The Reckoning

The Five People Who Won the Election for Obama

thank you plackards

We couldn’t have done it without you.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Many, many people deserve to be singled out by President Obama for their role in his re-election. Dogged fundraisers, the legion who mobilized his voters on Election Day, countless brave souls who held their own in barroom debates, late-night dorm room arguments, and dinner-table squabbles all over America.

But my list is a little different. Today, I salute the true drivers of opinion, men and women who deserve a shout out for driving people to the polls—and driving them away, that is, from the scarier aspects of the GOP platform.

1.       Sheriff Joe:

Topping this list—first among equals, really—is Arizona’s Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Sadly, the “Adios Arpaio” movement led by the county’s Latino population failed. So Arpaio rides again, having been re-elected along with Obama on Tuesday night.

If I were Obama, I would be tempted to send some of the proceeds of my best-selling biography to help fund Arpaio’s re-election victory party. (He’d have to send it, of course, because a personal visit by an African-American to them parts is liable to end in a justified search and seizure and Obama in the hoosegow.)

Obama and other Democrats know that the longer Sheriff Joe remains a national figure, and the more his actions jibe with the anti-Hispanic stance of the national Republican Party, the more secure the near lock Democrats have established on the growing Hispanic vote.

As my colleague Matt Yglesias noted Wednesday, this goes deeper than immigration policy. The lack of rapport between Republicans and this country’s most important ethnic bloc is stunning in its depth, and the party’s efforts to address it only made things worse. It’s going to take more than flying into Miami and saying, “Look, I’m having cocktails with a handsome, wealthy right-wing Cuban who may someday be a vice presidential candidate!”

There was a moment during the GOP convention that encapsulated everything Hispanics ran from on Election Day. A Republican delegate from Puerto Rico was introduced and approached the podium, and the imbeciles in the GOP mob harangued her with chants of “USA, USA, USA!” Here’s how Fox News reported, in case you think I’m making this shit up:

A visibly upset Zoraida Fonalledas, Chairwomen of the [GOP Convention’s] Committee on Permanent Organization, was greeted by chants of “USA, USA, USA” when RNC Chairman Reince Priebus introduced her to the convention crowd. The chants kept coming until Priebus stepped back up to the podium and told the delegates to let Fonalledas take care of her business. Just a little bit awkward.

Solo un poco?

Adios Arpaio? No, lamentablemente. Pero muchas gracias, Sheriff Jose. Y viva Arpaio!

2.       Donald Trump

Just when Mitt’s team had finally managed to lift and shake the might Etch-a-Sketch, The Donald pops up again to remind all of us just how truly crazy the Republican Party has become. His YouTube “Important Announcement” in the last week of the election was classic Trump: low class, low production values, and lowdown and dirty. It also was perfectly timed to turn the stomachs of independents everywhere.

I personally have never understood the reverence this man receives from people. My one contact with him—or with tendrils, more accurately—was as a young Associated Press reporter in the late 1980s. Trump was going bankrupt (he’s always doing that, you know) because he had gambled badly on the Taj Mahal, one of flagship casino properties of Atlantic City, N.J.

Marvin Roffman, a financial analyst at Janney Montgomery Scott Inc., did what he was supposed to do: He pointed out that the Taj might take The Donald down. The Wall Street Journal ran a story, and then my AP colleagues and I started writing about it, too. We got calls from his flaks warning us that we’d be sued if we didn’t stop writing about him. There was no accusation that we were falsifying anything. It was pure, raw politics: I’m big, you’re a bug, I will squish you.

One of my old colleagues, AJ Hostetler, takes up the tale:

The brokerage fired Roffman after he was quoted in The Wall Street Journal as saying that the Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, N.J., which was nearly completed at the time, could suffer financial problems once it opened. After Roffman made his comments, Trump complained to the brokerage and threatened to sue. After writing a letter of apology at the urging of the brokerage, Roffman retracted his apology and was fired.

His predictions proved correct when the Taj Mahal’s business fell consistently short of the $1 million a day needed to cover its interest costs and operating expenses. The lavish casino opened in April 1990.

Roffman endured a lot, but he also got a big fat (undisclosed) settlement – as well as the satisfaction of seeing The Donald eat a copious plate of crow when the Taj went bust. 

Fast-forward a few decades and you get Trump’s idiotic ranting on YouTube. It must befuddle him that Obama completely ignored the stunt—The Donald is not used to being ignored. But happily, public officials are immune to civil suits, even presidents who were “born in Kenya” (or is it Indonesia?) and thus are an affront to the Constitution. So Trump’s normal modus operandi failed him as thoroughly as his political antennae, and he was forced to appeal to the court of public opinion. I’d say he lost that case, too.

Thanks, Donald. Now keep your hands off the Jersey Shore. I want my bungalows back, and the middle class, too. The last thing we need is another gold-plated condo kingdom for your golf buddies.

3.       Ann Coulter

Spare a moment to thank blonde bomb thrower Ann Coulter. Author of seven—count them, seven—New York Times best-sellers. All of them say the same thing: Liberals suck, and anyone who doesn’t agree with me is a liberal. And probably a lazy parasite, and sucks.

They say doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is a definition of crazy.

But Ann and her many, many imitators and predecessors made life easier for Obama. “Not looking crazy,” after all, is a whole lot easier than being in a constant state of paranoid, race-baiting, Armageddon-tinged crisis. I’ll concede Obama went a bit too far when he dosed himself with Valium before the first presidential debate. But even that stunt only levelled the playing field briefly for Romney.

Hatred is a powerful foe, but also a very convenient one to have. Not hating requires thought, empathy, reason—all those things Democrats and cheese-eating surrender monkeys are supposed to have in spades, according to Coulter. But hatred on steroids, which is what a good portion of the GOP caucus has come to resemble, not only drives people crazy, it drives votes away.

“But the election was close,” I hear you say. Yes, but consider the facts.

The Democrats had an incumbent president whose race automatically alienated some people, who was forced to do things Americans abhor(bailing out banks, saving bad auto companies) because of the mess he inherited from George W. Bush, and who took two years to realize no one was going to play nice in Washington just because he was a nice guy.

Unemployment averaged above 8 percent for two years. Two unpopular wars raged on, and people (though not Ann Coulter, it should be said) continued to make the case that he wasn’t even American—he was some kind of African Muslim, right?

Against this troubled presidency the Republicans put up a Wall Street guy. A moderate Republican, I believe, would have made mince meat of Obama. But Romney was such a flawed candidate, a gaffe-prone campaigner and plutocrat, that he never really won anyone’s heart. In the end, a measure of this incompetence is that Obama took two states of the Old Confederacy (assuming he gets Florida). He was competitive in North Carolina, Georgia (-8), and even Indiana (-10). Obama also he won the income-tax-protest state of New Hampshire, not to mention Mitt’s “home states” of Michigan and Massachusetts and Paul Ryan’s Wisconsin.

Now, we can’t blame Ann for all of this: She’s had plenty of help. But be true to yourself, cheese eaters. The least you can do is empathize, smile at her, and say, “Thanks.” And maybe buy her eighth book when it comes out: Keep ‘em coming, I say!

4.       David Cameron

I’d imagine that this gem of a moment failed to get the coverage in America that it did in the U.K., where I’m living at the moment. But in a campaign where images vastly outweighed substance, I believe it mattered. If nothing else, it put to rest the silly notion that Republicans are somehow “better at foreign policy.”

I’m referring, of course, about Mitt Romney’s bizarre summer holiday to London, Israel, and Poland. The trip was probably designed by a sentient being, sold as a way to bolster Romney’s foreign policy credentials. You could imagine the “strategy session” where someone must have argued that a Republican candidate should find these three places friendly platforms for looking presidential, for reinforcing Romney’s street cred as organizer of a successful Olympic Games (Salt Lake City 2002), and for generally striking presidential poses to get people used to the idea of him replacing Obama as Drone Pilot-in-Chief. 

Certainly, the Likudniks of Israel, as well as the right-leaning Civic Platform government ruling Poland right now, and the Tories who currently govern Britain, generally prefer Republicans. But it went badly from the start.

When Romney got off the plane in London and inserted himself directly into the inflammatory debate over security at the upcoming Olympics, the wisdom of making such a trip quickly unravelled. Gaffes followed him from stop-to-stop:

  • In Israel, he basically said Jews were ethnically superior to Palestinians. This was not merely a diplomatic gaffe dumping on the Palestinians; it also showed Romney and his advisers to be ignorant of a basic fact of Israeli politics: About 44 percent of Israeli Jews are Mizrahi (or Sephardic) and thus ethnically indistinguishable from their Arab neighbors. Both, in effect, are Semites. Not to mention the fact that 20 percent of Israel’s population is Arab.
  • In Poland, he found that Solidarity leaders wanted nothing to do with him because he supported Scott Walker’s union busting in Wisconsin. (Telling a trade union movement that helped overthrow communism in Europe that they shouldn’t have the right to bargain with their employer probably isn’t the best way to get invited to introduce your policy toward Poland.)

But the true thanks here go to a guy I’ve otherwise been quite hard on for driving Britain back into recession, Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron. When Romney opined that London wasn’t ready for the Olympics and the security challenges that would ensue, he probably thought it was a good bet that something was going to go wrong and he’d look like Nostradamus in retrospect. In effect, he was wishing for a failure to prove him right.

Instead, London Mayor Boris Johnson put the colonial in his place. And then David Cameron issued the coup d’grace:

“We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world,” the Conservative prime minister told reporters. “Of course, it is easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.”

Cameron subsequently disinvited Romney from a Cabinet-level meeting during the visit, and throughout the rest of the campaign, in that very so British way, made it clear without ever saying so that he was hoping Obama would win.

Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister. (Now loosen up on the austerity already!)

5.       Men in Black (and Red)

Yes, my former spiritual stewards in the Catholic hierarchy deserve a mention, too. Their attacks on contraceptives and abortion rights marshalled all the fire and brimstone at their disposal. Oddly, they said virtually nothing about GOP candidates who argued that women who are raped should just shut up and have the baby. (They said nothing about Jerry Sandusky at Penn State, either—but maybe that’s being unfair.)

The Catholic Church is a very big tent—I know, I slipped out of it, altar boy surplice and all, sometime back in the mid-1970s. From the U.S. Conference of Bishops down to pro-life rabble-rousers like the Rev. Frank Pavone, their statements and strangely timed silences left the impression that the official view of the Catholic Church is that women who have an abortion, under any circumstances, will burn in hell.

Oh, wait. That is the official view of the Catholic Church! Mi scusi, padre.

I haven’t seen numbers yet, but I imagine a significant number of Catholic families in America were visited by the gender-gap fairy during this election. It’s one thing to exhort people to try and emulate Jesus and resist sin. That makes sense to me, whatever my doubts about organized religion.

But it’s another altogether to cast someone into the eternal pit because they’ve been raped and don’t want to have the criminal’s child. In parts of the Muslim world, of course, such women are simply stoned to death as assumed to be harlots. I suppose letting them live out their lives in the shadow of eternal damnation is a bit more civilized, but not much.

This puts the U.S. Catholic Church about where it should be in the 21st century. After years of posing as a more progressive wing of the great empire of Rome, the U.S. church finally has landed right where it has belonged for decades: allied with the Koran-burning pastors and angry white men of the far right.

Even after losing my wrestling match with faith all those years ago, my career as a foreign correspondent let me witness up close the many, many self-sacrificing Catholics sheltering the poor from death and starvation around the world. Over the years, the church stood up for the rights of those forgotten by most of us, lent its name to the civil rights movement, fought against nuclear weapons, genocide, and for the dignity of those behind the Iron Curtain and in other totalitarian societies.

But never has the Church managed to embrace the idea that women are equal souls, that their problems and lives deserve slightly different considerations than men. The church fought the idea of women voting a century and a half ago, has kept them out of the priesthood, and believes its College of Cardinals has a better grasp of the moral issues facing a woman than the women themselves.

So thanks, you Cardinal and Bishops, you princes of the church, for your work on the women’s vote.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Former President George W. Bush for his eight-year imitation of the Hindu God Shiva, destroying all before him before retiring to Crawford, Texas. His endorsement of Romney was remarkable primarily for the fact that Obama was the only one hoping it would happen.
  • The Rev. Terry Jones of Gainesville, Fla., for supporting Mitt Romney after burning the Koran.
  • Roger Ailes, impresario of the American right, for letting his network call it for Obama even though his pal Karl Rove nearly had an aneurism.
  • JP MorganChase CEO Jamie Dimon for proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that America’s largest banks still have no clue (nor any remorse) for the disaster their deregulatory religion has visited upon the country.