A lot of the election postmortem has focused on the triumph of the statisticians over the pundits. In the former camp, Sam Wang projected that Barack Obama had over a 99% chance of re-election, and that Obama would take 51.1% of the major-party vote; as of this writing, it appears that he was off by all of 0.2%. His more famous colleague Nate Silver put Obama's final chances at 91%, and got every state correct — so much so that he gave Obama the nod in Florida with a 50.3% chance of victory there, and indeed Florida was the last state to be called. Meanwhile, conservative pundits and politicians uniformly predicted a triumph for Mitt Romney. Backing them up was nothing so unreliable as math, as David Brooks scoffed, "experts with fancy computer models are terrible at predicting human behavior." No, Romney would win because, as Peggy Noonan put it, "the vibrations are right." Put aside the poll numbers and instead look at "the anecdotal and intangible evidence," Karl Rove insisted, and you'll get "the sense that the odds favor Mr. Romney." Now, I believe in math; my belief in math is one of the main reasons I'm a progressive. Yet up until the swing states started being called in Obama's favor, I suspected that Noonan and Rove and George Will and Charles Krauthammer and Glenn Beck and Newt Gingrich and John Bolton and Steve Forbes and Michael Barone and Dean Chambers and even Dick Morris were right: that blue voters would flake, that red voters would turn out in massive numbers, that Obama-leaning undecideds would change their minds at the last moment. The difference is that what was wishful thinking on their part was a horrifying prospect to me. And I believed it because it was a horrifying prospect.
I know that my pessimism is, partially, a defense mechanism. I say "partially" because I truly do believe in the First Noble Truth that existence is characterized primarily — not exclusively, but primarily — by suffering. But while I genuinely did anticipate a Romney victory Tuesday night, the main reason I did was that doing so was useful to me. I could have handled the map turning red because I was braced for it, and any surprises would be pleasant ones. This last point is why I cannot comprehend how optimists make it through life. To not only have to face the prospect of an administration whose policies you find abominable, but to not even have steeled yourself for it? For it to come as a surprise? How do you cope?
Pessimism isn't the only way I'm negativistic. I really, really, really wanted Obama to win the election, but not because I'm expecting great things from his second term. Quite the opposite: I'm very concerned that his first move will be to negotiate some sort of "grand bargain" that will poke gaping holes in our already inadequate safety net in exchange for tax increases that will be woefully insufficient. (Others on the left will point out that in the years since Obama took office, virtually nothing has been done about the climate or the banksters, while drone warfare rages on Over There, and there's little reason to expect any of this to change.) On the flip side, I figured that if I made it through eight years of George W. Bush, I could survive a Romney administration; as I noted in a recent minutiae post, I actually lived in Massachusetts for three years while Romney was governor and I was barely aware of his existence. Still, an Obama loss was excruciating for me to contemplate. Why? Because it would make bad people happy.
Yes, in part I'm talking about Mitt Romney himself; the idea of him smirking about the success of his constant brazen lying was not a pleasant one. And Ann Romney — imagine her smug in the knowledge that she and Mitt had in fact "given all you people need to know" in order to get elected. And Paul Ryan, gleefully drawing up plans to build a bridge back to 1931. I'm also talking about the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelsons of the world, billionaires dashing off eight-figure checks to Republican campaigns in order to stave off tiny tax increases that might see them paying similar amounts to help those in poverty… picture them chuckling about money well spent. Think of Rick Scott and Jon Husted and their counterparts in states both blue and red, trying any gambit they could find to stop people from voting, and their self-congratulation if those efforts had made up Romney's winning margin. Take the hate machine driven by Fox News, and Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh and their countless clones, and imagine that instead of resigning themselves to another four years of spitting venom at the government, they were excitedly taking up their former position that any criticism of the government constitutes treason. All of these are part of what I mean.
But mainly I'm talking about that (huge) segment of the Republican base that freaked the fuck out when Barack Obama was elected the first time, and spent the subsequent four years shrieking that he couldn't be the real president. Not because he was black, exactly: members of Team Nobama are quick to point out that they have their own blacks — Allen West, Herman Cain, Clarence Thomas, et al. — and that supporting these figures absolves them of racism. But West and Cain and Thomas don't represent the end of white privilege in the United States, any more than Elizabeth I represented the end of patriarchy in Britain. Obama, by contrast, not only had what Silvio Berlusconi called "a good tan," but also made some mild remarks on the '08 campaign trail about how a more equitable distribution of wealth would not only be fairer but make for a stronger economy as a whole — remarks that, to this demographic, portended the upending of the social order. Though, really, Obama's election strongly suggested that that social order had already been upended, and that was something the "keep the change" crowd couldn't face. Some insisted that it had to be a result of massive vote fraud, or a conspiracy by foreign agents, and these people were rightly laughed at. But others on the right made a more compelling or at least less batshit argument. Obama's win in '08 was just a crazy fluke, they said. The economy had happened to collapse seven weeks before the election, and while (the argument continued) the fault lay with poor minorities stupidly buying houses they couldn't afford, the liberal media gulled enough dupes into blaming George Bush that any Democrat would have won. That didn't mean the American people wanted any changes in the social order.
This tension over whether this assertion was correct underlay many of the issues that came to prominence during the 2012 election season. For instance, many on the left had long argued that the movement to do away with abortion rights wasn't actually about reducing the number of abortions, and sure enough, this year Republican responses to questions about abortion kept toppling over into debates about birth control and rape. The subtext became text: No, you can't end an unwanted pregnancy. No, you will receive no help in preventing an unwanted pregnancy in the first place. Yes, that means that you can't have sex without running the risk of getting pregnant. Yes, if your natural sex drive (which, by the way, makes you a slut) therefore leads you to get married, have children, and give up your autonomy much earlier than you might like, that's a feature, not a bug, for that is your place in the social order. And by the way, no, just because electing to have sex guarantees pregnancy, you cannot therefore conclude that electing not to have sex guarantees no pregnancy. If you are raped and thereby become pregnant, then either deep down you did want it (slut) or else that's just the plan of a god whose plans are conveniently conveyed to you by us.
Taxes are another issue that comes up every election, but again, this year the Republican candidates and their boosters in the Fox News and AM radio empire took the implicit underpinnings of the tax debate and made them explicit. As I noted a couple of months ago, for quite a while I have been struck by how the bottom half of the Internet seems to see every single thing that happens in the news as a reflection of the American social order in crisis. That crisis is not that our country is pockmarked by bubbles of urban poverty and the social ills that come along with it. That's fine by the bottom-dwellers. They have some measure of privilege — if not actual affluence, then at least the knowledge that white skin saves them from being at the very bottom of the social totem pole — and since they don't want to feel guilty about it, they've convinced themselves that they deserve it. And a corollary to that is that the impoverished must deserve their deprivation. Maybe they lack our superior work ethic, or maybe they're just genetically inferior, but in any case, the real crisis is that the government is upending the social order by taxing the rich to provide services to the poor — i.e., giving those mongrels our stuff. Already they have refrigerators and color television sets! The astonished outrage from the likes of Stuart Varney was remarkable, predicated as it logically had to be upon the assumption that Those People are supposed to be poorer than that. Grinding poverty is their place.
And many aren't even that circumspect about it. They will come right out and say that what they as "conservatives" want to "conserve" is the traditional social order. They might not all go so far as to spell out that that means the subordination of women, and blacks, and immigrants and homosexuals and atheists and any number of other groups (or groups of Others), but when they cry "I want my country back!", the country they want back is the one with that social order. That country sucks, and they are bad people for wanting it. And since I am negativistic, when the election was called for Obama — because up to that point, I still felt things might go wrong, though when New Hampshire was called early for the blue team I started to worry less — I didn't click on the "Woohoo!" posts on Daily Kos, and I didn't read the joyful messages from the gay people I know who live in one of the four states that either allowed them to marry or struck down initiatives that would forbid it, and I didn't celebrate the likelihood that in 2014 I will finally be able to trade up from my abysmally crappy Anthem health insurance. No, I went straight to Free Republic and Redstate and read dozens upon dozens of shellshocked posts by the bad people. It wasn't even schadenfreude — I just had to immerse myself in their laments to convince myself that, yes, they really were unhappy and it was safe for me to be relieved.
I didn't really know what to expect on the right-wing sites. It turns out that they seem to think that the government is being controlled from behind the scenes by evil mastermind Valerie Jarrett (seriously, Valerie Jarrett?), and that the national media is ignoring a massive scandal involving something called "Obamaphones." There were the expected cries of vote fraud, and calls for Texas to secede from the Union; many posts contained a vow to stock up on ammo. But mainly what I found was a mirror image of the posts that I and others on the left made in the wake of the '04 results. In 2000 it was easy to dismiss the election of George W. Bush as essentially an accident — a lot of people had Clinton fatigue, and with his "compassionate conservative" slogan, Bush passed himself off as the sort of unambitious caretaker president many were looking for… and he still lost the popular vote! Add the fact that he would have lost Florida if not for Theresa LePore's butterfly ballot, and it seemed like our main problem was that the electoral system didn't reflect the will of the majority. But after the '04 results came in, it seemed more like we had a very different problem: that the electoral system did reflect the will of the majority and this was it. Voters knew exactly what kind of ongoing fiasco they were getting with Bush, and the majority had decided they liked it. Cue the jeremiads. Similarly, those who dismissed Obama's '08 win as a tragic accident found themselves having to confront a 2012 electorate that had decisively re-elected him. And since the election had explicitly been about the social order, the Freepers lamented in post after post, that meant that the social order they revered had explicitly been rejected, and their America was dead. Now that's some negativism I can really get behind.