Top 5 lessons we learned Tuesday night

November 8, 2012

The results of any election -- let alone those of an election of "historic proportions," as this election was so frequently billed -- can be mined for insights for weeks, months and years to come. It's unlikely, then, that what we consider the top 5 lessons of Tuesday night now will be what we consider to be the top 5 lessons in the final analysis. Nevertheless, now is as good a time as any to attempt to make sense of an election that was at once predictable and unprecedented. With that, we give you the list:

1. We learned that Americans who profess dissatisfaction with a government composed of a Democratic president, Democratic Senate and Republican House will nevertheless reelect that government.

Neither the president nor Congress enjoyed particularly high job approval ratings in the run-up to the election -- yet the electorate (with exceptions, of course) clearly favored incumbents last night. This could lead us to any number of conclusions about the preferences of the American people. Perhaps they actually like gridlock in Washington D.C. It's not necessarily a negative that a divided Congress makes it more difficult for the legislature to pass bills. Perhaps Americans are just as willing as ever to give incumbents the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they just want to think well of themselves and their elected officials and reelecting them is a way to affirm themselves and their ability to make decisions. Perhaps Democrats' prevalence in the Senate and White House and Republicans' prevalence in the House signifies nothing more than what we already know from looking at an electoral map: Liberalism is alive and well in dense population centers, while conservatism is the country's more widespread -- geographically speaking -- philosophy.

2. We learned that the face of the American electorate has changed and will continue to change.

Dissecters of the election have made great hay about the dramatically altered demographics of the American electorate -- and with good reason. Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro and Brooke Bower of NBC explain:

As the Obama campaign had assumed more than a year ago, the white portion of the electorate dropped to 72%, and the president won just 39% of that vote. But he carried a whopping 93% of black voters (representing 13% of the electorate), 71% of Latinos (representing 10%), and also 73% of Asians (3%). What’s more, despite all the predictions that youth turnout would be down, voters 18-29 made up 19% of last night’s voting population -- up from 18% four years ago -- and President Obama took 60% from that group. ...

[A]ccording to the exit poll, 89% of all votes Mitt Romney won last night came from whites (compared with 56% for Obama). So the Republicans are maximizing their share with white voters; they just aren’t getting the rest. And come 2016, the white portion of the electorate will probably drop another couple of points to 70%.

3. We learned conservatives can no longer afford to ignore the disintegration of the family and the rise of the Hubby State.

It's not just racial demographics that have changed in this country. Law professor David Bernstein highlights another important change:

[S]ingle women vote overwhelmingly Democratic, and for the first time in American history there are more single women than married women. Single women are much more economically vulnerable than are married women, and want the government to be there to insure them against hard times. This is especially true of single women with kids–and the American divorce rate is still the highest in the world, and over 40% of American children born last year were born to single mothers.

As Jennifer Roback Morse explains in her book, Love and Economics, single mothers will necessarily turn somewhere for help as they attempt to care for their children:

[B]ecause our species has such a long period of immaturity and dependence, and because our dependence is so profound, taking care of babies is an extraordinarily time-consuming process. Therefore, someone must take care of whoever is taking care of the babies. ...

In many modern Western democracies, the responsibility for the care of the mother is concealed behind impersonal institutional arrangements. Sometimes, of course, the father takes care of the mother. But sometimes the mother is cared for by the state through systems such as welfare. In other cases, the mother earns a living and some third party, such as a day-care center or school, takes care of the children. ...There really are still three parties present, even in the case of a single mother who appears to be taking care both of the babies and of herself, completely unassisted. The third party for the single mother and her child is an institution that has no particular commitment or personal relationship to her.

In other words, when she doesn't turn to the Nanny State, she turns to the Hubby State. Either way, she's dependent, again, on an institution "that has no particular commitment or personal relationship to her." These women deserve better. They deserve to be cared for not just materially, but spiritually. They deserve to be loved. Conservatives must take the needs of these women seriously and articulate that those needs are best satisfied not by the state but by loving, lifelong, committed relationships with the fathers of their children ... i.e. that they are best satisfied in marriage.

4. We learned that governors across the country will undoubtedly have to make a decision about the Obamacare Medicaid expansion.

With Barack Obama's reelection, states will have to take control of their own destiny as it relates to Obamacare. (Note that, thanks to a lawsuit filed by Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, it's still possible that Obamacare will be dismantled in the courts.) It's up to governors to decide whether they will expand Medicaid in their states. We at OCPA have argued repeatedly against the Medicaid expansion. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin can lead the way for other state governors by working to reform Medicaid instead of to expand it.

5. We learned an election is just an election.

This is one of those we might have to revise depending on how the next few years play out, but, at this point, we can honestly say that our lives and jobs did not immediately change because of the reelection of Barack Obama, just as they would not have immediatedly changed because of the election of Mitt Romney. We're still here, fighting for limited government, individual liberty and a free economy -- and we'll continue to fight for our principles day in and day out no matter who is in office.