Michael Cooper’s lead story in the National section of the New York Times on Saturday, "Debunking the Myths of the Midterm," offered up four alleged myths downplaying the import of the Republican takeover of the House and big gains in the Senate. The first four of Cooper's five "myths" centered around the idea that the Republican victory and Democratic defeat of 2010 had been overstated (the fifth was a paragraph of throwaway humor headlined “The Pundits Have a Clue” while arguing the opposite).
Every election develops its own mythology, usually before the official results are even certified, and this week’s was no different. And like all mythology, the narrative that is being woven around the midterm elections by Bulfinches from both parties is a blend of history, facts and, yes, myths.
But the four partisan myths Cooper tried to knock down were all ones that made Republicans look strong.
“Return to the Republican Fold” (Cooper denied it.)
“The Sweeping Mandate” (No way.)
“The Lost Youth Vote” (Not so fast.)
“A Disaster for the President” (Not necessarily.)
On March 26, Cooper wrote on how “vandalism threatened to be a public relations disaster for the fledgling Tea Party movement,” suggesting his political analysis isn’t foolproof.
Denying a “Return to the Republican Fold” on the part of voters, Cooper snarked: “Haberdashers who sell those ties with the little elephants on them may not want to order more just yet.” He pointed out that “a majority of voters said they had an unfavorable view of the Republican Party. In fact, there was little difference in how voters viewed the two parties: 53 percent said they had an unfavorable opinion of the Democratic Party, and 52 percent said they had an unfavorable opinion of the Republican Party.”
On “The Sweeping Mandate,” Cooper argued “Both political parties would do well to beware the mythological creature that often surfaces immediately after Election Day: the Mandate.”
To hear many Republicans tell it, the huge surge that won them control of the House was a clear referendum: an anti-Obama, anti-health care law, anti-government spending mandate....But voters were fairly evenly divided on what many Republicans made Exhibit A in their case that the Obama administration had overreached: the new health care law. The exit polls found that 47 percent of voters said Congress should leave the law as it is or expand it, and that 48 percent said Congress should repeal it. Not exactly a ringing mandate for repeal.
On the “The Lost Youth Vote” for Democrats, Cooper asked rhetorically, “Have the Democrats lost the young?” Then argued no. While admitting “relatively few of them bothered to show up on Tuesday” for Obama, he argued “that does not mean young voters are forever lost. Young voters are among the most transient and tend to sit out midterm elections. This year was no different.
Dealing with the “myth” that the results were “A Disaster for the President,” after admitting the “Republican gain of at least 60 seats in the House was the biggest for any party since President Harry S. Truman,” Cooper still found “a few faint silver linings for Mr. Obama, as the 2012 presidential election begins.”
For one thing, he does not seem to own the economic downturn -- yet. When voters were asked who was most to blame for the current economic problems, 35 percent said Wall Street bankers, 29 percent said President George W. Bush and 23 percent said Mr. Obama.
And despite what politicians, political analysts and pundits have been saying for weeks, if not months, most of the voters themselves claimed that the election was not a referendum on the president. A minority of the voters -- 37 percent -- said that expressing opposition to Mr. Obama was a factor in their vote, but an equal number said that the president was not a factor in their votes at all. Nearly a quarter said they voted the way they did in part to express support for the president.