OWL’S HEAD, Maine — So welcome to a New Year and the promise, we hear, that a better day’s a-comin'?
Hang in there. The early good news is, according to The New York Times, the Tea Party came out of the November congressional elections "significantly weakened." FreedomWorks, the main funding source for Tea Party candidates, "spent nearly $40 million on the 2012 elections but backed a string of losing Senate candidates." In addition, "some Tea Party firebrands lost their House seats."
But substantially more important than the fact that the far-right Tea Party fringe has apparently peaked is that the Republican Party as a whole has peaked. In the presidential elections, blacks voted more than 90 percent for Obama, Hispanics more than 70 percent and even Asian-Americans sided solidly with the Democratic president. And look at where the US is heading: whether it's two decades down the road or sooner, white Americans will soon be in the minority.
In his new book, "The Revenge of Geography," foreign affairs analyst Robert Kaplan has a unique take on our mixed-breed future. Citing on-going Mexican immigration to the US — six of the US's twelve largest southern border towns are already more than 90 percent Hispanic and only two, San Diego and Yuma, are less than 50 percent — Kaplan foresees an America that "will actually emerge in the course of the 21st century as a Polynesian-cum-mestizo civilization." Not exactly the America our Founding Fathers envisioned when they were drafting our Constitution.
Virtually every observer agrees that Obama will be able to get his immigration bill passed because Republicans have realized — too little, too late — that alienating the Hispanic vote, and less directly the Asian vote, is a Republican death sentence. But it's unlikely any serious gun restrictions will pass, despite the Newtown child massacre, as the NRA still holds enough Congressmen in thrall.
Aside from the reach of the lobbyists, perhaps the most overlooked problem in American democracy is our system of congressional gerrymandering whereby state legislatures have the right to redraw district lines every ten years. As a result, in the 20-year period since 1992, the number of swing districts, those which traditionally go back and forth between Republicans and Democrats, decreased by two-thirds from 103 to 35, and landslide districts, in which the winner had a greater than 10 percent lead over his rival, doubled to 242, or close to 60 percent of the 435 congressional districts.
In an election in which, despite his overwhelming Electoral College victory, Obama won by less than 4 percent of the popular vote, these growing number of landslide districts well illustrate the partisan and dysfunctional twist of recent years. One encouraging sign, at least in a few states, is where public referenda have moved redistricting from the hands of the state legislature to bipartisan commissions.
Another serious game-changer of recent years has been the abuse of the filibuster to prevent bills getting passed. The out-going Congress has been able to pass less than a third of the bills that Congress averaged in recent decades. Maine's newly-elected Independent Senator Angus King has suggested that one way to deal with the filibuster problem is to force Congressmen to resort to the old-fashioned way of filibustering, holding the floor for endless hours of some form of speechifying rather than the current method of just stating they are in filibuster mode: "If they have to stand there and read the New York phone directory, it will be much more apparent to the public who is doing the blocking and what lengths they are going to."
But these are short-term fixes. The long-term fix will be the demise of today's aging, white male Republican party. "There's a better day a-comin'" predicted that grand old Negro spiritual. "Fare ye well, fare ye well." They had in mind a slightly different "better day" — that of our death and subsequent re-birth in heaven — than one that most of us would yearn for. Today's Republican party, its demographic fate sealed, will also die. And when it's resurrected — here, God knows, not in heaven — it will be, one hopes, like that grand old party that Olympia Snowe, and many others of us, once knew and were happy to support.
Mac Deford is retired after a career as a foreign service officer, an international banker, and a museum director. He lives at Owls Head, Maine and still travels frequently to the Middle East.