Republican Scott Brown's Massachusett's Senate victory was almost certain days before the election. President Obama's stump for Democratic challenger Martha Coakley took the almost out from in front of certain. The seed of the Obama debacle was there long before the tea party protests, the relentless pound from Rush Limbaugh, the Fox News Network, the pack of right side talk jocks, and Republican National Chair Michael Steele. The seed was in the silly belief that Obama's victory was tantamount to FDR's 1932 smash election victory and the even sillier belief that the GOP had been reduced to a dwindling bunch of tobacco spitting rednecks in the Deep South and know nothing heartland voters. Neither was ever true.
The myth that Obama had game changed American politics by swaying a majority of mid America voters got started in the string of Obama primary victories over challenger Hillary Clinton in the Deep South and heartland Red States. Those were Democratic caucus or primary victories. They meant nothing in his general election showdown with John McCain. These are all rock solid GOP states and McCain swept them all. The five states that broke ranks and ultimately tipped the election to Obama were Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida, and Pennsylvania. The states are either solidly GOP or tenuous swing states, with a huge percent of the voters blue collar, anti-big government, socially conservative, pro defense, and intently patriotic. There was nothing close to a changing consensus that Obama's policies had gained any traction with these voters. He won because black and Latino voters turned his campaign into a holy crusade with an off the chart record voter turnout in four of the states. In Florida, the fifth that went for him, if the large bloc of liberal, black, Jewish, and younger Latino voters in South Florida hadn't crusaded for him, Florida also likely would have ended in the McCain win column.
After his White House win, polls repeatedly showed that while a majority of voters said they personally liked Obama, a mounting number said that they didn't like, or at best, were deeply ambivalent about his polices. The polices they disliked ran off the sheet--his failure to wind down the Iraq War, escalating the failed, flawed, no-win war in Afghanistan, a muddled, patchwork, terribly compromised health care reform plan, failure to rein in Wall Street profiteering, skyrocketing unemployment, bottomless home foreclosures, a stimulus plan that hiked the deficit but created few sustained, verifiable, long term jobs.
The even bigger mistake was too badly misread the presidential election results. Much was made that Obama got more white votes than John Kerry or Al Gore. That he revved up young whites, and that he totally exorcised race from the campaign. Obama's win supposedly was final proof that America had kicked the racial syndrome. This was the stuff of media talk and wishful thinking. Despite a GOP racked by sex and corruption scandals, an anemic presidential opponent, a laughingstock vice presidential candidate, a collapsed economy and an outgoing GOP president with a rating worse than Herbert Hoover's, McCain still crushed Obama by a twelve point spread among white voters.
The route was not just among old, Deep South, unreconstructed or latent bigoted white male voters, but in virtually every voter demographic among whites, including a dead heat with Obama among a majority of younger white voters. This doesn't tell the whole story of the sharp divide Obama still faces. A sizeable percentage of whites were disgusted enough with Bush's policies to stay home on Election Day, but not disgusted enough with him and his policies to vote for Obama. The Henry Louis Gates affair and the right's town hall rabble rousing made more voters wary of Obama's policies. Polls after the Gates outburst showed that a majority of whites condemned Obama for backing Gates and, even more ominously, expressed big doubts about his policies.
A painful reality is that the crushing majority of independents who oppose Obama or disavow his policies for racial, party, ideological reasons or personal prejudices, are a solid backbone of the GOP's counter insurgency against him. The New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races in November showed that except for a handful of counties with the big cities with a majority of young, liberal, and minority voters, the GOP swept all the counties. That should have set bells and whistles clanging among Democrat's that Obama's presidential victory was a mile wide but an inch deep, and that trouble was brewing over Obama's continued pander to Wall Street and the big banks and his diddle on mounting a full court press on the economy. The bells and whistles didn't clang. Top Democrats and pundits sloughed off the gubernatorial losses as an aberration or chalked it up to weak, corrupt or discredited Democratic candidates.
That's not the case with Brown's win. It was clearly about Obama. Obama lost the state long before his win.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is, How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press) will be released in January 2010.