One of the most famous post-election headlines I can recall was one from The Daily Mirror (a UK publication) the day after 2004 election: “How can 59,054,087 people be so dumb?” Yes, some people may have found it insulting; some funny. But one thing most of us can agree upon – every election result produces overreaction from someone. This year, the poster-child of overreaction happens to be the man who has been lampooned by people on the left regularly lately, Donald Trump, who had a complete meltdown on Twitter.
As a moderate “Independent”, I find the overreaction more funny than annoying. In full disclosure, let me state some of my opinions clearly: I am fiscally conservative, I believe in simplifying the tax code, significantly cutting back Government spending, creative incentives for private industry to thrive, but I also believe in the notion of social responsibility. My operating definition of “social responsibility” is simple: any progressive or developed nation has the moral obligation to create programs to allow its less-privileged citizens to have the opportunity to bring themselves up to the so-called sweet spot of any healthy, growing economy – the “middle” class. So, yes, my fiscal conservativeness is balanced by the understanding that Government does have a role to play beyond just Defense! Finally, I have highly libertarian views on personal social issues – nothing gets me more ticked-off than some politician imposing their personal views on religion, marriage, etc on the general public. Okay, now you know why I consider myself an Independent! Neither party truly reflects my views – so, I vote for people, not parties. That is why I find the overreaction amusing. What I find annoying, however, is so-called political pundits’ lack of in-depth analysis, and wanting to jump to the simplest conclusions.
The conventional wisdom of past is that high unemployment leads to voters throwing out the incumbent. That didn’t happen this year. The simplest analysis I have heard from many political pundits can be summarized in one word – “demographics”. The “white” vote has gone down consistently as an overall percentage in the last three elections. The theory – founded in results as well, I admit – is that the so-called “white vote” ( a phrase I find very uncomfortable) would have resulted in Mr. Romney elected as President, had it been at the same levels as 2008. The corollary to that theory immediately is that the “Latino and African-American vote” went overwhelmingly to Mr. Obama. All of the above are true. But, as an Indian American, I feel left out by these pundits. Well, no need to despair. NBC’s “Meet the Press” addressed that by indicating that the overall Asian American vote has gone increasingly for the Democratic Presidential candidate over the last three elections. So, yes, demographics are clearly at play. But, what is really going on under the covers?
First, it is good to start by busting one major myth. Perhaps driven by their desire to be “simple”, pundits translate demographic voting to issues they (the pundits) can match to simple talking points. Best example: Latino vote going to Mr. Obama because of Republicans’ views on Immigration. To think that all Latinos care only about the Immigration view is, at a minimum, insulting to all Latinos. Fact is that Latinos, African Americans, Whites, and Asian Americans have more in common than not – they all play in the same economy, they all want what is best for their kids, they all have family members in Wars that keep them up at night, and most importantly they all love this country and want to be proud in what they do in return.
So, the basic fallacy in any analysis is that no vote is about one issue. It comes down a multitude of issues that get processed before someone votes. Unlike The Daily Mirror headline, Americans are not that dumb! And, if I reflect on this election, a few things come to mind:
A former boss and a great mentor made this statement after the 2004 election, “You could say that I am more aligned intellectually with the Democrats…” I laughed then, and thought that was a very polite way of hiding his disappointment. But this election, more than any other I can recall, represented why “intellectual alignment” does play a big role in a voter’s selection. And this time around, it worked in Democrats’ favor, thus helping Mr. Obama win re-election. By the way, by no means am I implying that Mr. Romney is not intelligent! But the issues go deeper than the two individuals. There are some issues where Republican party has failed to show its collective intellectual alignment with – well, much of the educated world. Here are a few examples. There is the famous question of “do you believe in evolution” asked at a Republican Primary debate. I still can’t figure out what I found more surreal – the fact that the question had to be asked or that majority of the candidates reflected that they didn’t! Second example: Climate Change. It is one thing to debate the cause(s) and what should be done to mitigate Climate Change, but to question its very existence leaves intelligent people confounded. Let me not even get started on the stupid remarks of a couple of Republican Senate candidates on issues related to rape. Both of them were defeated, even in territories considered strong Republican strongholds – thus showing that “intellectual alignment” plays a much bigger role in voting patterns. Our electorate is more in tune with realities of the world, and for better or worse, it is hard to argue that Republicans’ collective snafus, even though they didn’t reflect Mr. Romney’s views, didn’t hurt him in the end.
I wasn’t in US for the 1980 election but when you hear about it, Mr Reagan captured the nation’s imagination by his unique ability to inspire. Mr. Kennedy did the same in 1960. Mr. Obama repeated the same phenomenon in 2008. Whether we admit it or not, one thing that ties Americans together is the desire to be “inspired”. Even in Corporations across America, you will find successful leaders being able to inspire their people to think differently, be able to perform beyond their capabilities. When it comes to Presidential elections, and especially where the incumbent is one choice, the burden of “inspiration” falls on the challenger. Even when I have asked my friends who are staunch Republicans what they find inspiring about Mr. Romney, I mostly heard what they didn’t like about Mr. Obama. Enough said. One issue where Mr. Romney had an edge over Mr. Obama, at least based on the resume, was “economy” and selection of Mr Ryan as his VP confirmed that realization. Yet, there was not one policy laid out that could have inspired the moderates to think that economy would have acted better or different under Mr. Romney’s leadership.
Here is an interesting thing about American voters. On one hand, we want our leader to be more like “us”, but we are also smart enough to know that we want our leader to be smarter, more charismatic, and global than us! I give you two classic examples: Mr. Clinton and Ms. Palin. Nobody meets the test of the perfect “image” of a President than Mr. Clinton. To this date, he can speak to each American like nobody else I know. He seems to know the exact issues that are on top of their minds, but then you hear him speak at Clinton Global Initiative or at any International Summit, you are amazed by the depth and breadth of his intelligence across a broad range of topics. It is said he has one of the highest IQs of all our Presidents – and unlike the stereotype of a typically intelligent person, he is charismatic, does not come across as an “elitist”, knows how to work with national and global leaders, etc. Ms Palin, when chosen as VP candidate by another respected leader, Mr. McCain, initially inspired many – she was charismatic, came across as being aware of problems people were facing, but then she quickly faded. Why? People figured out that while those qualities were great, we do want our leaders to know more than us!! That was obviously not the case, as we all know now, and is well documented in “The Game Change”, a movie based on real accounts of the McCain-Palin campaign. In this election, Mr. Romney lost out on “image” points to Mr. Obama. On the global stage, polls of top 25 nations showed that except for one (Pakistan), people preferred Mr Obama to Mr Romney. Even locally, Mr. Romney failed to create a credible “image”. Many have blamed the Republican Primary – I don’t buy that. Democrats went through a vicious Primary in 2008 – and Mr. Obama’s image was preserved through the process.
Intelligence. Inspiration. Image. Three issues that go much deeper in explaining what happened in this election – and they have nothing to do with whether you are White, African-American, Latino or Asian. The Republican party has much to analyze over the next few years, but if all they do is focus on “immigration” issues to think they are going to win over Latinos, or on pretending to moderating their stand on abortion to win over women’s vote, then they would have missed the basic point. We want two healthy parties focusing on the right issues to continue our global leadership. And, I, for one, am hoping that Republicans get it together soon.