Three big factors in a Republican turnaround are the following:
- stop hating on President Obama;
- wish him well in his second term; and
- work with him in good faith to reach compromises.
Republicans didn’t do these three things in his first term. Think of Rush Limbaugh, in the first month of Obama’s presidency, wishing him ill–that he fail. Think of the Senate Minority leader saying his number one priority was unseating him. These attitudes sent a very definite signal to ethnic minorities, women, the college educated, and gay people. That message was this: If you come from a traditionally despised or marginal group, even if you are highly educated, have a nice family, and have exemplary character, you will still be hated by Republicans, resented, and treated ungenerously.
Obama became a lightening rod to which a multitude of groups identified their own lives. They took the hatred directed at him personally. And on Tuesday they voted. Now, if Republicans spend the next four years still hating on Obama, they won’t have damaged Obama, but themselves. Obama will go away in four years, but those who voted for him will not. We’re all Obama now.
Republicans scoffed when Obama said that voting is the best revenge. But he was right. The voting booth is an opportunity for the despised to speak and secure their rights under law. It’s a variant on, “living well is the best revenge.” When people won’t accept you, you’ve still got your civil rights.
The Republican leadership and right-wing media will likely double-down on their behavior and may even be willing to tank the economy in a bid to have an electoral comeback in 2014 and 2016. This is a tragic mistake (most especially for the country as a whole). To have a better future for all of us, there’s a maliciousness at work that Republicans must have the courage to decouple from. If Republicans do bring the country’s economy down by refusing to negotiate with the president, it’s an open question whether they’ll get the blame. They may be willing to take that risk.
But there’s a better way. There has always been a better way. It starts with emotional openness and generosity. In negotiations you give up a little, you win a little. You work out your differences amicably, not like divorce lawyers.