There is a lot of bloviating right now about how much we need bipartisanship, and how the Republicans must reassess their messaging to women, Latinos, and other minorities, gays, and youth if they are to have a hope of growing instead of shrinking into a regional party the is "too old, too male, and too white."
No one has a crystal ball to predict the exact course of the next four years. But it is useful to start with what we actually know.
First, for all the talk about how "moderate" Republicans need to reject the Tea Party, about the ultra-right candidates that lost them their chance to take the Senate majority, nothing will change in the Republican Party unless there is a change in who votes in Republican primaries. Absent that, in the internal battles sure to come inside the Republican Party, the right wing to ultra-right wing will continue to dominate. This may cost them national electoral success over the coming decades, but any change has to come from somewhere. We've already seen what the electoral defeat in 2008 did to the Republican Party, and it wasn't a reassessment in the direction of moderation.
Second, as we are already seeing, many on the right are continuing their rejection of reality, their rejection of the idea that they need to recognize that the broader electorate is changing, becoming more multi-racial, more liberal, and younger and more diverse in many ways. The more sensible, realistic among their leadership may recognize that reality, but for the present, their base will escalate efforts to send the Republican Party even further right. The Party of "No" will become the even-more shrill party of "Hell, no, give us back our country from 'those people!'"
Even more committed to no compromise except on their terms (meaning surrender to their terms, not real compromise), the battle in the Republican Party will be between those who argue for "adjustments" in the way the Republicans approach immigration, gay rights, and women's rights, and those who argue for escalating their rhetoric, their obstructionism, and their policy proposals in an even more right wing direction. Both sides will call for "change" in the party, but they'll be talking about different kinds of change.
Thirdly, reality in many forms is going to continue to assert itself, from more extreme weather due to climate change to continuing demographic, cultural, and political changes away from the Republican base. While the temptation of future victories on the national level will continue to tantalize the limited Republican intellectual elite, nothing has changed about the balance of power and ideology within the base of the Republican Party, and nothing has changed to limit the loud voices of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and their ilk.
Fourthly, one thing that Republican commentators are saying is true: the country is still very closely divided. This national popular vote was way closer than it should have been, given the quality of the respective candidates and their campaigns. This will hamper efforts to create as many jobs as the country needs, obstruct efforts to address climate change, and continue to keep way too much of the focus on the national debt to the exclusion of real efforts to deal with the deficit by growing the economy.
Fifth, there are still many states with Republican governors (one more than before the election) and Republican controlled legislatures, and even if they have been given fair warning of the political costs, they will continue to try to implement the agenda they have been forcing on states over the past several years: voter suppression in the form of less early voting, more difficult voter registration, voter roll purges, intimidation at polling places, state laws that overturn democracy (as in the Michigan Emergency Manager law reversed by the citizens); anti-union measures of various kinds; anti-women's health measures of many kinds; state tax cuts for the already obscenely wealthy. The fights against these kinds of measures will continue in many states.
Sixth, Republicans in Congress are already trying to continue their efforts to insist that the national deficit is the main problem facing our country and that no increase of any kind in taxes on the wealthy can be part of the solution - both PR efforts that ignore math and common sense. They have been doing this for years, and they will continue to try and frame the national debate in terms favorable to their overlords' agenda.
Seventh, those on the Left who rejected Obama will find that instead of rejecting the negative aspects of his administration's policies, they ended up rejecting working with the coalition of workers, African Americans, Latinos, youth, women, gays, liberals, progressives, and even some sensible conservatives who created this Electoral College landslide. This election was not about Obama; it was always about the movement.
Eighth, while conservatives will deny that there was a landslide, the lopsided results in the Electoral College (undemocratic though that outdated institution is) make clear that the political, cultural, and demographic changes taking place are national in scope, not a one-time (or two-time) aberration. Every state, including the most conservative, is seeing demographic, cultural, and political changes. Of course, the process is much further advanced in some states, but it is a national phenomenon.
Ninth, while the Obama campaign team, as sharp this year as four years ago, put together a massive organization, it will be a struggle to get Obama and other Democrats to use this organization to fight for a progressive agenda across the board, and to use it fully to change the nature of the mid-term elections in two years. Legislative accomplishments happen not just because of legislative maneuvering, but also, even mainly, because of pressure from mass movements, which must keep that pressure up.
For example, four years ago, there was much discussion of the Employee Free Choice Act, but Republicans (and retrograde Democrats like Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson) successfully kept it off the table. The labor movement and its allies need to bring it forward again, since it has the potential to fundamentally alter our elections. It will be fought against by many, but it would have real transformational impact for decades at least. Without sufficient pressure, the Democrats will trade it away for other legislative goals, which are less transformative.
Lastly, we can be certain that the class war waged by large sections of the capitalist class against workers, against living wages and decent working conditions, against collective bargaining, against public sector unions, against social benefits including Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare, and against the voting rights of large sections of the citizenry will continue. That aggressive attack must be met with mass organization and struggle if the people of this country, the vast majority of whom are workers and their families, are to get the fair shake they have earned many times over.
Photo: Donkey Hotey/Flickr