Groundhog Day: Part II

More than a week has passed in which the commentariat has luxuriously masticated the data and implications arising out of Barack Obama’s re-election in the 2012 election. Last week, we looked at the parallels between Obama’s re-election this year and George W. Bush’s in 2004. This week, I would like to focus on key take-outs and implications of this result.

  • Oh the Triviality:

When history eventually reaches a point of sufficient distance to comment on the 2012 presidential election with anything bordering on objectivity, it will remark with the greatest perplexity on the fact that an election taking place in the teeth of a crisis which threatens to take down the world’s second currency, a global debt super-cycle fed by the infernal machinations of the fiat currency machine, the imminent possibility that the investment bubble that has long been inflating in China is about to burst and the disastrous descent of the Middle East into an uncontrollable farrago of Islamist revanches which the western media has the temerity to call an “Arab Spring”, was fought on such trivial matters as it was.

The Obama campaign successfully turned the election into a battle for supremacy in a war of cultural projection, which drove people into a series of tribal pigeon holes – Obama projected a culture of cosmopolitanism in the metropolitan-DC area (i.e. Northern Virginia), the Research Triangle of North Carolina and the suburbs of Denver Colorado, of racial solidarity to black voters, of post-Anglophilia to Hispanics and of crude gender-identity politics to single women (including a bizarre ad comparing voting for the Dear Leader with the loss of one’s virginity). Romney’s counter-attack was feeble. He committed himself to neither a Buchanan Strategy of engaging in his own war of cultural projection (demographically difficult) nor a policy of undercutting the cultural projection strategy of Obama by bringing the campaign back to (a) the economy and (b) the culture of liberty endangered by Obama’s radical progressivism. In an election defined by the necessity to take risks, Romney the data hack decided to go for a bit of each – vague and poorly fleshed-out policies and toe-curling “Believe in America” bromides, which the flintier George W. Bush might have gotten away with in his heyday but which the smooth WASP-ish sounding Romney could not pull off with any kind of authenticity. Obama (liberated perhaps from making such a choice by his pathetic record) doubled down on his brand (i.e. it’s cool to vote for Barack Obama) and on the strategy of “Swift Boating” his opponent (in previous posts, I have set out some of the litany of personal smears Obama successfully deployed against Romney).

History may well record that the 2012 election represented a final test of seriousness for both America’s electorate and its politicians, which both disastrously failed. If this is so, then perhaps America’s national anthem should be changed to Liam Lynch’s provocative but depressingly apposite “United States of Whatever“.

  • Demography is Destiny – But Whose?

Throughout the 2012 election, we saw the epic battle between the two polar extremes of the polling industry. On the one hand, Rasmussen and Gallup argued that the high minority turnouts recorded in 2008 were based upon the peculiar fact patterns of that year (i.e. the first black president, deeply unpopular predecessor from the opposing party, crashing economy etc.) which they said would result in a demographic regression to the mean effect, with minority turnout slipping and the more enthusiastic Republican base coming out with all guns blazing. By contrast, all the other pollsters said that 2008 represented a permanent game-changing alteration in electoral composition (or at least one which would carry through to 2012). As the numbers came out on election night, it appeared that the white turnout had fallen to an unprecedented 73% of the electorate and that minority turnout had risen. To the commentariat (including many conservatives), this was proof of the importance of demographic shifts and proof that the Republicans must abandon their policies on immigration law enforcement in order to win the Hispanic vote.

I disagree.

Firstly, as Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics was one of the first to point out, minority turnout hardly budged from the 2012 levels. What changed was white turnout, which was down approximately seven million votes. This is both disastrous and perplexing for the GOP, given that (a) the 2008 white turnout was itself rather low; and (b) the level of enthusiasm among white Republican core voters was supposed to rise not fall. Trende also pours cold water over the notion propagated by the likes of Charles Krauthammer who used his Washington Post column to argue that Hispanics are somehow natural Republican voters. Given their typically lower income status, they are more likely to fall into voter categories which tend to favour big government blandishments. Remember that Barack Obama won voters earning under $30,000 by 63 to 35 while Romney won those on over $50,000. Given the demographic profile of the Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans who make up the bulk of Hispanic immigrants, it is hard to see what significant untapped voting potential there is for Republicans among Hispanics. Assuming (using a back-of-the-envelope “guesstimate”) that the roughly 10% of voters who self-identify as Hispanic would, if their non-ethnic demographic features were projected onto a white voting sample, vote for Obama by 63 to 35 (compared to the roughly 71-27 split in favour of Obama that actually did occur on election night) Romney could have achieved 0.8% of the vote in addition to what he got. This assumes that Romney would not have lost a single white vote in the process, which I deem improbable. Even so, this would have only succeeded in reducing the margin in favour of Obama by roughly half. This is small beer compared to a white voter deficit relative to 2008 amounting to a staggering 5.6% of the 2012 electorate.

Secondly, Peter Brimelow of VDARE.com points out that Romney’s big failure was to mobilise the white voters, who, remember, went for Reagan by 65% to 33% in 1984. Indeed, at 59% of the white vote, the failure of Romney and the GOP to take more of the white vote looks like a significant unspoken factor in the race and in future elections. Remember that in southern states (in many of which the Republicans are in much worse demographic shape than in America as a whole) the Republicans have raised their support among white voters to between 70% and 90% and thus performed competitively.

Thirdly, the US electoral statistics present a stark warning to libertarians and conservatives in Ireland about the dangers of going pie-eyed on immigration. Contrary to the theories being promulgated by groups such as the Reason Foundation, there seems little reason to believe that migrants to western countries will join with societies’ demographic mainstream and vote against welfare state policies and plenty to believe that, as Milton Friedman warned in 1999, welfare state societies such as ours cannot have unrestricted immigration without creating substantial skews in migratory and voting behaviour. Put simply, we cannot have entirely free systems of immigration for so long as we have substantial systems of fiscal transfer in place (one of the few areas where I must admit to agreeing more with conservatives rather than my fellow libertarians). The US experience demonstrates that mass immigration has led to an increase in support for the statist agenda of the Democratic Party and has driven the Republican Party far to the left of where it ought to be. Thus, while open borders immigration is closer to the de jure libertarian ideal with which I sympathise, it fails to address the de facto results.

  • Bribery Worked for Obama:

Despite the general unpopularity of the GM/Chrysler bailouts in 2009, the issue operated very much in Obama’s favour in 2012. Why? Firstly, the bailout bought the support of the union movement, which used its considerable electoral muscle to move voters in the swing states. Secondly, the bailout worked a disproportionate amount of its magic in precisely the states that decided the election (most notably Ohio and Michigan). This fact demonstrates the unalloyed cynicism of Obama’s bailout policies. High-income, unionised workers in Ohio and Michigan (who benefited from the bailout) voted for their benefactor. Comparatively low-waged non-unionised workers in Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina (who were always going to go for Romney) lost out from the Detroit bailout, but their votes didn’t matter.

Beyond the immediate consequences of the auto-bailouts, Obama has probably provided the entire western world’s politicians with a blueprint for litigating the resource wars that will inevitably result from the slow demographic collapse of the welfare state in years to come. Politics in a world of collapsing welfare states will provide major political advantages to politicians who are adept at identifying groups of voters who could realistically support them and singling them out for protection from austerity and identifying other groups who are locked into opposing voting columns and singling them out for pain. Ugly as this is, Obama has proved, with his supercilious smirk and sanctimonious turn of phrase, that this political strategy of beggar thy neighbour wins elections. Now that he has enjoyed the fruit of this strategy, he and his party must contend with the broader consequences of this system of political arbitrage.

As Megan McArdle of the Daily Beast points out, the demographic coalition that Obama has constructed is inherently unstable and contains a natural fault line between the old (hungry for Social Security and Medicare) and the rest (women, minorities, unions etc.). Set against that, the Democrats are limited in terms of the safe Republican constituencies they can tap for increased taxes. Once this tax base is exhausted (as it nearly is), it is going to be well nigh impossible for the Democrats to maintain the full support of its coalition. The Republicans, meanwhile, can still take the same political low road as Obama took with the auto bailout and throw Obama’s young poor voting base under the bus to protect their older and wealthier voters. Democratic voters who gleefully supported Obama’s “I scratch your back if you scratch mine” formula may ultimately have many years to regret their mistake, and (needless to say) nobody to blame but themselves.

  • Election Day is a Good Day to bury Bad News:

Jack Welch caused much controversy when he accused the Labour Department of massaging the unemployment numbers to bolster Obama’s re-election. His statement shouldn’t have been regarded as controversial at all. US government statisticians have been using creative methodologies to keep unemployment rates down for years. Don’t be surprised to discover that unemployment rates are revised upwards now that the election is over.

David Petraeus’s increasingly bizarre scandal broke just days after the election and was only broken to Obama on election day. As Homer Simpson would say, how convenient.

Why does the information from the Benghazi scandal drip out so gradually at a time when it is too late to allow it to influence one’s vote? Homer Simpson nods again.

How much did Ben Bernanke help Obama with his QE3 and what will the dire inflationary consequences be after the election?

The list of questions just goes on and on.

  • Conclusion:

In the words of that great philosopher of our era Mr. Kent Brockman (keeping to the Simpsons theme): “Is it time to crack one another’s heads open and feast on the goo inside?”

Time will tell…

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