Democracy basically means that the political parties listen to the people, and fulfill the aspirations of the majority as expressed in a fair election. Where can you find the majority? The rich is far from being a majority. That’s why they always try to influence elections with their money to make up for their small number. On the other hand, the poor do not recognize their strength in number. They seldom vote because they cynically believe that they are powerless to change anything. This leaves the largest group in the middle. We may like to call them the middle class, the moderate, the silent majority, or simply the people. For a democracy to work, this middle group must have vitality. They must be informed, educated, connected, and motivated to vote.
The 2012 presidential election in the United States has turned out to be a pleasant surprise for the middle group. The people win in the end, having defeated corrupt money politics. The following traces how it happened:
Most people feared that this election would likely be rigged because of the unprecedented large sums of campaign money involved. Furthermore, the distortion of truth in political advertising seemed to cause mass confusion as to what is right or wrong. Special interest groups and other wealthy individuals poured in nearly $1 billion trying to unseat President Obama. Not to be outdone, the Obama campaign raised about the same amount by asking the people multiple times on the Internet for donations of $5 or more. Eventually, the people won by virtue of their large number and small donations, representing a triumph of people power over deep pocket money from special interests.
Another case in point is the US Senate race in Connecticut. The wealthy Republican candidate, Linda McMahon, spent close to $100 million of her own money but lost two times in three years. Another celebrated case is Republican Meg Whitman, current CEO of Hewlett Packard. She spent $160 million in 2010 in the contest for Governor of California, but she lost. These two examples really question how much money can buy in a vibrant democracy. The people are able to overcome big money influence when they are well informed and organized to vote for what they believe in.
Besides the victory of the people over corrupt money, the 2012 election also shows the triumph of moderate over extreme, and reason over dogma. The following illustrates:
Mitt Romney was generally considered a moderate Republican with a reasonable chance of beating Obama due to the current stagnant economy. In his quest for the party nomination, he weirdly called himself a “severe conservative” and took extreme positions especially on taxes and immigration to please the extreme faction of his party. After clinching the nomination, he tried to move back to the middle to gain votes, but his original positions had already stuck. Doing so meant he switched his principles for political convenience that turned many people away. This eventually proved to be a fatal mistake on his part.
After the election, the exit polls showed another piece of interesting evidence. About 51% of the respondents said that the country was in the wrong direction. Yet, about the same percentage approved President Obama’s handling of the economy. Why did they still vote for Obama who had supposedly led them astray? Were they crazy? No. Around 53% justifiably believed that the current sluggish economy was the consequence of eight years of Bush reckless policies, which gave big tax cuts to the rich ($1 trillion of government revenues lost) and put two wars on the credit card ($2 trillion of government expenditures unpaid). It would have been a miracle for the US to wipe out this $3 trillion deficit within the last four years, if not in a decade. It is obvious that the Bush Administration has done significant damage to the economy and the Republican reputation. No wonder the former President was not invited to speak at the Party National Convention held this summer.
The voting results of the 2012 election also shed some light on the big challenges now facing the Republican Party:
Hispanics living in the US is the fastest growing ethnic group accounting for 16.7% of the total population. Only 27% voted Republican versus 70% Democratic. A similar lopsided voting percentage applied to Asian citizens, which despite being a small 4.8% minority have shown dynamic upward mobility as an economic group. Reason? The Republican hard-line immigration policy gave the impression that minority ethnic groups were not welcome.
Women account for 54% of the US electorate that is higher than men. They voted 44% Republican and 55% Democratic. Reason? Republican ultra-conservative views on abortion, and lack of interest in health care reform caused doubts and worries among women.
The young generation is the future of society. They are a source of new blood for any political party. Those below 30 years of age voted 37% Republican and 60% Democratic. Reason? Republican lack of emphasis on education, and lack of a balanced approach to all issues turned off many young voters.
One consolation is the votes cast by white males. About 52% voted Republican and 45% Democratic. Should the Republicans rejoice because of this only bright spot? One of their leaders offers some thoughtful advice: Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina once said: “We are running out of angry white guys”, who are the conservative base of the party, but suffer dwindling numbers due to aging.
The people have spoken after the election. So say all politicians. Will they listen and act? We have to wait and see. The Republican Party has a reason for some soul searching. They have lost two presidential elections in a row, especially this one when they had a good chance to win because of high unemployment. Some argued that they lost because they were not conservative enough. Deep down, the big challenge is whether the Republican Party can remain a viable national party due to the passing of older white males who constitute its base, and the increasing alienation from the most dynamic segments of the electorate such as young people, women, and major ethnic groups.