As part of a broader anti-immigration initiative in 2004, Arizona passed Proposition 200, a law requiring voters to provide proof of citizenship before registering to vote. One person affected by this law was Jesus Gonzalez, a custodian and naturalized American citizen who twice had his registration rejected by the state.
Election reformers were expecting big things from this year’s State of the Union address. They knew that President Barack Obama had invited 102-year-old Desiline Victor, a Floridian who’d waited three hours to cast her ballot. They had heard him acknowledge the many folks who stood in long lines when he ad-libbed in his election-night speech, “We have to fix that.” They were encouraged when he subsequently acknowledged the need for a broad range of fixes to the broken system. Hopes for an ambitious reform package were high. But Obama’s big reveal seemed less than inspiring: a bipartisan commission to study the problem.
Yes, pundits of all stripes are already starting to handicap the presidential fields for 2016. Yes, that’s a long time from now … although we are under three years to the Iowa Caucuses, and probably just about two years from the first debates, so it’s not all that long. More to the point: as long as the candidates are running—and they are—there’s no reason to pretend the contest hasn’t started yet.
Massachusetts could be the harbinger of a hopeful national trend in Democratic Party politics – the reformer as regular. For 16 years, this bluest of blue states oddly kept electing Republican governors. Between 1990 when Gov. Michael Dukakis stepped down and 2006 when Deval Patrick took the governorship back, no fewer than four Republicans sat in the governor’s chair.
Last November, Democrats seemed to be justified in believing that their party had won a victory of genuine significance. The ideological differences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were clear-cut, and Obama was re-elected. Despite the advantage that Republicans initially enjoyed in Senate races, Democrats increased their majority to 55, and that new majority is more liberal than the old one. In races for the House, more voters cast ballots for Democratic than for Republican candidates, though Republicans kept their majority thanks in large part to gerrymandered districts.
In early May, shortly after the peak of the GOP's war-on-women problem, the Obama campaign released a simple online infographic that inspired outrage from conservative commentators. Titled "The Life of Julia," the slideshow followed a hypothetical woman named Julia throughout various stages of her life in order to compare Obama's policies to the ones proposed by Mitt Romney. At age three, toddler Julia plays with a bead maze and enjoys the benefits of Head Start under Obama's America, while the infographic warns that Romney would cut Head Start by 20 percent. By age 27 the adult Julia is a web designer—a knowing wink to the young urban hipsterati loathed by conservatives—whose birth control is covered by her health insurance thanks to Obamacare's reforms, but would have lost those if Romney had his way.
At this moment in American politics, we can count on a few things in presidential elections: The Northeast will vote for the Democrat. The Southeast will vote for the Republican. Both parties will fight for the Midwest and the Southwest. Democrats will be able to count on the West Coast. This geographic breakdown has been in place for more than a decade, but it’s a relatively new configuration in presidential politics.
Last November 7, a syndicated cartoon made the rounds in progressive circles. Drawn by Signe Wilkinson, it showed a battered, bruised, patched-up Uncle Sam defiantly flexing his biceps and flashing the dazed grin of a fighter who’d survived a vicious knockdown and prevailed in 15 rounds. The caption, “Democracy Wins,” became a popular meme amid the liberal euphoria that broke out on election night. President Barack Obama had been re-elected, Karl Rove had been embarrassed on national television, and the Sheldon Adelsons and National Rifle Associations of the world had thrown hundreds of millions of dollars down the toilet. Voter suppression had not kept blacks and Latinos from the polls. Citizens United had not done its worst. Democracy had been tried and tested, and emerged banged up but miraculously intact.
Over the last twelve years (since the Florida debacle of 2000), I've argued repeatedly that politics in America is characterized by an Audacity Gap. It may not hold in every situation and every controversy, but most of the time, Republicans are willing take actions both small (shouting at the president that he's a liar during the State of the Union) and large (filibustering everything or holding the economy hostage over the debt ceiling) that Democrats are far too timid to even consider. Often it occurs when Republicans decide to violate a norm of how business had been done previously, safe in the knowledge that since what's at issue is a norm and not a rule, there's really nothing to stop them. As I put it some time ago, Republicans are the party of "Yes we can," while Democrats are the party of "Maybe we shouldn't." It doesn't always work to Republicans' advantage, but much of the time it does.
When it works, it's often because the public doesn't know, doesn't understand, or doesn't care. This is probably the case with the dramatic increase in filibusters over the last four years. Republicans surely understood that there was a risk that they'd look like obstructionists and be punished at the polls, but they saw that risk as minimal compared to the benefits to be gained by thwarting Barack Obama's agenda. And the 2010 election seemed to prove them right. And now, they're hoping they can rig the entire presidential election.
When was the last time you contributed $1,000 to a political candidate or cause? If you’re like most people, the answer is “Never—if I have that kind of money it’s in the college savings account.”
Well, candidates for the U.S. Senate this election got nearly 64 percent of the money they raised from individuals in contributions of at least $1,000—from just four one-hundredths of one percent of the population.
In last year’s March issue of the Prospect, I profiled Americans Elect—an extravagantly funded but terminally confused organization that sought to create a centrist third party in American politics by funding signature-gathering operations in every state to qualify a presidential candidate for the ballot and creating an online primary in which people who affiliated the party could choose its nominee. As no major, or even prominent minor, political figures chose to throw their hats into Americans Elect’s ring, however, the effort was aborted—but not before the organization had raised roughly $40 million, chiefly from donors it declined to identify.
In the Empire State, winning elections doesn’t always translate into power it seems. Next year, Democrats will likely have a majority of seats in the state’s upper chamber. But they aren’t likely to control it. It’s one of the stranger outcomes of the latest election.
Election Day 2008 crackled with possibility—with the electric buzz of history being made, of a country being transformed. A race-haunted nation was poised to elect its first black president. The economic and military catastrophes of the Bush years—and the religious haters, the Wall Street hustlers, and the chicken-hawk neocons who caused them—were about to be rejected. Change was coming: symbolic, palpable, and thrillingly uncertain.
The 2012 election, it seemed, never carried the same historical weight. For progressives, especially, this campaign seemed all along to be more about averting disaster—the atrocities the radical right had in store if Republicans won the White House and controlled both the House and the Senate—than about forging a new liberal path for the country. The moment for that had passed. The consensus, on both left and right, was expressed by The New York Times’s David Brooks: “If Obama wins, we’ll probably get small-bore stasis.” Not exactly the stuff of heart-pounding drama.