Make no mistake, Tuesday's GOP surge was about President Obama. The dumbest thing that progressives, liberal Democrats and much of the media did following Obama's election a year ago was to gloat and smugly declare the GOP dead. The silly line repeated incessantly was that the GOP has been reduced to a dwindling bunch of good ole' boy redneck yahoos in the Deep South. The even sillier line was that the GOP was so backward, discredited and marginalized that it was well on its way to sinking to a fringe party about as popular as the Socialist Labor Party and the IWW. Tuesday's election should have smashed that delusion.
The bad mistake liberals, progressives and the media made was to confuse Obama's popularity with support of his policies. Nothing could be further from the truth. Polls repeatedly warned that while a majority of voters still say they personally like Obama, they don't like, or are at best, are deeply ambivalent about his polices. The checklist is well-known; his failure to wind down the Iraq War, his threat to escalate the failed, flawed, no-win war in Afghanistan, a muddled, patchwork, terribly compromised health care reform plan, failure to rein in Wall Street profiteering, skyrocketing unemployment, bottomless home foreclosures, a stimulus shell-out that hiked the deficit but created few sustained, verifiable, long term jobs.
The even worse mistake was to misread the 2008 presidential election results. Much was made that he got more white votes than John Kerry or Al Gore. That he revved up young whites, and that he totally exorcised race from the campaign. Obama's win supposedly was final proof that America had kicked the racial syndrome. This is the stuff of media talk and wishful thinking. Despite a GOP racked by sex and corruption scandals, an anemic presidential opponent, a laughingstock vice presidential candidate, a collapsed economy and an outgoing GOP president with a rating worse than Herbert Hoover's, McCain still crushed Obama by a twelve point spread among white voters.
The route was not just among old, Deep South, unreconstructed or latent bigoted white male voters, but in virtually every voter demographic among whites, including a dead heat with Obama among a majority of younger white voters. This doesn't tell the whole story of the sharp divide Obama still faces. A sizeable percentage of whites were disgusted enough with Bush's policies to stay home on Election Day, but not disgusted enough with him and his policies to vote for Obama. The Henry Louis Gates affair and the right's town hall rabble rousing made more voters wary of Obama's policies. Polls after the Gates outburst showed that a majority of whites condemned Obama for backing Gates and, even more ominously, expressed big doubts about his policies.
A painful reality is that the crushing majority of whites who oppose Obama or disavow his policies for racial, party, ideological reasons or personal prejudices, are a solid backbone of the radical right's counter insurgency against him. A cursory glance at the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races showed that except for a handful of counties with the big cities with a majority of young, liberal, and minority voters, the GOP swept all the counties. Even in the hotly contested upstate New York congressional race, that some crow about as a GOP rebukes, it wasn't. Despite the laughingly divided and feuding GOP factions, GOP conservative candidate Doug Hoffman still corralled nearly fifty percent of the vote.
The huge treasure trove of dollars that South Carolina congressman Joe Wilson hauled in after his legendary "you lie" outburst against Obama in the midst of his congressional health care reform talk before Congress, and the off the charts fund raising haul the Republican National Committee raked in the past two months, were two grave warning signs that the GOP is hardly a lifeless corpse.
No, Tuesday's election was about Obama. The 2010 and 2012 elections will be the same. Progressives, liberal Democrats, and the media would be more than foolish to think otherwise.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book, How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press) will be released in January 2010.