Looking back, will 2012 turn out to be a tipping point election? It’s a strange quirk of American history that several squeaker elections turned out to signal a major shift. Harry Truman squeaked by in 1948, and no one suspected that they had put the stamp on the Cold War for a generation. Reagan came from far behind to defeat Carter, ushering in the respectable right wing, which culminated in another squeaker, in Bush versus Gore, that led to two disastrous military adventures abroad.
But in this presidential election, for almost the first time, a squeaker could benefit progressives. When President Obama took office in 2009, a rush of euphoria caused liberals to believe that an entire generation might turn to the Democratic Party. This hope was soon sabotaged – we don’t have to go into the reasons why, since everyone knows about the stalled economy, the rise of Tea Party rage, and the stone wall put up by the right against anything Obama proposed.
Yet a slow tide was turning. The demographics that had given rise to the modern right wing are at a tipping point. Not since 1967 has a Democratic candidate for President won the white male vote, yet that sector of the voting public is declining.According to census statistics 20% of American sare foreign born or have at least one foreign born parent. The birth rate among Hispanics holds strong. College-age voters have shifted left, and even the new generation of fundamentalist Christians is far less exercised about social issues like abortion and gay marriage.
Studying these trends, some analysts predict that the Republicans are about to become a permanent minority party, out of touch with where American society is heading. Their ace in the hole – being the party of national defense – has eroded, thanks to Bush’s feckless wars and Obama’s success in eliminating Osama bin Laden. They have also carried the dead weight of the racist South, but that is slowly eroding in Virginia and North Carolina, which have turned into swing states.
For the left, this has become a cross-your-fingers election, because no sitting President has been re-elected with such high unemployment numbers. Leaving aside the obvious weakness of Mitt Romney as a candidate (which won’t stop the base from voting for him en masse), all the long-term trends are in the favor of progressives. It’s an open question whether they can take full advantage, because that would require coming to terms with Democratic holy cows like Medicare and Social Security, as well as tipping the Supreme Court away from its radical right tendencies.
But if you want to vote on the side of history, this election could well be your chance. Democrats sometimes feel that they have no reason to be enthusiastic this time around, but seizing a rising tide holds enormous promise. The long dominance of reactionary politics could really be entering its twilight, a huge benefit of us all.