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The US Postal Service is in the midst of a manufactured crisis. It is supposedly broke and headed toward a sort of fiscal cliff of its own. If it goes over, the likely result is privatization of its profitable enterprises and elimination of the commitment to universal service that has been the service's promise since the founding of the republic.
But that does not have to happen.
Congress undermined the financial stability of the postal service during a lame-duck session six years ago.
It can repair the damage done during this session.
The task is not difficult.
The lift is not heavy.
It is merely a matter of will.
Friday’s New York Times noted that “the Postal Service on Thursday reported a record $15.9 billion net loss for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, bringing the financially troubled agency another step closer to insolvency.”
That’s the CliffsNotes version of the story. And if people read no further, they’ll think that the USPS is a mess. But it’s not. It’s merely in a financial mess created by Congress.
Two-thirds of the $15.9 billion “loss” involved what the Times referred to as “accounting expenses of $11.1 billion related to two payments that the agency was supposed to make into its future retiree health benefits fund.”
Those accounting expenses were imposed not by necessity but by Congress. And the imposition can be lifted, along with restrictions on the ability of the service to compete.
In 2006, a Republican Congress—acting at the behest of the Bush-Cheney administration—enacted a law that required the postal service to “pre-fund” retiree health benefits seventy-five years into the future. No major private-sector corporation or public-sector agency could do that. It’s an untenable demand.
“[The] Postal Service in the short term should be released from an onerous and unprecedented burden to pre-fund 75 years of future retiree health benefits over a ten-year period,” says US Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont. “With $44 billion now in the fund, the Postal Service inspector general has said that program is already stronger than any other equivalent government or private-sector fund in the country. There already is more than enough in the account to meet all obligations to retirees.”
“The Postal Service should also be allowed to recover more than $13 billion in overpayments it has made to its pension plans,” Sanders explained earlier this year, as the current “crisis” began to take shape. “With these changes alone, the Postal Service would be back in the black and posting profits.”
Sanders and other concerned legislators have gotten the Senate to take some steps toward addressing what is, in reality, a Congressional crisis—not a postal crisis. But the disengaged and dysfunctional Republican leadership in the House has failed to act in an even minimally responsible manner.
The Post Office will need to make changes. It will need to evolve as the ways in which Americans communicate change. But it can and should remain the vital source of community and connection that it has been since the nation’s founding. For that to happen, however, the USPS must be allowed by maintain staffing and infrastructure, to expand services, to operate in a fiscally responsible and fiscally sane manner—not required to default.
And now is the time to act.
The unions that represent postal workers say so.
The unions that represent postal workers say so. National Association of Letter Carriers president Fredric Rolando correctly notes that, with the rejection of the austerity agenda proposed by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, “The election offers the prospect that the financial problems facing the United States Postal Service can be resolved in a fair and reasonable manner that benefits the public.”
But it’s not just unions that are looking for a postal “fix.” The businesses that rely on the postal service are demanding action. “The Postal Service is facing a fiscal cliff of its own, and any unanticipated drop in mail volumes could send the agency over the edge,” says Art Sackler, who works with the business-led Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, which has urged Congress to enact comprehensive postal legislation during its lame-duck session. “If Congress fails to act, there could be postal slowdowns or shutdowns that would have catastrophic consequences for the eight million private-sector workers whose jobs depend on the mail.”
The concerns of small businesses and mailers create an space for President Obama to make a call for congressional action to renew the Postal Service.
Obama should speak up for the Postal Service now, as the lame-duck session gets started. And he and his fellow Democrats should look to build a coalition for its future with rural Republicans.
Yes, those rural Republicans are conservative on a host of issues. But a collapse of the USPS would do the most severe damage to rural regions, particularly in the West.
Is it crazy to imagine such a coalition? Actually, some Western members of Congress who have been harsh critics of the president and the Democrats on other issues are reasonably sympathetic when it comes to the future of post offices. At the second presidential debate, I spent a good deal of time talking with Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz talking about the USPS. We both knew that the issue would not come up in the narrowly constructed debate; but we also recognized that it should be on the agenda.
Chaffetz is one of Obama’s toughest critics, but as the ranking Republican ranking member on the Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, Postal Service, and the District of Columbia, he understands at least some of the absurdity to the demands that have been placed on the postal service. And he is not alone in this regard.
Take a look at the election maps of the United States and you will see a fascinating dynamic: There are dozens of rural counties across the United States that voted for Barack Obama for president and for Republicans in US House and Senate races.
Voters still split tickets. They are not naïve. They know it is hard to get Democrats and Republicans working together these days. But they expect at least a measure of cooperation on issues that are essential to the small towns where they live: like passing a farm bill and saving a postal service.
Advocates for the postal service might even remind some of our “constitutional conservative” friends that the USPS is one of the few American institutions referenced in the founding document.
“Article 1, Section 8, Clause 7 of the US Constitution gives Congress the responsibility to establish and ensure operation of the Postal Service…” notes Congressman Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio. “Congress is presiding over the disestablishment of the Postal Service. Today a manufactured default created by Congressional legislation is pushing the Postal Service to the brink.”
Kucinich is right.
This postal “crisis” was manufactured by Congress.
The same Congress—perhaps with a prod from a president who has a mandate to get things done—can during this lame-duck session manufacture a socially necessary and fiscally responsible repair to the system.
The USPS is not “broke.” It was broken by Congress. And it should be fixed by Congress.
Legislators have created a debt crisis to push through an austerity agenda. Check out Robert Borosage on why “A Grand Bargain on the Fiscal Cliff Could Be a Grand Betrayal.”
The Republican Party has too rich and honorable a history to allow its future to be defined by fools like Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.
But it will have a future only if responsible Republicans distance themselves—rapidly—not just from the debacle that was the Romney-Ryan run but from the crude “47 percent” politics that have underpinned the party’s recent appeals.
Romney made the need of distancing more urgent Wednesday, at a point when defeated presidential contenders are supposed to be gracious or quiet—but certainly not bitter and bizarre.
Romney used a telephone conference call with big donors to claim President Obama was re-elected by 3.5 million votes and a 332-206 Electoral College margin because Obama delivered “gifts” to young voters, Latinos and people of color:
The Obama campaign was following the old playbook of giving a lot of stuff to groups that they hoped they could get to vote for them and be motivated to go out to the polls, specifically the African American community, the Hispanic community and young people. In each case they were very generous in what they gave to those groups.
With regards to African American voters, ’ Obamacare ’ was a huge plus—and was highly motivational to African American voters. You can imagine for somebody making $25—, or $30—, or $35,000 a year, being told you’re now going to get free healthcare—particularly if you don’t have it, getting free healthcare worth, what, $10,000 a family, in perpetuity, I mean this is huge. Likewise with Hispanic voters, free healthcare was a big plus.
The defeated Republican candidate for president’s remarks display a shocking disregard for the seriousness with which tens of millions of Americans approached the 2012 election. And it parallels the very public whining from defeated Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, who complained: “The surprise was some of the turnout, some of the turnout especially in urban areas, which gave President Obama the big margin to win this race.” (Emphasis added.)
With Romney and Ryan renewing the divisive messaging that so damaged their 2012 campaign—after Romney was recorded announcing he was unconcerned with almost half the American population and Ryan divided the country into “makers” and “takers”—the demand on responsible Republicans grows dramatically greater
We have got to stop dividing the American voters. We need to go after 100 percent of the votes, not 53 percent. We need to go after every single vote. And second, we need to continue to show how our policies help every voter out there achieve the American Dream, which is to be in the middle class, which is to be able to give their children an opportunity to be able to get a great education.… So, I absolutely reject that notion, that description. I think that’s absolutely wrong.
I don’t think that represents where we are as a party and where we’re going as a party. That has got to be one of the most fundamental takeaways from this election: If we’re going to continue to be a competitive party and win elections on the national stage and continue to fight for our conservative principles, we need two messages to get out loudly and clearly: One, we are fighting for 100 percent of the votes, and secondly, our policies benefit every American who wants to pursue the American dream. Period. No exceptions.
Jindal’s words are on target. But the shift must go deeper.
In Britain, there has long been a distinction between reactionary politicians such as Romney and Ryan and so-called “One Nation” conservatives who develop policies that recognize that need for their Conservative Party to care for all citizens.
During the 2012 Republican primaries, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman sought to offer up an American version of “One Nation” conservatism. He got some traction in New Hampshire—finishing a credible third—but he didn’t go much further.
Huntsman has been outspoken in his criticism of his party’s swing toward “47-percent” politics.
“If we used all that energy spent on the president’s birth certificate on tax reform or on Afghanistan, we’d be in a much difference place today,” says Huntsman, who decried right-wing media that keep pushing the GOP toward extremes:
We do have, you know, some (pontificators) in our party, we have a media elite in a sense on the right, they’re making millions and millions of dollars talking about all the incendiary aspects of public policy. We need solutions as opposed to people in search of a larger audience.
Huntsman’s message: “We maybe need to listen a little more than we speak sometimes, particularly as it relates to the younger generation.”
That’s right. But let’s go a step further: Republicans do need to listen a lot more (and respond a lot more) to young people, people of color and women—to begin a check list. But they also need to listen a lot less to the candidates that the American people overwhelmingly rejected on November 6.
Ben Adler writes, not all conservatives fall for the race-baiting rhetoric.
Paul Ryan, who famously suggested that the General Motors plant in his hometown closed because of Obama administration policies when it actually closed under President Bush, is now going for an even bigger rewrite of history.
He is claiming that his austerity agenda—at least the part that makes tax cuts for the rich the supreme imperative—remains popular. Indeed, to hear Ryan tell it, those ideas almost prevailed.
In an ABC News interview a week after the election, Ryan was asked whether President Obama has a mandate to call for raising taxes on the rich. “I don’t think so,” said Ryan, who argued that, “This is a very close election.”
Ryan rejects the notion that his ideas lost. Indeed, he still claims he's promoting "popular ideas." And he says of the Republican ticket: “It was a well-run campaign. We made this campaign about big ideas and big issues, which is the kind of campaign we wanted to run, so we ran the kind of campaign we wanted to run.”
But Barack Obama also ran on big ideas. On the morning before the election, Obama appeared just a few miles up the road from Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin.
“If we’re serious about the deficit, we can’t just cut our way to prosperity. We’ve also got to ask the wealthiest Americans to go back to the tax rates they paid when Bill Clinton was in office,” the Democratic president told a crowd that had just heard Bruce Springsteen sing and speak about the need to create a more equitable America. “And by the way, we can afford it. I haven’t talked to Bruce, but I know he can afford it. I can afford it. Mr. Romney can afford it.”
But Obama went further, in that speech in Madison, and in speeches in Columbus and Des Moines and communities across the country. He called, again and again, for raising taxes on the rich. “Because our budget reflects our values, it’s a reflection of our priorities, you know. And as long as I’m president, I’m not going to kick some poor kids off of Head Start to give me a tax cut,” said the president.
Ryan is claiming in his post-election interviews that: “I don’t think we lost it on those budget issues, especially on Medicare — we clearly didn’t lose it on those issues.”
Yes they did.
In his closing argument, Obama focused—as did other winning Democrats—on “those budget issues.” One of the president’s biggest applause lines was: “I’m not gonna turn Medicare into a voucher just to pay for another millionaire’s tax cut.”
Obama and Vice President Biden ran on big ideas, just as Romney and Ryan did.
Ryan and Romney lost Wisconsin and every swing state except North Carolina.
Ryan and Romney lost the Electoral College by an overwhelming 232-206 margin.
Ryan and Romney lost the popular vote by more than 3.4 million votes.
Obama and Biden won a mandate in a battle of ideas where the lines were clearly drawn.
Despite what Paul Ryan says, Obama won a mandate—a bigger mandate, in fact, than Presidents Kennedy in 1960, Nixon in 1968, Carter in 1976 or Bush in 2000 and 2004.
To say otherwise is to deny what just happened.
Paul Ryan can try if he wants.
But he should remember what happened when he tried to peddle a fantasy about the closing of that Janesville General Motors plant.
Well, Ryan lost his home precinct in Janesville—not just as a vice presidential candidate but as a candidate for reelection to his House seat.
Ryan lost Janesville, as a vice presidential candidate and a congressional candidate.
Ryan lost surrounding Rock County, as a vice presidential and a congressional candidate.
Ryan and Romney lost Wisconsin—by such a resounding margin that Saturday Night Live was mocking the result on the weekend after the election.
When the rejection is so glaring that it becomes a punchline, it’s a stretch to talk about a “close election.”
And it’s absurd to suggest that your ideas are popular.
Ryan isn’t the only one rewriting the reasons for Obama’s re-election. Check out Ben Adler on “Conservative Explanations for Romney’s Loss.”
The 2012 election produced more than its share of ironic results, but there is one that will stand above all others: Mitt Romney is the candidate of 47 percent of the American electorate.
As the long count of ballots cast in last Tuesday’s presidential election nears completion, Barack Obama’s popular-vote margin over Romney continues to expand. The Democratic president’s percentage of the vote has been steadily rising. As this has happened, his Republican challenger’s percentage has fallen.
Whereas on election night conservative commentators could speak of the finish to the long and bitter campaign as “almost a tie,” Obama now has a 3.4 million popular-vote, and 50.57 percent of the total.
Romney has drifted down to… 47.84 percent.
Some websites are still rounding Romney to 48 percent, just as they’re rounding Obama to 51 percent. But those that are interested in precision have Romney in the 47 percent range. And his percentage is likely to keep dropping as the counting of ballots in Democratic-leaning states on the west coast is completed.
What that means is that the country is headed toward a final tally of the 2012 election that formally identifies Mitt Romney as the candidate of 47 percent of the American electorate.
Romney inserted the phrase “47 percent” into American politics as a term of derision, suggesting to wealthy campaign donors in Florida that “there are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it.”
Romney told his backers that his responsibility as a candidate—and, presumably, as a president—was “not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
The comments created a firestorm, especially as it was recognized that the 47 percent Romney referred to included the elderly, veterans, Americans with disabilities and the working poor. Indeed, the controversy grew so great that, even now, there are commentators who suggest that it cost the candidate the presidency.
Romney tried to correct himself as the campaign progressed. “Well, clearly in a campaign, with hundreds if not thousands of speeches and question-and-answer sessions, now and then you’re going to say something that doesn’t come out right,” he told Fox News. “In this case, I said something that’s just completely wrong.”’
Maybe not completely wrong.
There was a candidate in the 2012 presidential race who had 47 percent of the electorate who would vote for him “no matter what.”
But it wasn’t the 47 percent Romney was trying to divide out of the American mosaic and conquer.
Mitt Romney is not the candidate of “the 47 percent.”
“He is, however, the candidate of the 47 percent that stuck with the candidate who chose—with his comments and his campaign—indicated a disregard for the principle that this is one nation and candidates for its presidency should reach out to the whole of the American electorate.
Conservatives have a different explanation for Romney’s loss—like blaming the media, or even Hurricane Sandy. Check out Ben Adler’s coverage here.
Ron Johnson is not a familiar name to most Americans who are pondering the politics of the “fiscal cliff.” But Johnson’s reaction to the 2012 election results will tell folks everything they need to know about the challenge rational Democrats will face when it comes to negotiations with not-so-rational Republicans.
A senator from Wisconsin who announced his candidacy at a Tea Party rally and was elected—with help from a family fortune, Karl Rove and the US Chamber of Commerce’s political operations—Johnson has been a congressional absolutist when it comes to budget issues. He embraces House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan’s austerity agenda, perhaps even more than Ryan does himself. And he swears, against all economic evidence to the contrary, and against all political evidence of opposition on the part of the American people, that there is only one way to address the challenges facing America: tax cuts for rich people like him and benefit cuts for everyone else.
Johnson would be a laughable figure—he’s the subject of a Wisconsin website titled “Our Dumb Senator”—were it not for the fact that he takes himself so seriously. And he is part of a Republican caucus in the Senate that, like the parallel Republican caucus in the House, must deal with its Ron Johnsons before it can function legislatively.
Where Johnson and other absolutists like him take themselves most seriously is it comes to fiscal concerns.
So seriously, in fact, that Johnson greeted the news of Barack Obama’s re-election by suggesting that the president—whose ideas were backed by Nobel Prize–winning economists such as Michael Spence—won by securing the votes of “people who don’t fully understand the very ugly math we are facing in this country.”
That sparked a flurry of national commentary on Johnson in particular and the over-the-cliff wing of the GOP in general.
But the even more telling comment from Johnson was his response to the election of Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, to the US Senate by telling the Associated Press: “Hopefully I can sit down and lay out for her my best understanding of the federal budget because they’re simply the facts. Hopefully she’ll agree with what the facts are and work toward common sense solutions.”
In other words, Johnson wants Baldwin to agree with him.
Unfortunately for Johnson—if not America—what he refers to as “facts” are actually his “opinions”—that the United States cannot afford to maintain Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid because it needs to maintain tax breaks for rich guys like, um, Ron Johnson.
Baldwin is too smart and too experienced to believe what Johnson does.
Yet, she was gracious in her response to his “mansplaining” of how to do math.
“I was a double major in college in mathematics and political science, and I served for six years on the House Budget Committee in my first six years in the House,” Baldwin explained, when asked by the Huffington Post about her colleague’s greeting. “And I am very confident that when proposals come before the US Senate, I will be able to evaluate them as to how they benefit or harm middle-class Wisconsinites. A yardstick of ‘does it create jobs,’ ‘does it lower the deficit’ and ‘does it help grow the middle class’ is an important one. I’m quite confident that I have those abilities.”
Baldwin is dramatically better prepared to be a useful contributor to budget debates than Johnson. She knows her way around Washington, and she has been a thoughtful critic of wasteful spending for years. The difference is that she is far more willing than Johnson to hold wealthy and powerful interests to account. Indeed, as a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, she and her colleagues have over the years proposed plans that balance the budget more quickly and responsibly than the proposals made by Ryan.
If Ron Johnson really was interested in facts, he would seek a briefing from Tammy Baldwin.
Johnson isn’t the only legislator that could learn a thing or two about the so-called “fiscal cliff.” Check out the latest from TomDispatch, “CliffsNotes for Washington.”
The vote count in national elections is never finished on election night. It takes days, sometimes weeks, to count all the ballots in fifty states, 3,077 counties and tens of thousands of local jurisdictions. So if Americans want to know the real results, they must wait a few days and add up all the numbers in order to get a clear picture.
That clarity is based on something we call “math.”
Former Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour said on the morning after the election that it was “pretty close to a tie.” Barbour was echoing conventional wisdom going into the election: that it would be very close, that President Obama might win an Electoral College majority but lose the popular vote, that the United States was a closely divided nation that would send no clear signal.
Now we know that Barbour was wrong.
It was not “pretty close to a tie.”
By Friday morning, Barack Obama had a vote total well in excess of 62 million, as compared with Mitt Romney’s 58.8 million. The president’s popular-vote margin is now in excess of 3 million.
Obama has now won Florida with a margin of 75,000 votes. That’s more than 100 times the alleged margin of victory for George Bush in 2000 in that state. And, with Florida, Obama has 332 electoral votes, as compared with 206 for Romney.
When all is said and done:
1. Barack Obama has won an overwhelming majority in the Electoral College, a daunting majority of the popular vote and a majority of the nation’s states—including most of the country’s largest states and states in every major region of the republic: New England, the mid-Atlantic, the Great Lakes, the South, the Southwest, the Mountain West and the West.
2. Barack Obama has won more popular votes than any Democratic candidate for president in history—except Barack Obama in 2008.
3. Barack Obama is the first Democratic president to win more than 50 percent of the popular vote in a re-election run since Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1944.
4. Barack Obama is the only Democratic candidate for president since FDR to twice win more than 50 percent of the national vote.
5. Barack Obama has, in both of his presidential runs, won a higher percentage of the national vote than any Democratic nominee since Lyndon Johnson in his 1964 landslide victory.
Add it all up and Obama has a mandate from this year’s presidential election that is significantly greater than those afforded John Kennedy in 1960, Richard Nixon in 1968, Jimmy Carter in 1976 or George W. Bush in 2000 or 2004.
But wait, there’s more: It appears that Obama had coattails or, at the very least, led a ticket that ran remarkably well in congressional, state and local races. To wit:
1. In a year when Democrats were in the worst position in decades to make gains in their Senate majority. They came into the 2012 race with the seats of twenty-one Democrats, plus two independents who caucus with the Democrats, up for election, while the Republicans had only ten seats up for election. Every early calculation had the Democrats losing seats, but they gained two Republican seats (Massachusetts and Indiana), held the seats of targeted incumbents (Florida, Montana and Ohio), picked up open seats that were once presumed to be unwinnable (North Dakota, Wisconsin) and came close in states such as Arizona and Nevada. Of thirty-three Senate seats up nationally, Democrats (and independents likely to caucus with Democrats) won twenty-five. Republicans won just eight.
2. Democrats won the most votes cast in contested House races. It can well be argued that only redistricting abuses and Karl Rove’s money prevented Democrats from retaking the US House. An analysis compiled the day after the election found that 53,952,240 votes were cast for Democrats seeking House seats, while just 53,402,643 votes were cast for Republicans. That 500,000-plus advantage for the Democrats has been steadily increasing as votes from Democratic states such as Washington and Oregon continue to be counted, along with provisional ballots. FairVote’s Rob Richie explains that because of the structural advantages created by Republicans through their control of state-based redistricting processes, the Democrats did not just need to win a majority of the votes—as they did. “Democrats would have needed to win 55% of the national vote to earn a House majority.”
The point here is not to suggest that Barack Obama, congressional Democrats or their gubernatorial compatriots should be celebrated as perfect political players. In fact, quite the opposite: they ran imperfect campaigns in a tough year. But the choice that was presented to American voters was stark: Did they prefer the austerity agenda of Paul Ryan and Republican governors who have attacked unions, public education and public services? Or did they want a more humane and equitable governance.
“After the most expensive election in our history, voters defeated the relentless efforts of billionaire bullies, voter-suppressing politicians, and political strategists who broke new ground with campaigns built on blatant falsehoods,” explained People for the American Way president Michael Keegan. “Americans re-elected a president who has offered a vision of an American community in which equality and opportunity are for everybody, a vision of government that is willing and able to advance the common good while protecting the rights of individuals, and a vision of society in which we embrace our growing diversity as a unique strength of the American Way, not a threat to it.”
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was just a little bit more blunt.
“My sincere hope is that the Republican Party now understands that the American people do not want a government pushing right-wing extremist policies. They want a government that addresses the needs of working families, the elderly, the children and the sick, and not just the wealthiest people in this country,” says Sanders.
If the Republicans do not get it, Sanders suggests that, instead of compromising away his mandate, President Obama should keep campaigning on it.
“My strong hope is that, on behalf of the American people, President Obama forcefully challenges the right-wing extremist agenda,” says Sanders. “My hope is that he visits states around the country where House and Senate members are defending the interests of billionaires at the expense of working families, and asks those Americans to demand that their members of Congress represent them—and not powerful special interests.”
That’s the right calculus. After all, while Obama got a mandate, Bernie Sanders secured a landslide—winning more than 71 percent of the vote and every county in Vermont.
For more on progressive hopes for Obama's second term, check out Robert Scheer's latest.
Congressman Paul Ryan had a lousy November 6.
The famously health-conscious Republican nominee, who admitted that he was “running on empty,” was forced to fly to Cleveland, Ohio, with running mate Mitt Romney for Election Day campaigning that seemed to be focused on lunching at a Wendy’s fast-food restaurant. Ryan pounded a quarter-pounder combo meal but passed on the Frosty dessert that Romney enjoyed.
Then they were off to lose the 2012 election. Decisively.
Romney said some nice things about his running mate in a brief concession speech early Wednesday morning. But Ryan was not invited to make remarks. And it was clear enough by then that Ryan’s contribution to the ticket was, indeed, viewed as a discreet one.
Ryan, whose selection as Romney’s running mate was once considered key to carrying the wring state of Wisconsin for the Republicans, turned out to be a miserable addition to the ticket. Not only didn’t he help win the state, he couldn’t even win his hometown of Janesville, which went overwhelmingly for the Democratic ticket of Barack Obama and Joe Biden, and surrounding Rock County, which gave the Romney-Ryan ticket just 39 percent of the vote.
It was even worse in Ryan's “safety” race for his seat in the US House of Representatives. The seven-term congressman kept his seat, thanks to partisan redistricting that grabbed off a chunk of Republican Waukesha County and attached it to Ryan’s southeastern Wisconsin’s district. Yet despite the machinations that made his 1st District decidedly more Republican, prevailed by the narrowest margin of his career—over Democratic challenger Rob Zerban.
Ryan ran especially badly close to home, losing Janesville and the portion of Rock County that is in the 1st. It wasn’t even that close: Zerban won almost 52 percent to Ryan’s 46 percent.
What made Ryan such an unappealing contender with hometown voters? The same thing that made Ryan such an appealing target for Democratic contenders around the country, such as Alan Grayson, who made opposition to the House Budget Committee chairman’s agenda central to a successful run for a new House seat representing Florida.
Ryan’s “Roadmap for America’s Future” budget plan outlined an American austerity agenda that takes pieces out of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in order to pad the pockers of Wall Street speculators, the for-profit insurance industry and wealthy campaign donors.
That didn’t play well in Janesville.
But what played even worse was Ryan’s attempt to play politics with the most traumatic event in the recent history of Janesville: the closing of the General Motors plant that for the better part of a century was the city’s top employer.
Ryan knew the plant closed at the end of the Bush years, yet he tried to suggest in his speech to the Republican National Convention that Barack Obama had something to do with it.
That political chicanery cost Ryan—not just in Janesville but across a congressional district that takes seriously the loss of auto jobs.
From his first congressional race in 1998 to his 2010 run, Paul Ryan never won less than 57 percent of the vote. And he has usually broken the 65 percent mark. Two years ago, he got 68 percent districtwide.
On Tuesday night, his total fell to 54.9 percent, a career low. And he didn’t just lose Rock County. He also lost Kenosha County, the other part of the district to lose a major auto plant in recent years.
Wisconsinites never really paid much attention to Paul Ryan until this year. When Mitt Romney put Ryan on the national Republican ticket, Wisconsinites did listen to the hometown boy made good. But they were, obviously, unimpresssed.
It wasn’t even close. That’s the unexpected result of the November 6 election. And President Obama and his supporters must wrap their heads around this new reality—just as their Republican rivals are going to have to adjust to it.
After a very long, very hard campaign that began the night of the 2010 “Republican wave” election, a campaign defined by unprecedented spending and take-no-prisoners debate strategies, Barack Obama was re-elected president. And he did so with an ease that allowed him to claim what even his supporters dared not imagine until a little after 11 pm on the night of his last election: a credible, national win.
“We’re not as divided as our politics suggest,” Obama told the crowd at his victory party in Chicago.
And he was on to something.
Despite a brief delay by Republican challenger Mitt Romney, and the commentators on Fox News, Obama claimed his victory on election night not the next day, as Richard Nixon did in 1960, or even later, as George Bush in 2000.
And it was a real victory.
Obama did not have to deal with the challenge of an Electoral College win combined with a popular-vote loss—as even some of his most ardent supporters feared might be the case.
By the time Romney conceded at 1 am, Obama had a 250,000 popular-vote lead, and it grew to roughly 2 million by dawn.
He was on track to win a majority of states and more than 300 Electoral Votes—at least 303 and, with the right result in Florida, 332.
Obama’s win was bigger than John Kennedy’s in 1960 (303 electoral votes, popular vote margin of 112,827), bigger than Richard Nixon’s in 1968 (301 electoral votes, popular vote plurlaity of 512,000), bigger than Jimmy Carter’s in 1976 (297 electoral votes, popular vote margin of 1,683,247), bigger than George W. Bush’s in 2000 (271 electoral votes and a popular vote loss of 543,816).
Our friend Karl Rove attempted to suggest Tuesday night that Obama’s victory was diminished by the fact that the president did not improve on his 2008 numbers, and recalled that some presidents (Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton) have done so. But he failed to note how over the past century, many presidents have stumbled in their bids for second terms, including: George H.W. Bush (defeated in 1992), Jimmy Carter (defeated in 1976), Lyndon Johnson (decided not to seek re-election bid after 1968 primary setbacks), Harry Truman (decided not to seek re-election after 1952 primary setbacks), Herbert Hoover (defeated in 1932 re-election bid), Woodrow Wilson (won by narrower margin in 1916 than in 1912) and William Howard Taft (ran third in 1912 re-election bid).
Significantly, Rove’s man, George W. Bush won his 2004 re-election run with just 286 electoral votes, and faced serious challenges to the result in the state that put him across the 270 line: Ohio.
Never mind, Bush claimed a broad mandate.
“When you win, there is…a feeling that the people have spoken and embraced your point of view,” Bush said. “And that’s what I intend to tell Congress, that I made it clear what I intend to do as the president; now let’s work.”
Bush told reporters: “I earned capital in this campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It is my style.”
When Bush tried to spend his capital “reforming” Social Security, he failed. Obama would be wise to avoid making the same mistake.
Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid do not need to be “reformed.”
They need to be strengthened and expanded.
The president could spend some of his capital on that project.
But he ought not stop there.
As he embarks upon the second term that not all presidents are given, Obama would do well to take the counsel of National Nurses United Executive Direector Rose Ann DeMoro, who said after the election, “The President and Congress should stand with the people who elected them and reject any cuts in Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid, strengthen Medicare by expanding it to cover everyone, and insist that Wall Street begin to repay our nation for the damage it caused our economy with a small tax on Wall Street speculation, the Robin Hood tax.”
That reference to the Robin Hood tax is worthy of note.
President Obama ought to get serious, in his second term, about finding the revenues to pay for the strengthening and expanding of necessary programs: ideally by taxing the wealthy as they were in the days of America’s greatest economic expansion, and also by imposing that “Robin Hood Tax” on financial transactions.
But Obama’s first task should be to fix the broken political system that imposes so many burdens on America democracy.
In his victory speech, Obama referenced the long lines in which Americans waited to vote for him and declared: “By the way, we need to fix that.”
That’s good. The need of democratic renewal is great after an unnecessarily crude political campaign that was, as Obama acknowledged, frequently “small… and silly.”
The place to begin is with a project he mentioned just before the Democratic National Convention: amending the constitution to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. “Over the longer term, I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United (assuming the Supreme Court doesn’t revisit it),” the president wrote, in response to a question about the Court decision to allow corporations to spend as freely as they choose to influence elections. “Even if the amendment process falls short, it can shine a spotlight of the super PAC phenomenon and help apply pressure for change.”
Seeking to amend the constitution to reform our election system is an ambitious endeavor, especially for a president who has just beaten the combined power of Karl Rove and his billionaire boys club.
But it is a necessary endeavor.
And a president who has been comfortably re-elected ought not think small. He should “spend his capital” on projects worthy of the trust Americans have afforded him.
Bruce Springsteen wrote the essential song of the 2012 campaign before he or anyone else knew what the year’s political landscape would look like, or the extent to which it would be influenced by shocking violence at a movie theater in Colorado and a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy or Mitt Romney’s dismissal of 47 percent of Americans as dependent class unworthy of his concern.
But Springsteen recognized something in the America discourse, a longing for a touchstone theme. “I’ve been lookin’ for the map that leads me home…” he wrote.
That search led him back to the most basic of American premises, the most patriotic of American premises: “We take care of our own.”
But Springsteen did not dare suggest that it would simply happen. In fact, he warned that it was a promise often left unfulfilled:
From Chicago to New Orleans
From the muscle to the bone
From the shotgun shack to the Superdome
We yelled “help” but the cavalry stayed home
here ain’t no-one hearing the bugle blown…
Springsteen “got it,” perhaps even before he knew he “got it,” that the 2012 election would answer core questions: “Where’s the spirit that’ll reign, reign over me? Where’s the promise, from sea to shining sea?”
And he answered for progressive America:
Wherever this flag’s flown
We take care of our own
We take care of our own…
Those words were destined to become the soundtrack for Barack Obama’s reelection campaign.
That destiny was confirmed when Americans heard Mitt Romney tell his big-dollar donors:
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it… My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
Then Romney picked as his running mate Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman who had for years sought to turn Americans against one another — as “takers versus “makers.” Romney might preach a crudely divisive politics, but Ryan practiced it, and promised to codify it in a roadmap to an American future where America would not take care of its own.
Romney and Ryan made the 2012 election a test of whether America would be a “We Take Care of Our” country or a nasty and brutish place where any hope for prosperity who rely on the generous good spirits of millionaires and billionaires who, like Romney, had offshored their money to Swiss banks and Cayman Island hideaways.
After taking care of his own by leading a fundraiser that collected $23 million to aid the people of New Jersey, New York and other states devastated by Hurricane Sandy, Springsteen hit the road Monday with President Obama, on a remarkable final journey across the political promised lands of Wisconsin, Ohio and Iowa.
“For the last 30 years I’ve been writing in my music about the distance between the American dream and American reality,” the singer told the crowds in Madison, Columbus and Des Moines. “I’ve seen it from inside and outside: as a blue-collar kid from a working class home in New Jersey – where my parents struggled, often unsuccessfully – to make ends meet… to my adult life, visiting the 9th Ward in New Orleans after Katrina, or meeting folks from food pantries from all around the United States, who work daily to help our struggling citizens through the hard times we’ve been suffering.”
Then Springsteen spoke of the referendum: “The American Dream and an American Reality: Our vote tomorrow is the one undeniable way we get to determine the distance in that equation. Tomorrow, we get a personal hand in shaping the kind of America we want our kids to grow up in.”
On the night before the day, on a street in the middle of America, Springsteen expressed his deepest fears about the direction of the republic, and his highest hope.
“I am troubled by thirty years of an increasing disparity in wealth between our best off citizens and everyday Americans,” he said. “That is a disparity that threatens to divide us into two distinct and separate nations. We have to be better than that.
Then, with a hug from Springsteen, the president of the United States took the stage, each stage, on the last day of his last campaign and spoke of being “focused on one of the worst storms of our lifetimes.”
“Whenever I talk to folks in the region,” he said, “I tell them the same thing that I say whenever a tragedy besets the American family, and that is, the American people come together and make a commitment that we will walk with these folks whose lives have been upended every step on the hard road ahead and the hard road to recovery. We’ll carry on. No matter how bad the storm is, we will be there, together. No matter how bad the storm is, we recover together.”
No one missed the metaphor. He was not speaking just of one storm, not just a physical threats. He was speaking of the economic and social storms that whip a land where crude politicians imagine citizens as "makers" and takers. He was speaking of disparities that threaten to divide us into two distinct and separate nations. And, yes, he was saying we have to be better than that.
As the long campaign gave way to Walt Whitman's day of quadrennial choosing, it was Barack Obama, not Bruce Springsteen, who sang the last line of “We Take Care of Our Own.”
“We’re all in this together,” the president said. “We rise or fall as one nation and as one people.”
Obama is already doing well among early voters. Check out George Zornick's coverage here.
Toledo—Paul Ryan is really upset with Barack Obama about that auto bailout.
Which means that Ryan is upset with himself.
In a campaign where the standard for what constitutes the “big lie” keeps getting adjusted upward, Ryan is trumping even Mitt Romney by attacking President Obama and Vice President Biden for backing policies that Ryan backed.
Picking up on the Romney campaign’s closing claim that the moves taken to rescue General Motors and Chrysler somehow damaged the auto industry—despite the fact that GM and Chrysler say different—Ryan has been banging away on the bailout.
“The facts, they speak for themselves. President Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy, taxpayers still stand to lose $25 billion dollars in the president’s politically managed bankruptcy,” the Republican nominee for vice president claimed at a rally in Racine, Wisconsin. “These companies, Chrysler in particular we know this story, are now choosing to expand manufacturing overseas.”
In the final days of a campaign that has taken the shine off his “golden boy” status, Ryan was going all-in on the Republican ticket’s biggest lie: a claim that Obama’s policies had somehow endangered the sprawling Jeep plant in Toledo, a critical battleground in the critical battleground state of Ohio.
That’s not true.
Yes, Ryan says, “These are the facts. These facts are inconvenient for the president but no one disputes them. The President and the Vice President, the problem is they simply can’t defend their record.”
That’s remarkably tough talk about the auto bailout that polling suggests is very popular, especially with voters in battleground states such as Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. It is, as well, remarkably dishonest talk, which tries to obscure the facts that—in addition to saving an industry with 1 million jobs—the bailout is credited with spurring an auto manufacturing resurgence that has seen the creation of almost a quarter=million jobs and a pattern of profitable quarters for the Big Three.
That may be why GM officials, frustrated by the Republican campaign’s attempts to create a false impression among voters, took the rare step of issuing a statement that said Romney and Ryan appear to be getting their information from a “parallel universe.”
Even as he was fact-checked into a corner, Ryan kept up the (in the words of the Cleveland Plain Dealer) “flailing”—seemingly convinced that constant repetition can spin fantasy into reality.
“GM and Chrysler are expanding their production overseas,” Ryan said in a statement circulated by the Romney campaign, which conveniently neglected to note that they are expanding in the United States, as well.
“These are facts that voters deserve to know as they listen to the claims President Obama and his campaign are making,” continued Ryan. “President Obama has chosen not to run on the facts of his record, but he can’t run from them.”
But records are funny things.
Obama and Biden aren’t the only candidates on this year’s ballot who supported the auto bailout.
The Wisconsin congressman was one of thirty-two Republicans who backed the bailout, and his support was critical, as he was the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee—which he now chairs. Ryan’s support gave conservative credibility to the bailout at a time when Romney was writing a New York Times op-ed headlined: “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”
In its response to the Romney’s attempt to create the false impression that Jeep production in Toledo might be shifted to China, Jeep’s parent company, Chrysler, dismissed Romney’s line as a “leap that would be difficult even for professional circus acrobats.”
But the Republican vice presidential candidate has outdone the Republican presidential candidate.
Ryan’s condemning President Obama for arranging an auto bailout that Ryan supported.
That’s not the work of an acrobat.
That’s the work of a contortionist.
Unfortunately, few in the mainstream media are holding Romney and Ryan accountable for their campaign falsehoods. Check out Eric Alterman's latest on the failed fact-checking of this election.