The contrasting results from last week's election were surprising but clear: America as a whole continues to become more progressive while North Carolina, at least temporarily, has rejoined the Old South.
If you think last week's presidential election was a "narrow victory" for Obama, think again. Yes, he "only" won by 2 million votes but consider this little-mentioned fact: Mitt Romney beat Obama in the South by nearly 6 million votes. That means that in the rest of the country, Obama thrashed Romney by 8 million votes. In other words, outside the South, this was most definitely a big victory for Barack Obama — and the populist policies he campaigned on.
It has been sad and disturbing to watch many white Southerners' retreat into race-based paranoia about the president with a funny name, but at this point, that's the South's problem. If our fellow Southerners want to hunker down in a bunker, deny that the world has changed, and go back to the region's pre-Civil Rights-era image as fundamentally "apart from" the rest of the U.S., well, they've reached their goal.
It's not just Obama's numbers outside the South that are impressive. The president's win was matched by a wave of progressive victories — five women were newly elected to the U.S. Senate, including consumer rights activist Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and the first openly gay Senate member, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin; the passage of state referenda on same-sex marriage and marijuana; an increase in the number of Latino voters; the 13-point Obama edge among women; and the defeat of some of the Tea Party's most horrific candidates, i.e., the "bear your rapist's baby" caucus. That made for a pretty good election night for the American left.
Moreover, the only way the GOP kept a majority in the House is that most states under Republican rule gerrymandered districts in order to retain control. In 2020 there will be a new census and, considering the GOP's shrinking and dying demographic, the tables will almost certainly be turned. The hard fact for the GOP is that it is doomed if it can't find a way to rid itself of the recidivist faction it has allowed to take over the party. David Gergen, veteran advisor to Ford, Reagan, Bush I and Clinton, said on CNN that one of the GOP's main problems is that too many of its members want to live in a mythologized version of the 1950s — "the real America" — and they "seethe with resentment" that the U.S. isn't the same country it was then. Meanwhile, the rest of the country has moved on. Except, apparently, among a majority of Southerners, including North Carolinians.
The General Assembly is now even more Republican than it was before, as the Tea Party's influence and the moneyed power of GOP sugar daddy Art Pope and his out-of-state allies carried the day in ruthless fashion. The Institute for Southern Studies reported that outside groups spent about $14 million on Tar Heel elections, including more than $10 million from ultra-right groups funded by really rich old white guys.
Former Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory won the gubernatorial race against an admittedly weak opponent by racking up millions from such right-wing groups as the Constitution Trust, Pope's Real Jobs NC, and Americans for Prosperity, the Koch Brothers-funded, pro-big-business lobby. Pope is on AFP's board of directors and is now part of McCrory's transition team. Lovely.
In Charlotte, despite a Democratic sweep of the county commission's three at-large seats, Mecklenburg's longest-serving state representative, Democrat Martha Alexander, lost her seat after her district was drastically re-drawn by the GOP. Meanwhile, Sue Myrick's Tea Partyin' son Dan Forest wants to be lieutenant governor but is locked in a recount battle with state Rep. Linda Coleman, despite receiving beaucoup bucks from Charlotte business-furniture magnate David Longo, who founded a SuperPAC, Citizens for Accountability, specifically to push Forest's candidacy.
And then there's Robert Pittenger, the smug wheeler-dealer who bought himself a U.S. House seat in Congressional District 9, replacing Sue Myrick. Pittenger's reputation was shredded in the GOP primary when his opponent repeatedly hammered The Pit on how he had used his General Assembly seat to enrich himself. Former Mecklenburg Commission Chair Jennifer Roberts ran against Pittenger in a district that's heavily gerrymandered to remain in Republican hands and still gave him a real fight despite being overwhelmingly outspent by Pittenger, who gave his own campaign $2.2 million (more than any other congressional candidate in America gave his/her campaign) for a job that only pays $200K. Draw your own conclusions.
So on the bright side, America moves on to more progressive outlooks and social policies. On the dark side in North Carolina, there's The Pit, Thom Tillis & Co. in the legislature, and the Fratboy-in-chief in the governor's mansion. It ain't gonna be easy.
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