The election taught us much about our culture and the state of our political debate. Here are a few things that struck me:
(1) The GOP has the same problem as mainline Protestant denominations — that they are primarily white, older, and in many cases do not have a message for young people, people of color and gay people. The proverbial demographic time bomb just exploded for the Republican Party. They got 60 percent of the white vote, especially among older Americans, but they are falling short with just about everyone else. The image of the GOP as being the party of angry white men certainly was reinforced by the rants on Election Day; and soon after by Lou Dobbs, Ted Nugent, Donald Trump, the talking heads on Fox and some of the outcries in the men's locker at the YMCA that I heard in the shower. If the GOP and the mainline denominations do not recruit young people and people of color to their ranks, this decline will continue.
(2) Actions speak louder than words. The last Republican president who balanced the budget was Eisenhower. So, Romney's promises fell on deaf ears, especially when America watched Gov. Christie and the president in action responding to Hurricane Sandy. People long for both parties to work together — and when they saw their hopes fulfilled on TV, that had great persuasive power.
(3) The War Between the States seems hardly over in our political life. The red state vs. blue state map hauntingly looks like 1860. Obviously, skin color has a role to play in this. When LBJ signed the civil rights legislation, he famously said that he had lost the South. Nixon developed the "Southern strategy," which has been very successful. Now, the GOP has to figure out a way to reach out to people of color without losing their white base. They also need to reach out to women, especially single women, without angering Christian evangelicals. That will be fascinating to watch between now and 2016.
(4) Florida remains an electoral mess. You would think after 2000 that they would have it figured out. I found it amazing and inspiring that people waited six hours to vote in some places. Fortunately, shortening the days of early voting and the attempts to suppress the vote backfired.
(5) People on the right seemed less compassionate and respectful of all people. I am talking about some of the candidates and many of the TV pundits, as they, especially Rush Limbaugh, spewed venom about women and Hispanics and gay people in particular. Some of these people seemed mean, to put it simply. I also find that the comments online to my articles are often mean-spirited; but they usually, unwittingly, support the points I am making, so I welcome them! Anger can blind a person to the points an article makes. We will see with this article. Can't people be critical in a nice way? There is so much anger and resentment in our society that this is probably too much to ask.
(6) Both parties ran vague campaigns, lacking specifics about such issues as climate change, how to revise the tax code and the morality of drone attacks. Specifics about how to avoid the fiscal cliff were sadly lacking. Neither the president nor Mitt Romney were what I would call profiles in courage in their positions on the moral issues of the day.
(7) The millions spent on TV ads by both parties were largely a waste of money and would have been better spent elsewhere, like hurricane relief. The billionaires are having buyer's remorse today. Maybe we will be spared in 2016.
To sum up, we are now a diverse culture. Seventeen percent of people no longer identify themselves as church members, and each political party can claim no more than 30 percent or so of the population. If the mainline denominations cannot attract young people and people of color, they will keep on shrinking. If the GOP cannot also broaden its base, it will keep on losing presidential elections.
I am linking religion and politics in this article because their problems are the same —lack of a message for many people, and lack of diversity — while both parties, especially the GOP, look to churches for support.
The talking heads are already speculating about 2016, so I will add my two cents. I predict it will be Hillary Clinton vs. Paul Ryan.
— By the Rev. Henry Idema, Tribune religion columnist