Several thoughts come to mind in the aftermath of yesterday’s election. One is that the country seems to be becoming more geographically polarized. The vast majority of the interior of the country voted for Romney. The coasts and the midwest industrial belt went for Obama. These trends have, of course, been going on for quite some time. But I think that they are becoming slightly more pronounced. I know my American history pretty well, and I cannot remember an electoral map whose geographical polarization was this pronounced since about the mid-nineteenth-century. Geographical polarization is a dangerous phenomenon because it frequently can exacerbate the tensions between competing factions. It is easier for radicalization to occur – irrespective of the particular end of the political spectrum on which one is located – when one is surrounded only by like-minded persons.
A second thought that comes to mind is that the country is becoming more racially polarized as well. I’ve heard different kinds of quoted statistics since yesterday’s exit poll results were reported, but it seems safe to say that over ninety percent of the African-American population voted for Obama in the election. It also seems safe to say that about sixty percent of the white population voted for Romney. Again, these are dangerous numbers. They are certainly the most racially polarized numbers in modern American elections. The country’s racial wounds have healed in many ways since the civil rights disputes of the 60s. But election results of this kind are not likely to help at all in the future racial relations of the country.
Another thought that comes to mind is that the election appears to have preserved the status quo. The outcome – however hard fought and shrill on both sides – is not much different than it was before the election took place. So it is somewhat confusing to me whether any issues were definitively decided yesterday. I do not think that the abortion issue was decided and I certainly do not think that the homosexual marriage issue was decided. Perhaps the only issue on which the election clearly functioned as a referendum was Obamacare. It looks as though the election has solidified a national health care system of some kind for the duration of this political generation. But I do not think that the election has done anything to resolve the culture wars.
One final thought on the election, and here I am going to engage in a little bit of editorializing. The election results yesterday did not seem to suggest this, but the country is in desperate need of economic reform. The debt is out of control and the federal government is running unsustainable deficits. It is imperative that the new administration – though it be much the same as the previous Obama administration – needs to address this issue while there is still time. In two years, after the midterms, Obama will be a lame duck President. So if he is going to do something to reform the economy, reduce the national debt, and minimize government deficits, he’s going to need to do it immediately. This thought ties into the election because I am not sure if the voters communicated that message in an adequate way to the President yesterday. There mixed message – which was mixed in large part because of their culture wars differences – does not seem to be an accurate representation of how pessimistic they are about the economy and how much they want economic reform.
So while I differ deeply with President Obama and his administration on a whole host of culture wars issues, my great hope and prayer is that one issue on which we agree – that the economic future of the country needs to be improved – is a common ground on which Republicans and Democrats can work together for at least the next two years. We owe it to ourselves and to our children to try to do something in this election cycle to improve the fiscal trajectory of the country before it is too late.