Neil Macdonald: Triumph of the hopey-changey stuff

Tea Party queen Sarah Palin has an amusing taunt she's been flinging at Barack Obama for years: "So," she'd chirp, "how's all that hopey-changey stuff workin' out for ya, Mr. President?" The answer came back Tuesday night.

Tea Party queen Sarah Palin has an amusing taunt she's been flinging at Barack Obama for years: "So," she'd chirp with a smile, "how's all that hopey-changey stuff workin' out for ya, Mr. President?"

The answer, if Obama bothered to reply, now appears to be "Surprisingly well, thank you."

(He might add: "And how's all that guns-and-religion-and-abortion stuff working out for you, madam?" The answer to that is, um, it just cost Republicans the Senate and maybe the White House, too.)

Actually, given the four grim years Americans have just gone through, you would think Obama would just dispense with the don't-worry-be-happy stuff. To many, it's been a utopian joke.

But when he finally took the stage early Wednesday morning here in Chicago, he launched into yet another of his Ciceronian tributes to America's supposed better angels, exhaling great gauzy billows of hope and change and optimism.

The reporters on the camera platforms alongside me rolled their eyes. But, plainly, Obama believes there is good in encouraging dreams, however detached from reality they may be.

His voice rising, emoting, connecting to his audience, he declared that whether rich or poor, or black or white or native or Hispanic, in this country you can be whatever you desire, if only you have the will to reach for it.

Innumerable studies suggest exactly the opposite, mind you, but the line works for Obama, and it was, after all, his night.

Then, ringing with sincerity, he returned to the theme he has ridden from the keynote convention speech in 2004 to triumphant re-election this week: There is no blue America and red America: "We are," he shouted, "and forever WILL be, the UNITED States of America!"

Home free

The crowd roared with that collective surge of ecstatic power I always find a bit frightening.

Their happiness, though, almost certainly flowed from a reality that utterly contradicts the theme of Obama's speech: There bloody well is a red America and a blue America, and the blue one just won. Again.

Re-election night in Chicago. (Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press)

American politics isn't some sort of healing art. It's warfare between two increasingly polarized segments of the population.

Unlike a lot of other places, the victors don't get to rape and burn and loot, but they do get to run the single largest sector of the economy — government.

Before Obama arrived, I caught the eye of Rahm Emanuel, a few feet away from me on the TV platform.

Emanuel was Obama's first White House majordomo, and he's now the mayor of this big, rough city, and the rather feral smile he flashed me when I raised my eyebrows in a silent query said more about what Democrats were really thinking than Obama's entire peroration.

You've done it, Mr. President, they will now say. You are home free. Forget about this bipartisanship business now. Never mind bridging the ideological divide.

It never worked. They obstructed us at every turn. Time to stop the namby-pamby outreach nonsense and accomplish our agenda.

Reform on auto-pilot

Now, Republicans still control the House of Representatives, and are still in a position to obstruct. But George W. Bush expanded the tools of presidential power, and Obama has built on them.

Furthermore, certain things are now on automatic pilot.

Obamacare is law. Its implementation will continue until it is fully in place in 2014.

By then, all Americans will be forced to buy some sort of insurance, and the greedy predations of the insurers will be reined in, and that's that.

The Supreme Court has ruled it constitutional, and congressional Republicans no longer have any hope of stopping it.

The bitter fight over raising taxes is now settled, too. It's going to happen, as Obama and the Democrats wanted. Those with more money will pay a greater share to fix the nation's books.

In less than two months, temporary tax cuts put in place first by the Bush administration, and then expanded by Obama with payroll tax cuts, will expire.

Simultaneously, under a fiscal deal insisted upon by Republicans last year, deep spending cuts will take place across the board.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, it's really our turn now. (Sitthixay Ditthavong/Associated Press)

Both parties acknowledge that cannot be allowed to happen. It would subtract as much as five per cent from GDP, and would almost certainly provoke another deep recession.

Had Republicans won the White House and the Senate, they had planned to extend the tax cuts, and shift all the spending cuts to social programs, protecting and even expanding military and security programs.

But Obama remains in charge, and Tea-Party Republican Senate candidates, with their weird outbursts about God, rape and abortions, ensured the upper chamber of Congress remains under Democratic rule.

So, whatever fix is found for this menacing "fiscal cliff" coming at the end of the year, tax increases will be part of it.

And again, there is nothing the Republicans can do about it. They in fact set themselves up for this by refusing to even consider a compromise last year when they still thought they could beat Obama.

And, while the big banks have managed to gut much of it, financial re-regulation is also happening. It's called the Dodd-Frank Act, and, like Obamacare, it's already law, clicking in by phases.

Oh, and Obama will now be able to further shape the Supreme Court (four justices are in their mid-70s), something that could affect the country for decades.

If Republicans have any sense, they'll do a rethink. The Tea Party has hurt, not helped them.

Relying on the white, Christian, middle-class base, as Fox News anchor Bill O'Reilly acknowledged Tuesday, is no longer a winning plan. Huge, fast-growing minority communities stampeded to Obama.

America is changing, even if Barack Obama's communitarian paradise is unlikely.

Voters seem to care less about legislating abortion, gay marriage, prayer in schools and the immigration menace, and more about economic well-being, which, yes, involves stringing up some sort of social safety net.

Some Republicans, apparently including O'Reilly, seem to get that. Others will want to keep snarling and accusing and kicking and obstructing.

But they lost. And the laws of cyclical economics being what they are, Obama may well preside over an economic boom in his next term. Meaning fertile ground for Democrats in 2016.

Hopey-changey, indeed.