Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Democrats Win Big Across U.S. in ’08 Elections

This is not gloating, honest.  But in the wake of Pres.-Elect Obama’s victory, there is a debate among pundits as to whether or not we “are still a center-right” country (we are compared to parts of Europe, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada, but not in a global sense–and Canada just reelected the Conservative Party with a bigger majority and the National Party just won in New Zealand, while conservative parties won recent elections in Germany and France, too and the Tories seem poised to make a comeback in the U.K.). Conservatives and Republicans seem to be claiming that Obama needs to govern just like a Republican or face a “Gingrich Revolution” in ’10.  Well, it’s true that Obama has to be successful or be rejected. And it’s true that he has to move to the left in a smarter fashion than Clinton did in ’93-’94.  But the quickest way for him to lose the support of those who elected him would be for him to weasel on his campaign promises.

No mandate for change? Really, GOP pundits?  George W. Bush claimed to have “political capital” that he was going to spend when he won re-election by less than 1% of the popular vote in ’04–about a million votes. Obama won 52.3% of the popular vote to McCain’s 46.2%–with the rest taken up by 3 party candidates and write-ins.  He appears to have won by over 7 million votes (and counting since not all absentee ballots and overseas ballots have been counted).  He has won 365 electoral votes (including NE-02), short of a technical landslide (375 and above), but the largest presidential victory since Ronald Reagan.  That’s a convincing mandate.  He won states long considered Republican strongholds including: Virginia (last voted Dem. in a presidential race in ’64), North Carolina (’76), Indiana (’64), Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Iowa, and the swing states of Ohio, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.  In many states that Obama didn’t carry, he came closer than anyone could have expected, including Missouri, Georgia, North Dakota, & Montana.  That looks like a mandate to me.

Further, this is the second election cycle in a row (first in ’06) that voters decisively rejected Republicans from coast to coast–even in states McCain carried at the presidential level:  In ’06, Dems picked up a total of 20 seats in the House of Representatives.  In ’08, Dems picked up an additional 24 seats. In the Senate, Dems took control in ’06 by 1 vote.  In ’08 they added at least another 5 seats (with 2 races yet to be called–Alaska and Minnesota, the latter so close it needs an automatic recount to begin in mid-November–and one race, Georgia, requiring run-off election in December). When the voters hit your party that hard 2 cycles running, you are not connecting with them. They have moved considerably from where you are.

Here is the map of Obama’s electoral win:



And here is a chart that shows which states went more Democratic and by how much.  It is determined by how much of the vote that Obama received in that state (whether or not it was called for him or McCain) and seeing how much more or less that was than the amount that Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) received in his ’04 run for the presidency.  Note that only Five States shifted to the right: Arkansas (R+5), Louisiana (R+5), Oklahoma (R+4), Tennesee (R+4), and West Virginia (R +4).  The other 46 states moved left in varying degrees. (This chart shows that only 22 counties in the U.S. moved in a more Republican direction this year.)

The argument that “America is a center-right country” is based on the fact that voters tell exit-pollsters that they like the terms “conservative,” or “moderate,” better than “liberal.” But this only means that the Right has succeeded since 1980 in demonizing the WORD “liberal” (and, to a lesser extent, “progressive”).  But if you ask about their values and the role they see government playing, you get a very different story.  In both ’06 and ’08, voters told exit pollsters that they wanted the war in Iraq to end quickly, that they believed in progressive taxation, that they favored universal healthcare and were willing to pay somewhat more in taxes to get it, that they wanted strong action to protect the environment, etc.  Only on gay rights (sadly), do conservatives win on the issues. We clearly have work to do there.

But, as this link shows, the majority of Obama voters (and he won, remember?) said that government needed to do more to help people while the majority of McCain voters (the losing side) said that government was doing too much to help.  That’s a “liberal” view.  America is a moderate nation moving from a long captivity by Movement Conservatism leftward.  I expect us to be further center-left by the end of Obama’s first term–and the center itself to have moved in 8 years.

Republicans are in trouble:  Their latest (failing) campaign pitted rural areas against cities when 80% of Americans live in cities or their surrounding suburbs.  So, Palin-style appeals to “real America” lose elections.  Republicans are now a minority party dominant only in the South and parts of the West (and Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida show that the South is no longer “solid).  Republicans are 93% white in a country where whites are only 66% of the population–and by 2050 (at the outside) there will be no racial/ethnic majority in this country. Whites will only be the largest minority–a plurality. So, if Republicans keep losing African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians (and Obama won all these groups), they will stay in the wilderness. If they have no message for cities, they stay in the wilderness.  If they keep losing women (51% of the country), they stay in the wilderness.  The sooner the GOP figures this out, the better for them. But if they want to stay in denial, this Democrat has no problem seeing them using the same tired old slogans and losing.  The Republicans began to win after WWII by making peace with the New Deal. But since 1980, the GOP has been trying to destroy the New Deal–and this finally became apparent in complete starkness to Americans in ’05 when the GOP tried to privatize Social Security and then when it sat by and watched New Orleans drown and did nothing. 

Reaganism and Reaganomics are dead.

UPDATE:  The Hoover Institution, one of the oldest conservative think tanks in the U.S., now admits that the “center-right” conservative talking point is false.  The Hoover Institution admits that the U.S. is now a “center-left” society.


November 9, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. I’m not so sure the Conservatives a poised to take over in britain, I suspect any election in the UK will be a close call. A couple of months ago yes, but the economic situation has strengthened Labour’s position.

    Comment by rgillingham | November 9, 2008

  2. Don’t forget, Obama won one electoral vote in Nebraska.

    Comment by Steven Kippel | November 10, 2008

  3. Steve,if you look closely, the Nebraska EV is shown. That currently brings Obama’s EV total to 365.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | November 10, 2008

  4. It’s shown, but you didn’t list it in your run down.

    Comment by Steven Kippel | November 10, 2008

  5. If Obama wants to assume a mandate, then that is fine with me. Personally, I got annoyed with liberals who acted in 2004 like Bush had to appease them because he lacked a “mandate.” I say that, if a person wins an election, he should be able to govern as he sees fit. But, if things go wrong, the Democrats have no one else to blame, since they are the ruling party right now.

    Comment by James Pate | November 10, 2008

  6. One other point: You say that Reaganism and Reaganomics are dead. If so, then why did Obama try to talk like Ronald Reagan. He said he’d cut taxes for the middle class, and that his plan reduces government spending. And don’t act like that was a peripheral part of his campaign. He said these things in debates, in his infomercials, to Joe the Plumber, and in commercial after commercial. Dead my foot.

    Comment by James Pate | November 11, 2008

  7. I have just one more point:

    You say Reaganism is “dead” because it did not triumph in the recent election. I take issue with that claim, but let’s say you’re right. I’ve not seen your version of pacifism triumph in the polls. Obama supports bombing Pakistan if he deems it necessary, and Biden voted for all sorts of wars. That’s why you’ve expressed reservations about them in the past. So is pacifism dead?

    Comment by James Pate | November 11, 2008

  8. James, he also said that economic development comes from the bottom up, not trickle down, and that he would remove the huge Bush tax cuts on the upper 1%–the opposite of Reaganomics. It is true that Obama has learned from Reagan and that he doesn’t reject all GOP ideas (like empowerment zones and the earned income tax credit), and his plan to put America back to work combines elements of FDR with those of Reagan. But his approach to economics is clearly Keynesian and a rejection of Friedman-style supply-side free market fundamentalism.

    As for pacifism, I never expected to elect a pacifist president. Clearly gospel nonviolence is still a minority view–even, alas, in the churches. But I do think that an Obama presidency will give a better context for those of us who work for global peace with justice. With Bush 43 (and, from his rhetoric, with McCain), we were always on defense–trying to contain the damage. We may have to oppose specific actions of an Obama presidency, but we should have support for other projects going forward. Obama is probably the most pro-peace president we could have elected at this point in our history. That doesn’t mean that I won’t oppose him when he is warlike–as I did with Bill Clinton.

    Pacifism isn’t dead at the polls because, as a % of U.S. voters, it was never really “alive.” The public has seen through the failed economic policies of the Right–the “Greed is Good” mantra. But it has yet to see through the myth of redemptive violence–a myth that has ALWAYS been shared by the majority of leaders of both parties in this country. Pacifism, in fact, is not particularly liberal or conservative. Liberals like Woodrow Wilson, FDR, JFK, and LBJ had very pro-military leanings–as did some of the advocates of the Social Gospel. Once upon a time (it now seems ages ago), conservatives were the less militaristic, not because they were pacifists, but because they were realists about the limits of military power. So, saying that the nation is moving in a more liberal direction is not inconsistent with its continued rejection of nonviolence. This pacifist will be happy to see a rejection of the Bush Doctrine of preemptive wars and will push Obama and everyone else to invest more in the practices of just peacemaking. (In fact, I already have at change.gov ).

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | November 11, 2008

  9. I would love for this to be true.

    I voted for Obama, here in Virginia, so you are welcome.

    Oh sure, the Republicans are licking their wounds, and more importantly the Religious Right is licking their wounds. But I don’t think for a moment they are going to concede much.

    But there seems to be some sort of Soul Searching or Civil War brewing within the party to understand where they are. With the push for Palin to run in 2012, there will be still a section that wants that sort of leadership and the Democrats need to be prepared for it. To assume that Conservative Republicanism is over will only serve for us to ignore it.

    Comment by Martin | November 11, 2008

  10. One book you may enjoy is Bill Kauffman’s Ain’t My America: The Long, Noble History of Antiwar Conservatism and Middle-American Anti-Imperialism (New York: Metropolitan, 2008). There are parts you won’t like, but, overall, I think you’d like it.

    Comment by James Pate | November 11, 2008

  11. Michael, I appreciate and agree with your comments about pacifism and the election. I happily (also in Virginia!) voted for Obama even though I am under no illusions that he will be a pacifist. To (rightly) say he is “probably the most pro-peace president we could have elected at this point in our history” is nonetheless an indictment of our country–given how far from being truly “pro-peace” Obama seems to be.

    In the end, though, we were faced with the choice between a person (McCane, even more so Palin) with whom pacifists would have no common ground and a person (Obama) who we may hope will have some potential of making decisions based on rational considerations of what will serve human well-being (not corporate profits and neo-conservative ideology).

    That our preferred candidate won is now a challenge to advocate all the more for peaceable practices on all levels of government.

    Comment by Ted Grimsrud | November 17, 2008

  12. Ted, your point is well taken. At the end of the primary process, I wrote a post about what opportunities and challenges an Obama presidency might hold for Christian peacemakers. I think we need to encourage him where he is strong and challenge him where he needs it. We also need to keep challenging the churches–I was disheartened to see a Pew Study recently that showed 45% of U.S. Christians endorsing torture “when necessary!”

    Comment by Mchael Westmoreland-Whte | November 18, 2008

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