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Sunday, November 11, 2012  


To conclude the campaign season, I thought I’d eschew opinions on the programs of the parties, diagnoses of their electoral positions, and suggestions for Obama’s second term and instead ask a few questions about some issues that may or may not be altered by Tuesday’s outcomes.

1) Will the Democrats embrace a tax agenda beyond raising the top marginal rate from 35% to 39.6%? Will tax reform that takes any bite out of tax entitlements for upper-middle-class taxpayers become part of the program? Will budget cuts and entitlement program changes be steeper because no attempt has been made to sell the public on the idea that public services are valuable even when it’s not just rich folks paying for them? 

2) Will Republicans try to appeal to younger, more middle-class voters? The GOP elite is much more interested in cutting entitlement spending than its voters are, with the result that the 2012 iteration of the party ran on turning the federal government into a giant pension program with a giant army funded by relatively regressive taxes. Will there be any programmatic appeal to the under-55, under $250,000 set, apart from the rhetorical wedge of deficit reduction? 

3) What’s going to happen to infrastructure spending? Hurricane Sandy reminded us that the most productive, highest-quality, and most vulnerable infrastructure in America is concentrated in a region that gives 100% of its electoral votes to Democrats. A lot of rich people live there, too. Will there be any attempt to appeal to those voters, or will infrastructure spending continue to be a kind of proxy war for cultural issues? Will Chris Christie have anything to say about it, or will his embrace of Obama cancel out any appeal he has to Republican partisans?

4) What’s the future of “pro-family” politics after same-sex marriage won at the ballot? Romney was already downplaying it, but the four ballot measures made the decline (or even reversal) of gay marriage as a wedge issue as clear as can be. Will cultural conservatives have any interest in policy toward America’s fragmenting family structures beyond placing legal disabilities on same-sex relationships? Will liberals show any interest in that issue area if they can be convinced that it’s not a stalking-horse for homophobia?

5) What’s the future of the anti-abortion movement? It was a terrible election for opponents of legal abortion, beyond the defeat of candidates who opined on the metaphysics of conception by sexual assault. Will not just rape exceptions, but the issue in general start to be discussed in terms that aren't, in Noah Millman’s phrase, "obliterating the woman from view" (seriously, read that post, it's awesome)? Will abortion and contraception be treated, at least by the savvier conservative politicians, as the economic issues they are for women who are part of the labor force (as surprising to me as Todd Akin’s bizarre theories of spontaneous contraception was that he paired his hardline pro-life stance with his plan to abolish free school lunches for children who do come to term)? Will anyone talk about paid family leave? Will the brief and minor energy around “abortion reduction” initiatives that left the legal status of the procedure untouched be revived in coalition between pro-life and pro-choice lawmakers? Abortion is, unlike gay marriage, not polarized by age; will it be marginalized by either or both parties, or will it complicate the coalitions that support both?

6) What will happen with climate policy? Has Sandy changed any minds? Or, perhaps more fancifully, has the failure of the “unskewed polls” movement opened any eyes to the possibility that the overwhelming scientific consensus could be right? Could carbon charges be part of a “grand bargain” on the budget, especially if they replace income tax rate increases? Will now-inevitable crop failures and wildfires break the agriculture industry away from its tactical alliance with the fossil fuels industry, or will crop insurance make any reckoning on their part unnecessary?

7) Will the Obama administration’s assassination list and drone campaigns become a greater target of liberal journalistic and legislative scrutiny now that his re-election is accomplished? Will the seeming demographic strength of the liberal coalition embolden domestic and international protest against the continuities with (and even the intensifications of) Bush-era security policies? Will these issues factor into jockeying for the 2016 Democratic nomination?

8)Will Republican foreign policy thinking rebalance away from the neoconservatives? Will Rand Paul run for president, and if he does, will he find a constituency for an anti-interventionist critique of the president’s foreign policy? Will a comparatively peaceful resolution of the Iranian crisis, if it happens, weaken or strengthen the position of the ultra-hawks in the Republican Party? Will it create room in the Democratic Party for more pressure on Israel’s settlement policies? When Netanyahu is re-elected, will he change his tone toward Obama?

9) Will Republicans accept Obamacare in order to have some influence over its funding and implementation? There are some obvious changes conservatives could try to make, changes that may be easier now that the core of the law has survived legal and electoral challenges. 

10) Who is "next in line" for the GOP? Who will successfully inherit Obama's massive organizational capital? Or will it be divided and, effectively, lost? How will the Republican pre-primary process effect the politics of Congress?

I honestly don't have any guesses. It's always pleasing to imagine that an election will change some things that you don't quite expect. It seems plausible that this could actually happen, at least in some ways, this time. We'll see.

posted by Benjamin Dueholm | 10:46 PM
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