case today. It’s been bad for people and disastrous for entrepreneurship (because budding entrepreneurs routinely stay in jobs they dislike in order to keep health coverage if there’s illness in their family).

The status quo has been bad for business, which carries the cost of health care on its payrolls. It’s also been bad for workers, because the cash devoured by employer-paid health premiums would otherwise be available for higher wages.

With Obama’s reelection, the great hope now is that in the years ahead, as politicians and business leaders in both parties realize that the new insurance exchanges are a safe and sensible way for folks to get coverage, more Americans will be allowed to migrate to the exchanges, with sliding-scale subsidies for those who need help to buy decent policies.

Everyone needs to realize that this development would be terrific — good for people, good for business, good for the economy. Republicans have talked inanely about people at risk of being “dumped” into the new exchanges, when in fact private plans will be offered exactly like those employers have offered, except that people will have many more choices.

Smart employers see this trend coming and know it makes sense. When I spoke to an audience of human-resource executives not long after Obamacare passed, I polled the audience on what it expected. Today about 20 million people get coverage outside the job setting (not counting folks on Medicare and Medicaid). What would that number be in a decade, I asked. 20 million? 40 million? Or 100 million? Most said 100 million — which would obviously represent a dramatic shift in so short a time. It may be a threat to the benefits empires these folks run for their companies, but it represents huge progress for the country.

This progress will have been possible only because President Obama took a bigger view and then persisted. He wasn’t going to make his entire presidency about his in box — which meant cleaning up George W. Bush’s mess. Instead, he fought for major changes that mattered for the long term. He paid a big price for this choice. Not only did he face the GOP’s fury but, because his team didn’t design health reform to phase in fully until 2014, voters had to go through this election without any sense of the security Obamacare will bring.

Republicans who grasped the stakes opposed it so fiercely because they knew that if Obamacare wasn’t killed in its cradle, it would eventually be popular and deepen the public’s attachment to the party that authored it (this same sentiment accounted for the violent opposition to Clintoncare in the 1990s).

Well, these GOP fears were well-founded. By 2016, Obamacare will be immensely popular. Mark my words.

There are surely 100 reasons why reelection must be satisfying to the president. But one of the biggest has to be the vindication of his choice to go big on health care. Long after the damage of the burst financial and real estate bubbles is healed, Obamacare will be his legacy. It will have improved our society and laid the groundwork for greater economic security in an era in which Americans will increasingly be buffeted by global economic forces beyond their control.

The law is hardly perfect. Twenty million to 30 million Americans will still lack coverage even after it is implemented. Some of its regulations amount to micromanagement (such as rules requiring insurers to spend 80 percent of premiums on health care). The decision to finance the bill partly with fees on employers who don’t offer coverage created needless business opposition and may lead some to cut workers’ hours to stay below the threshold that triggers such fees.

But these things can easily be fixed. The big point remains: By instinctively heeding Shultz’s advice and keeping his eye on America’s unfinished agenda even as economic storms raged around him, Obama is now certain to leave America a more decent society in ways that business will come to recognize are good for the economy as well. (The fact that Mitt Romney’s health reform inspired its design gives the achievement a kind of tacit bipartisan poetry as well.)

Not bad for a night’s work. All we need now is filibuster reform, and we might really be on to something.

 

By: Matt Miller, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 7, 2012

November 8, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Unfinished Business”: President’s Obama’s Victory Should Settle A Bitter Argument

President Obama’s reelection was at once a deeply personal triumph and a victory for the younger, highly diverse and broadly progressive America that rallied to him. It was a result that ought to settle the bitter argument that ground the nation’s government to a near-standstill.

The president spent much of the year fighting the effects of a stubbornly sluggish economic recovery and facing implacable opposition among Republicans in Congress who made defeating him a high priority. He fought back by undermining Mitt Romney’s major asset as a private-equity specialist and by enlisting Bill Clinton as his chief explainer.

And he mobilized a mighty army of African American and Hispanic voters. They were all the more determined to exercise their voting rights after Republicans sought in state after state to make it harder for them to cast ballots. Latino voters turned out overwhelmingly for the president, guaranteeing that immigration reform will be on the next Congress’s agenda.

Just as important for governance over the next four years, the president took on an increasingly militant conservatism intent on vastly reducing the responsibilities of government and cutting taxes even more on the wealthiest Americans. In the process, he built a broad alliance of moderates and progressives who still believe in government’s essential role in regulating the marketplace and broadening the reach of opportunity.

Many have argued that the president ran a “small” and “negative” campaign, and he was certainly not shy about going after Romney. But this misses the extent to which Obama made specific commitments and repeatedly cast the election as a choice between two different philosophical directions.

He was not vague about what he meant. Obama campaigned explicitly on higher taxes for the wealthy as part of a balanced budget deal. He stoutly defended the federal government’s interventions to bring the economy back from the brink — and especially his rescue of the auto companies.

It cannot be forgotten that saving General Motors and Chrysler was the most “interventionist” and “intrusive” economic policy Obama pursued — and it proved to be the most electorally successful of all of his decisions. The auto bailout was key to Obama’s crucial victory in Ohio, where six in 10 voters approved the rescue. Union households in the state voted strongly for the president, and he held his own among working-class whites.

The president also called for higher levels of government spending for job training and education, particularly community colleges. And he spoke repeatedly against turning Medicare into a voucher program and sending Medicaid to the states.

The voters who reelected the president knew what they were voting for. They also knew what they were voting against. Romney paid a high price for his comments suggesting that “47 percent” of the electorate was hopelessly dependent on government. Writing off nearly half the potential voters is never a good idea. On Tuesday, a clear majority rejected that notion. It rejected as well Rep. Paul Ryan’s categorization of the country as made up of “makers” and “takers.”

Romney tried hard to scramble toward the political middle in the campaign’s final month, and that too should send a signal: In this election, the hard-line ideas of the tea party were rejected not only by those who voted against the Republicans but also by Republicans themselves. And Republicans will be well aware that tea party candidates, notably in Indiana and Missouri, sharply set back their efforts to take control of the Senate.

Republicans will take solace in their success in holding on to the House of Representatives. But the party as a whole will have to come to terms with its failures to expand beyond its base of older white voters and to translate right-wing slogans into a coherent agenda. Republicans need to have a serious talk with themselves, and they need to change.

All of this strengthens Obama’s hand. It will not be so easy for Republicans to keep saying no. They can no longer use their desire to defeat Obama as a rallying cry. They cannot credibly insist that tax increases can never be part of a solution to the nation’s fiscal problems.

And now Obama will have the strongest argument a politician can offer. Repeatedly, he asked the voters to settle Washington’s squabbles in his favor. On Tuesday, they did. And so a president who took office four years ago on a wave of emotion may now have behind him something more valuable and durable: a majority that thought hard about his stewardship and decided to let him finish the job he had begun.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 7, 2012

November 8, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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