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America has just spent dollars beyond the dreams of avarice on an election – and nothing has changed.
Barack Obama, a Democrat, remains the president, the House of Representatives is still Republican and the Senate is in Democratic hands – principals all in what is correctly perceived as a dysfunctional political system.
The electoral map has not changed much either. The coasts belong to Democrats, as does the rust belt, while the Republicans rule most of the rest in between, with exceptions not far from the Rockies. If there were parallel universes in what is supposed to be the United States of America, this election confirmed they exist, even beyond the fevered imaginations of the cable news networks and talk radio.
But is this completely so? You could cast the runes on Tuesday night and conclude that some things had changed, even if those most affected will take some time to realise it.
The first is that the Republican party, once a big tent in the days of Ronald Reagan and with aspirations to it under George W. Bush, has some hard thinking to do if it wants to be a party with any serious future. It may command the allegiance of nearly half the country but it is a shrinking half and it will get smaller as the years roll on and the country becomes less Caucasian.
Its hard right may or may not have cost it the presidency, but it certainly did cost it control of the Senate, there for the taking six short months ago, with Democrats defending twice as many seats, several with trepidation. It forced the quintessential moderate, Olympia Snowe from Maine, to resign her seat out of disgust and it is now in the hands of an independent, Angus King, who surely will not be caucusing with her party.
The party sacrificed Richard Lugar on the altar of Tea Party purity in its primaries. He had been so entrenched in the Senate for so long that the Democrats often did not even bother to field a candidate against him. The man who beat him, Richard Mourdock, proudly advertised that, to him, political compromise was a four-letter word and then went off the reservation with remarks on pregnancy stemming from rape. He lost on Tuesday even though Mitt Romney carried the state, which is some feat.
The same happened in Missouri, where the Democratic incumbent, Senator Claire McCaskill, was considered the most endangered species in the land. But that was before Todd Akin, of the Tea Party persuasion, opened his pious mouth on the question of legitimate rape. Even the “show me” state showed its disgust and re-elected her.
And Mitt Romney himself lost the presidential election because his party and, in the primaries, himself, turned their backs on all who did not look like them – not just African Americans but Hispanics, Asians and gays – and turned off enough women with their dogmatic pronunciations on reproductive rights. Don’t take my word for it; Mr Romney said as much in his notorious, secretly videoed remarks to a Florida fundraiser earlier in the year.
The larger question, though, is whether the Republican party gets it. All attempts at rational compromise in Washington, over the debt ceiling, deficit reduction and tax increases have foundered on the rocks of Republican intransigence, as they danced to the drums of Grover Norqvist, the anti-tax demagogue, and Rush Limbaugh, the all-around demagogue.
With the country on the brink of the fiscal cliff, it is the Republican party which must decide whether or not to deal with a re-elected president whom it loathes, but has failed to unseat. This will pit veteran leaders like Mitch McConnell in the Senate and John Boehner, speaker of the House, against those whom they could not previously control, not merely the Tea Party intransigents but relatively hardline sophisticates, like Eric Cantor, Mr Boehner’s number two, and Paul Ryan, the defeated vice presidential candidate.
For his part, Mr Obama may not have much of a mandate, but he has the better hand, if he is willing to play it. But it requires a leap of faith to suggest that dysfunction will be replaced by broad, sunlit and smiling uplands.