04 January 2017

An Obama Third Term? The Voters have Spoken

In an "interview" with former political adviser David Axelrod, our egotist-in-chief asserted that if the Constitution permitted a third term, he could have defeated Donald Trump in the 2016 election. He based his claim on his belief that Americans continue to embrace his vision.

Counter-factual history can be fun. Its conclusions remain, however, just that--counter-factual.

At least one aspect of the 2016 election supports Obama's claim. Large numbers of black voters stayed home, especially black women. Whether they supported his vision or not--who knows. Like many other voters in both parties, black women probably voted with their emotions. Maybe ethnic solidarity moved them. Maybe Obama as "the golden child" destined to save America drew them to the polls. Maybe Obama as the son of doting mothers and grandmothers accounted for the extraordinary turn out. In 2016, the stayed home by the thousands. Perhaps not only the absence of Obama from the ballot, but also the presence of Hillary Clinton that kept them away from the polls. The attitude of the public toward Hillary Clinton always has been problematic. In 1992, during Bill Clinton's campaign, his staff assembled one of those focus groups in which handheld meters recorded responses to various images and sounds. One of those staff members, George Stephanopolous, later recalled how the positive reactions from the focus group "dropped like a downhill ski run" in response to video of Hillary Clinton.

When I recently learned about that, it brought to mind something that unfolded contemporaneously with the first Clinton administration--the trial of O.J. Simpson. After losing what could have been a slam dunk case (if I may use a basketball analogy for the trial of an ex-football player), the prosecution engaged in the same self-searching as the Democrats at least should be doing today. It came out that in their own pre-trial focus groups, the subjects reacted very negatively to lead prosecutor Macia Clark. Apparently black women expressed the most visceral spite for her. I remember the expression "white bitch on the make" being tossed about. Do some black women have such animosity for some professional white women? Did some black female voters see Clinton as another "white bitch on the make?" Maybe the absence of black voters made ALL the difference in the world. But maybe their absence made only SOME difference,

Skepticism about Obama's claim is warranted, however, by another factor: who showed up at the polls and where. Dozens of counties in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin that went for Obama both in 2008 and 2012 voted Republican in 2016. New voters account to some degree for the change. The majority of votes, however, were probably cast by those who once perceived Obama as the populist candidate devoted to changing the way business is done in Washington D.C.--and elsewhere. He promised, after all,  to fundamentally transform America.

The election was a shock but it also was the crescendo against Obama that has been rising for a number of years.

It first showed in the 2010 elections, when the Republicans gains 63 seats in the House of Representatives--the largest reversal since the Great Depression.

It showed  in the  2012 presidential election, when Obama himself received 3.5 million fewer votes than in 2008.

It showed in the 2014 mid term elections, when the Republicans gained control of the Senate.

And it showed in the state houses, where during Obama's terms of office, the Republicans gained over 1,000 seats. They hold the most seats since the 1920s. They control 32 state legislatures. And in 24 of those states, they also control the governorship.

Unfortunately, progressive  domination of the SCOTUS has blunted and has the potential to continue to blunt the conservative surge against the Obama administration.

It remains to be seen if the progressive hold on the court will endure.

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