11/14/2012 04:15 pm ET Updated Jan 14, 2013

The Real Winner: American Exceptionalism Defeats Extremism

One of the things that makes America exceptional is the genius, common sense and level-headedness of its people. They proved their mettle once again on this Election Day.

Immediately after the election, much of the media characterized the results as an indication that the country was divided and as a vote for the status quo. For example, The Washington Post observed in a November 7 editorial, "The nation was starkly divided before, and it remains starkly divided today." George Will, in his column on the same day declared, "A nation vocally disgusted with the status quo has reinforced it by ratifying existing control of the executive branch and both halves of the legislative branch."

Those viewpoints reflected the conventional wisdom. But, as occurs frequently, the conventional wisdom was wrong -- or, at best, incomplete and inaccurate.

When we peel back the layers on the onion, drill down into the numbers, and analyze the process from outside-the-Beltway-in instead of inside-the Beltway-out, we come to very different conclusions. The citizens of this nation are not nearly as divided as one would think. The national electoral vote was not for the status quo but for quo vadis (whither goest thou).

The electorate writ large unequivocally set out a mandate for moderation, good will, compromise, and a center left-center right approach to governing this nation. Looking at the manner in which Mitt Romney's campaign for president was conducted and examining the data from a variety of perspectives explain why this is the case.

During the Republican primaries, in order to win the nomination, Gov. Romney moved to the right of his conservative opponents such as Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. He went Tea Party crazy for a time. His last concession to the extreme conservative wing of the party, however, was to pick Paul Ryan to be his running mate. After that Romney tacked back to the middle as quickly as he could.

He assiduously avoided Ryan's controversial budget plan and Medicare voucher proposal. Beginning from the first debate, in policy terms, Romney became virtually the mirror image of Obama on almost all issues both domestic and foreign. Their positions were so similar that in subsequent debates, if Obama answered a question first, the governor going second could have simply responded "me too."

This movement to the middle ground continued through candidate Romney's concession statement which was graceful, human and authentic. In that speech Romney said, "The nation as you know is at a critical point. At a time like this, we can't risk partisan bickering and political posturing. Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people's work."

Romney's words were not meant to mollify the extremist Tea Party element of the Republican Party, but to acknowledge the need to bridge differences and to bring the country together to solve problems. They were a call for more civility rather than more hostility in our political discussions and negotiations

The reason for Romney's clarion call to the middle rather than a shout out to the radical right becomes clear when you look at how the independent or moderate voters split on Election Day -- about 50/50 (54 percent for Romney, 46 percent for Obama). That's because after Romney's initial debate performance and in subsequent debates, he became an acceptable alternative to the president because he appeared mainstream, rational and reasonable and not a candidate from the conservative lunatic fringe.

Romney lost nationally by more than 3 million votes, or approximately 2.5 percent, of the almost 121 million votes cast. Although it cannot be proven, it seems highly likely, that if Romney had continued to run for president as the uber-conservative candidate who won the Republican primaries instead of as the Obama look-alike, his margin of defeat would have been considerably larger. It is not hard to imagine a defeat of the type suffered by Barry Goldwater in 1964, George McGovern in 1972, and Jimmy Carter in 1980.

So much for the divide -- what we saw in the vote nationally was citizens united in their search for equanimity and balance in the manner in which they cast their ballots. We saw the same thing in some state contests where voters split their tickets to give Romney a considerable victory in the presidential race over Obama but the edge by a handy margin to the moderate Democrat in the senatorial race. Consider the following (rounded up or down to nearest whole percent):

  • Indiana: Obama 44%. Donnelly 50%.
  • Missouri: Obama 44%. McCaskill 55%.
  • North Dakota: Obama 39%. Heitkamp 50%.
  • Montana: Obama 42%. Tester 49%.
  • West Virginia: Obama 36%. Manchin 61%.

This ticket splitting is evidence of what we would call the strength and power of the moderate center. This discriminating voting and ticket splitting also occurred in states such as Florida, New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania where Obama won but the Democrat for Senate ran ahead of the president in terms of the victory margin.

We would be remiss if we did not comment on the special cases of the Senate races in Indiana and Missouri, where legitimate rape occurred. That rape was the one in which the two Republican candidate opened their mouths, inserted their feet, or some other portions of their anatomies, swallowed hard, spoke profanely; and, in doing so managed to snatch smashing defeats from the jaws of certain victories. God works in mysterious ways -- doesn't She?

As for this being about the status quo, forget about it. Status quo means things stay the same. In this election, the Democrats gained a net of two seats in the Senate and it appears a net of seven seats in the House. The number of female senators went to 20 -- an all-time high. Hispanics turned out and cast their ballots for Democrats in record numbers.

As for the game of campaign money ball, time and again small money and smart money trumped big money. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $24 million in 15 senate races but only backed the winner in two. In spite of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the various races, according to the Wall Street Journal the Super PACs' impact appears to have been limited. Here's some evidence to support that opinion.

The two Super PACs that Karl Rove is affiliated with, American Crossroads (Crossroad) and Crossroads GPS (GPS), spent $170 million this election. Crossroads backed winners with just over 1 percent of the money it expended. GPS spent 13 percent of its dollars for winners. It is reported that the billionaire Koch Brothers spent $23 million on a "slew of races" but only supported three winners. Last but definitely not least, there's billionaire casino magnate, Sheldon Adelson. Adelson spent $53 million this election cycle beginning with the Republican presidential primaries. On Election Day, only one Adelson-backed candidate (Dean Heller, R-NV) won.

It has been widely and correctly reported that President Obama enjoyed considerable margins with African American, Hispanic, youth and women voters. His performance with the moderate and independent voters has not been stressed or analyzed enough, however. The president needed to get the right level of support from these voters in order to carry the swing states and win the election. He did. We now move forward.

In conclusion, there was a mandate this Election Day. It was a mandate for the middle road and the middle class. It was a mandate for moderation and compromise. It was a mandate for the power of the average citizens' voice in shaping America's future. It was a mandate for exceptionalism over extremism.

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