Winning votes, one by one

The story of Barack Obama’s data-driven campaign approach is still being told. Building on their 2008 success, the Obama data junkies assembled a truly astounding, state-of-the-art framework to microtarget advertising and fundraising appeals to the individual level. The MIT Technology Review just ran an eye-opening three-part article on how the team put the data monstrosity together:

Many of those who went to Washington after the 2008 election in order to further the president’s political agenda returned to Chicago in the spring of 2011 to work on his reëlection. The chastening losses they had experienced in Washington separated them from those who had known only the ecstasies of 2008. “People who did ‘08, but didn’t do ‘10, and came back in ‘11 or ‘12—they had the hardest culture clash,” says Jeremy Bird, who became national field director on the reëlection campaign. But those who went to Washington and returned to Chicago developed a particular appreciation for Wagner’s methods of working with the electorate at an atomic level. It was a way of thinking that perfectly aligned with their ­simple theory of what it would take to win the president reëlection: get everyone who had voted for him in 2008 to do it again. At the same time, they knew they would need to succeed at registering and mobilizing new voters, especially in some of the fastest-growing demographic categories, to make up for any 2008 voters who did defect.

Obama’s campaign began the election year confident it knew the name of every one of the 69,456,897 Americans whose votes had put him in the White House. They may have cast those votes by secret ballot, but Obama’s analysts could look at the Democrats’ vote totals in each precinct and identify the people most likely to have backed him. Pundits talked in the abstract about reassembling Obama’s 2008 coalition. But within the campaign, the goal was literal. They would reassemble the coalition, one by one, through personal contacts.

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What does Top Chef have in common with the 2012 presidential election?

Screen Shot 2012-12-13 at 10.52.11 PM

Although it has existed for some time, I started playing around with Google Trends today and discovered some very useful tools. One is called Correlate, and it allows users to enter time-series or state-level data and then query Google’s aggregated search history.

Just for fun, I entered Obama’s 2012 popular vote percentages by state and then queried the database. The term whose search frequency is the most strongly correlated with Obama’s state-level voting percentages (as measured by the Pearson correlation coefficient) is…”top chef,” with a coefficient (r) of 0.8702. As you can see above, on the left is a map of Obama’s voting percentages by state (greener means a higher percentage of people in that state voted for him in the 2012 presidential election), and on the right is a map showing state-level frequencies of the search term “top chef.” They’re really quite similar.

And here are the rest of the top 10, with their corresponding r-values:

2. december 24 (0.8642)

3. july 18 (0.8593)

4. alia (0.8569)

5. december 18 (0.8547)

6. slum (0.8545)

7. lede (0.8495)

8. august 20 (0.8462)

9. july 11 (0.8418)

10. july 22 (0.8414)

In other news, procrastination from final exams is a very real phenomenon.

Obama’s data machine

2008’s “hope and change” morphed into “Big Data” in 2012:

In fact, the tech side was the only part of the Obama operation that could credibly be framed as a throwback to the old Hope and Change: Despite the slash-and-burn quality of the Obama reelection campaign as seen by America’s television viewers, the president’s 33 million Facebook fans “were experiencing a whole different campaign that was largely positive,” Goff explained at Harvard. “What they were experiencing was this uplifting stuff about supporting the middle class, about fighting for education, and that kind of thing.” And when you consider that Obama’s Facebook fans were themselves friends with 98 percent of Facebook users in the U.S.—“That’s more than the number of people who vote,” Goff said—then the Obamanauts can plausibly argue that, for many Obama voters, maybe 2012 wasn’t that different from 2008 after all.

Even more important, the nerd narrative gives the Obamanauts hope for the future. After their historic victory in 2008, they predicted that their candidate was so amazing that he could single-handedly transform Washington by sheer force of will. That obviously didn’t come to pass. But now they are making similar predictions—not because of their man but because of their machine. “Luckily for us, I don’t see anyone on the Republican side who understands what we did,” Bird told me in Cambridge before going on to explain not only his grand designs of electing another Democrat president in 2016, but also for turning Texas blue.

Bibi Netanyahu: “Now I’m going to offer you a hamburger”

The Israeli prime minister awkwardly congratulates American ambassador Dan Shapiro on Barack Obama’s reelection:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NunrE3BcAjk]

The corrective: Obama’s victory and a return to reality

Last night, at 11:18 PM Eastern time, FOX News called Ohio — and thus the presidency — for Barack Obama. The announcement followed closely on the heels of ones by NBC, MSNBC, and CBS, and appeared almost simultaneously with a similar declaration from CNN.

But before Mitt Romney would deliver his brief but gracious concession speech, and before the confetti would rain down in Chicago on a thrilling night for the Democratic Party, a minidrama was taking place on FOX News. Karl Rove, the mastermind of George W. Bush’s campaign strategies and the chief fundraiser of American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS (an organization that spent approximately $300 million this election cycle in an almost entirely unsuccessful series of advertising campaigns), insisted that the network had called Ohio too early.

“I don’t know what the outcome is going to be, but we’ve got to be careful about calling things when we have, like, 991 votes separating the two candidates and a quarter of the vote yet to count,” Rove said. “Even if they have made it on the basis of select precincts, I’d be very cautious about intruding into this process.”

Rove, of course, had a big dog in the fight: the near-total failure of his organizations’ efforts over the course of these past two years (echoing the dismal record of fellow Republican tycoon Sheldon Adelson) threatens his credibility as a savvy strategist and, thus, his ability to raise money in the future.

Even so, Rove’s impassioned opposition to the statistically-based consensus was startling in its self-certainty. It was as if, by the mere act of delaying the final announcement for just minutes or seconds more, Rove thought it possible to stave off — or even alter — reality itself. But at long last, the empirical world would wait no longer, and his fever dream finally met its bitter end.

It is precisely because Rove’s delusions echo the larger fantasies of the Republican Party that his earnest entreaties should rattle the moderate voices within a GOP struggling to make sense of its post-election blues. Indeed, his blunt refusal to accept the rapidly descending reality was not an exception, but the norm. Dick Morris predicted a landslide for Romney. George Will similarly forecasted a 321-217 electoral vote triumph. Michael Barone envisioned a nearly identical result of 315-223.

Meanwhile, the New York Times‘ Nate Silver — who first rose to stardom in 2008, when he correctly predicted the electoral outcomes in 49 of 50 states — had been steadfastly forecasting an Obama victory for months. As his stated probability crept steadily closer to 90% and then beyond, Silver’s detractors on the right multiplied. Examiner.com’s Dean Chambers infamously wrote, “Nate Silver is a man of very small stature, a thin and effeminate man with a soft-sounding voice…” And MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough lambasted Silver as well, proclaiming, “Anybody that thinks that this race is anything but a tossup right now is such an ideologue, they should be kept away from typewriters, computers, laptops and microphones for the next 10 days, because they’re jokes.”

Unlike the analysis conducted by many of his conservative counterparts — to the extent that he has peers at all — Nate Silver’s predictions were grounded firmly in empirical data. He meticulously averaged, weighted, and adjusted polls based on data recency, the historical accuracy of the various polling firms, “house effects,” and so on. While not every aspect of his evaluations was made entirely transparent — every whizkid needs his secret sauce, after all — he explained the bulk of his seemingly alchemical methodology in column after column.

It is useful, then, to transpose the lessons of this Triumph of the Nerds onto the broader political struggle that just culminated in Barack Obama’s reelection last night. Just as Silver’s coolheaded, reason-based analysis prevailed over the flamboyant provocations of right-wing pundits in the months leading up to the election, it was the centrist and well-balanced vision for America that won over the majority of citizens in the voting booths yesterday.

Barack Obama and the Democratic Party are both deeply flawed (and often infuriating) entities, for a variety of reasons that could fill entire volumes of books. But their lack of conviction and courage was dwarfed by the monumental denialism of Mitt Romney and the Republican Party, whose deeply entrenched rage at the president was predicated on an increasingly tenuous grasp of reality.

No, there was no apology tour. Obama is neither a socialist, nor Muslim, nor Kenyan. Romney’s tax plan is not mathematically possible. Chrysler did not sell Jeeps in China at the expense of American jobs. Obama is not “ending Medicare as we know it.” We are not, in fact, in danger of losing our status as a free economy.

The list could continue ad nauseum. But it is not simply the misstatement of fiction as fact that characterizes the Mitt Romney-era Republican Party; after all, one could easily compile an impressive list of whoppers told by Obama and his political supporters as well. What Mitt Romney failed to understand was that a platform of extremism — ranging from the “self-deportation” of illegal immigrants to his support of a constitutional ban on gay marriage to his pledge to reject even a 10-to-1 ratio of spending cuts to tax hikes — is not in line with the views of the American public.

On this issue, the fault lines within the Republican Party are already starting to widen. It is likely that a civil war of sorts is looming within the party, with the moderate wing led by Jeb Bush and Chris Christie facing off against the Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann types for the ideological future of their party.

Today, Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard has written, “No doubt the media will insist that Republicans must change, must sprint to the center, must embrace social liberalism, must accept that America is destined to play a less dominant role in the world. All that is hogwash, which is why Republicans are likely to reject it. Their ideology is not a problem.”

It is this brand of thinking that the Republican Party must bury if it wishes to emerge from the throes of an eminently avoidable defeat. As Joel Benenson wrote in today’s New York Times, “The president’s victory was a triumph of vision, not of demographics. He won because he articulated a set of values that define an America that the majority of us wish to live in: A nation that makes the investments we need to strengthen and grow the middle class. A nation with a fair tax system, and affordable and excellent education for all its citizens. A nation that believes that we’re most prosperous when we recognize that we are all in it together.”

Mitt Romney was never able to peer beyond the narrow passions of an inflamed base for long enough to understand that the country, as always, is changing. Gone are the days of sole reliance on older white voters. Similarly, a slow national metamorphosis has eliminated the Republican Party’s once-solid, but now anachronistic and non-existent, competitive advantage on social issues. Even on foreign policy, the baton has largely been ceded to a president once derided as naive and unprepared.

The Republican Party of 2012 must see its decisive defeat as an opportunity. Making inroads with Latinos and African-Americans should be a priority. Abandoning its puritanical image — including some truly appalling perspectives on rape — is just as important, especially as the younger generation comes of age in a country of broad diversity in race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and many other facets of life. (As Matthew Dowd so eloquently put it, Republicans have become a “‘Mad Men’ party in a ‘Modern Family’ America.”) Reasserting the GOP’s hegemony on economic and fiscal responsibility will take much work after its free-spending Bush years and its ideological rigidity during the Obama era, but it is not impossible.

Already, there are signs of a Republican thaw. House Speaker John Boehner, appearing today at the Capitol, signaled an openness to raising revenues in exchange for reform of entitlements and the tax code. “Mr. President, this is your moment,” he said. “We’re ready to lead, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans.” This is a far cry from Mitch McConnell’s notorious statement in an October 2010 interview: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

Now that the GOP has failed at this singular task, perhaps it can take a further step away from the precipice by cleansing its ranks of the vitriol and stubbornness that so characterized its behavior in President Obama’s first term. Today, Jon Huntsman’s strategist, John Weaver, seemed to grasp the significance of this necessary transformation: “We have a choice: we can become a shrinking regional party of middle-aged and older white men, or we can fight to become a national governing party. And to do the latter we have to fix our Hispanic problem as quickly as possible, we’ve got to accept science and start calling out these false equivalencies when they occur within our party about things that are just not true, and not tolerate the intolerant.”

Such a reformation will require the elimination of the type of epistemic closure suffered by Karl Rove on Election Night. It will require a reorientation away from 1950s-style conservatism and towards a more modern variant that embraces our nation’s diversity and encourages the expansion of marriage to include same-sex couples. And it will require the implementation of a form of self-policing to prevent the party of conservatism from devolving into an aspiring theocracy.

In this sense, Barack Obama’s reelection has done the GOP a favor. It has acted as a natural corrective of a national party gone astray, and it establishes in precise numerical terms the unease with which Americans viewed an increasingly unhinged Republican Party. It serves as a reminder that, while we will tolerate all sorts of folly in the name of entertainment and politics, we draw the line at ideological insanity. For the sake of all American citizens, one can only hope the Republican reincarnation will begin in earnest today.

“The one thing they understand is losing.”

The oft-hysterical Andrew Sullivan (barely) survived this year’s election season and was downright giddy on last night’s live taping of the Colbert Report:

[hulu http://www.hulu.com/watch/422076]

The next four years

With the election safely behind us — and, fortunately, without any controversy or recount in the offing — we can now pivot towards prognostications for the future. And no, not 2016. (Please, not for another two and a half years at the least.)

To that end, The First Casualty contributors Sam Lim, Mark McAdam, and Victoria Kwan have each weighed in with their thoughts on what to watch for — especially given their areas of interest — in the coming months and years. Feel free to join in the conversation in the comments!

Sam Lim: Higher Education

In his first term, President Obama worked to make higher education more affordable, shifting over $60 billion from private student loan providers to boosting the federal Pell grant program. In his second term, I expect that President Obama will continue pushing for maintaining — and hopefully increasing — Pell grant funding for students with financial need.

I expect further simplification of the process for applying for federal student aid. Changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) over the past few years have made it immensely easier for students, but then-candidate Obama proposed even simpler solutions in 2008 (such as streamlining the FAFSA application process with the filing of tax returns).

Combined with the continued development of financial tools such as college price comparison calculators for students and families offered by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, I expect to see an effort to make processes like applying for aid or choosing the best type of loans even more transparent and accessible.

Of greatest concern are the skyrocketing costs of college tuition and rising student debt. As he mentioned in his 2012 State of the Union address, President Obama will work to ensure that colleges and universities are not pricing higher education out of range for most middle- and low-income students.

I would expect to see either financial incentives or sanctions for public colleges and universities to bring tuition down and keep it in check. If not proposed, I would at least expect these options to be strongly considered. I would also expect to see further initiatives to help students and graduates manage their debt, potentially through expanded loan forgiveness programs tied to public service and other high-need areas.

The Obama Administration seems to favor addressing educational issues most by incentivizing local solutions (more so in K-12, but also in higher ed), so I would fully expect to see more incentive-based programs and initiatives to encourage local level education reform through programs similar to Race to the Top or Innovation (i3) Grants. With jobs and economic growth a key focus, I expect areas that might be further targeted include community colleges, career and technical education, and college-to-career pipelines.

Without a doubt, given the little support for higher education demonstrated by Governor Romney, students and supporters of higher education should be hopeful that President Obama has four more years to continue working to make higher education an accessible opportunity for all students.

Samson Lim is the Executive Director of Seattle-based Scholarship Junkies, a scholarship resource organization that works to help students make higher education more affordable. Sam spent a year conducting ethnographic research on access to higher education in Berlin, Germany, as a 2010-11 U.S. Student Fulbright Scholar. Currently, Sam can be found buried in reading for his Masters of Education program in Politics and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, although he emerges every once in a while to highlight higher ed and financial aid issues in 140 characters or less at @samsonxlim.

Mark McAdam: The (Indispensable) Republican Reformation

“What a waste.”

It is more than likely that this was the sentiment Republican strategists awoke to on Wednesday morning, as they pondered the past 16 months on the campaign trail.  “What a waste because–a sluggish economic recovery provided–it should have been so easy to beat Barack Obama on Tuesday.”

As pundits have begun offering their own explanations as to why Republicans failed to win back the White House on Tuesday, the Republican Party will have to reexamine its own platform if it hopes to remain electorally competitive and actually win future national elections. Below is an outline of four issue areas Republicans must address:

1) Same-sex marriage: 2012 is not 2004. Whereas opposition to gay marriage in 2004 actually helped bring out the vote and secured a second term for George W. Bush, public opinion on gay marriage has changed significantly in the past eight years. With 69% of voters under 30 years of age supporting gay marriage (not to mention 37% of Republicans between ages 18 and 29!), it hardly seems feasible to build a party platform around discriminatory policies which young people–i.e. those voting for the next sixty years–largely reject.

2) Immigration: The Republican primary process was a disgrace and provides clear evidence that a “race to the bottom” is possible in selecting a party’s nominee. On no issue was this as apparent as on how to deal with undocumented immigrants. With demographic trends suggesting that the United States is becoming less and less Caucasian, it should have been surprising that each candidate attempted to outperform the next in terms of alienating voters with an immigration background. (Or, for that matter, voters who know immigrants.) Wanting to cause conditions which would lead to “self-deportation” and endorsing ideas like that of an electric fence on the border does not only seem eerily un-American, but xenophobia is also bad politics in a demographically changing electorate.

3) Foreign Policy: The days in which neoconservative thought ruled Republican thinking on foreign policy seem over, yet instead of a competing paradigm emerging to replace it, Republicans face an intellectual void on foreign policy matters. (Admittedly, the same–i.e. an intellectual void–is also true for the Democratic Party.) Substantively meaningless, Republicans seem motivated to “be tougher than their opponents” on foreign policy, yet this reveals nothing about whether to intervene in Libya, how to respond to developments in Syria, or what the country’s relationship with Pakistan should look like. More importantly, there is no understanding–no vision–of what America’s role in the post-Cold War and post-9/11 world is or should be.

4) The Economy & The State: Likely the issue on which Republicans perform best, one is nevertheless forgiven to assume that the Republican answer to all economic matters is to deregulate and to cut taxes and government spending. Yet the assumption that the economic state of nature is one of harmony finds no credible support. Indeed, Republicans, who are only partially justified in purporting to be heirs of the free enterprise tradition, would do well to argue that the state can and must take on a positive role in a free enterprise framework: it must provide a legal framework, including oversight of markets; it must provide proper regulation; and it should push for legislation fostering competition. All of these ideas are entirely consistent with a free enterprise approach and, if put into place properly, do not lead to a path towards socialism.

Republicans mistakenly hoped that unemployment at 7.9% would suffice to win the White House. But without altering their rigid party platform and making it more amenable to the electorate as a whole, Republicans could lose many more national elections.

Mark McAdam is a football guru. When he’s not writing about the Bundesliga, he advocates on behalf of free societies. He has a Master’s degree in “Politics, Economics & Philosophy” and studied at the University of Hamburg’s Institute for Economic Systems, the History of Economic Thought and the History of Ideas.

Victoria Kwan: The Federal Judiciary

How much will Barack Obama’s re-election affect the composition of the Supreme Court? Looking at current circumstances, the answer is “not much.” Right now, there are three Supreme Court justices over the age of 75: Ruth Bader Ginsburg (79), her best friend Antonin Scalia (76), and Anthony Kennedy (76). Of the three, Justice Ginsburg is the most likely to retire in the coming four years.  The Brooklyn native is tough as nails–she has already weathered two bouts of cancer (while barely missing any work) and the death of her husband in her 19 years on the Court, and her mind remains as sharp as ever–but given her health history, her age and her liberal stance, it would not be surprising at all if she stepped down and gave a Democratic administration the chance to fill her place. President Obama would surely replace Ginsburg with a moderate to liberal justice who would preserve the current balance on the Court (four conservatives, four liberals and one swing vote).

Now, if either Justice Scalia or Justice Kennedy were to step down, Obama would have the opportunity to put together a five-liberal majority bloc. Barring a serious health issue, however, this isn’t likely to happen. Scalia accumulated quite a list of furious dissents before finally seeing a five-conservative majority coalesce under George W. Bush’s administration, and he relishes his position as the anchor of the Court’s conservative wing too much to voluntarily give up his seat. Meanwhile, despite all protestations to the contrary, Kennedy seems to greatly enjoy his current role as the swing vote.  Their job satisfaction and apparent good health mean that Citizens United–the ruling that the Democrats would most like to see SCOTUS overturn, and hence, the liberal equivalent of Roe v. Wade–will remain intact for at least the next four years.  On the other hand, Obama’s re-election also means that Roe continues to be safe for now.

Beyond the Supreme Court, there is the question of the re-election’s impact on the rest of the federal judiciary. George W. Bush made the appointment of young conservative judges a top priority in both terms, filling a total of 325 federal judgeships over eight years. So far, Obama has appointed 160 (which is behind the pace Bush and Clinton set in each of their first four years). The rate at which Obama has been able to fill judicial vacancies has been slow to say the least, creating judicial emergencies in some understaffed and overworked courts. Part of the reason for this is Republican obstructionism. As Slate reported in September, citing studies from the Congressional Research Service, even the uncontroversial Obama nominees have seen their confirmation times (the number of days between nomination and confirmation) jump up sharply compared to Bush’s nominees. None of Obama’s nominees to federal appeals courts have been confirmed in under 100 days, while 28.6% of Bush’s were.

But the blame does not rest solely on the Republican party: Obama himself has not made the appointment of judges a top priority in the same way Bush did. He has moved slowly to even name candidates–many of the current vacancies don’t even have nominees to vote on–and when he does nominate, Obama more often than not chooses moderates over outspoken liberals. And of course, in this past election cycle, the federal judiciary was barely discussed by the Obama campaign. One optimistic explanation (for liberals, that is) for Obama’s moderate first-term approach could be that he had re-election in mind, and can now nominate liberal judges at a much faster and more aggressive clip. But the likelier explanation is that, as Jeffrey Toobin writes, Obama simply does not see the courts as the most appropriate place to enact widespread social change, preferring to problem-solve through the legislative arena.

Bottom Line: when it comes to the courts, we should expect to see more of the same.

Victoria holds a J.D. from Columbia Law School in New York and has recently completed a clerkship with a judge in Anchorage, Alaska. She tweets as @nerdmeetsboy and posts primarily on legal issues, especially those involving the Supreme Court.

My goal this Election Day

Today, America goes to the polls. Mercifully, nearly two years of incessant campaign coverage (including nearly 30 presidential debates in total) will come to an end, assuming no last-minute recounts or hijinks. But barring a surprise wave election, in which one of the two major parties suffers massive defeats in the presidential race as well as in both houses of Congress, our bipartisan gridlock is likely to continue.

That even the apportionment of blame for this sad state of affairs is hotly debated is proof positive of the lengths to which we’ve entangled ourselves into partisan herds. Republican obstinacy faces off against Democratic radicalism in the eyes of their respective adherents. Most problematically, one of the few remaining points of bipartisan coordination is seen in the increasing trend towards ideological rigidity – on both sides.

I have seen this in my own relationship to the political sphere over the last four years. In 2008, I was an undergraduate student voting, without overwhelming enthusiasm, for Barack Obama. I was never able to locate in myself the passionate embrace of the Illinois senator that had so enraptured many of my peers. I respected John McCain and would not have been severely disappointed had he won.

Four years later, I admit to frequent panic at the thought of a Mitt Romney presidency. My discomfort with the Republican platform has morphed into a visceral disgust for most of its standard-bearers. I mock the minor gaffes committed by the tireless tag-team of Romney and Paul Ryan while largely excusing Obama’s as mere faux pas. I deride the elitism of Romney’s “47%” commentary while allowing Obama’s mention of “[clinging] to guns and religion” to fade into the past.

To be clear, I am not peddling false equivalency. Anyone who has followed my blog on a casual basis for the past several months would have little doubt as to where I lay the vast majority of the blame for the current state of American politics. But my mounting distaste for Republican policy and rhetoric has perceptibly nudged me further in the opposite direction. My own views have solidified, less the result of conducting painstaking research and more a visceral reaction to what I viewed as inflammatory and bitter actions from my ideological opposites.

It seems clear that this division is infecting all aspects of our political culture. Mitt Romney has been downright evasive regarding the release of his tax returns, but Harry Reid’s absurd claim that Romney may not have paid any taxes at all for a decade was greeted with cheers by many on the left. Would this have happened before: a party so decrying the missteps of its opponents that it gleefully fights unreasonableness with rhetorical extremism of its own?

A similar vortex has swallowed the debate over national healthcare. When Republican opposition to the Affordable Care Act devolved into absolutist obstructionism without any hint of compromise, many of us (including myself) gradually moved from cautious support of the bill to full-throated endorsement. Unfortunately, a real debate is sorely needed to determine what exactly can reduce the skyrocketing costs associated with healthcare coverage in this country. But the decision by one party to halt all discussions need not be met with equivalent foot-stomping by its counterparts.

How, then, should we respond? And by “we” I refer not only to liberals and others who share my dismal outlook on the collective Republican identity: I include also Republicans whose own more sensible positions have shifted slowly rightward under the rising pressure of a red-vs.-blue war. If the opposing party is truly as denialist or radical or obstinate as we believe, what options do we have?

On a practical level, there may be little that can be achieved. But ratcheting down hyperbolism and the most abrasive rhetoric will certainly help. Whatever competitive advantage the expression of vitriol may once have facilitated in shaping public perception has certainly evaporated in the face of equally irate counterattacks.

More crucially, detaching ourselves from the entrenched binary mentality that handcuffs us to our respective parties will allow us to reevaluate our elected leaders from a more clear-headed standpoint. All too often, a unified and angry opposition has compelled many of us to move from a mild preference for a certain party platform to an enthusiastic embrace of even its more dubious propositions – including policies that we once opposed.

This is how, for example, President George W. Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program was rightly castigated by liberals as an existential threat to the public’s constitutional freedoms, while Barack Obama’s extrajudicial assassination of American citizens has prompted little more than muted protests. It’s how many Democrats scoffed at Bush’s muscular use of drones while praising Obama’s decision to then ramp up the rate of drone strikes.

As liberals, our primary responsibility is to a set of ideals, not to a thoroughly vetted, compromised, and stripped-down document attempting to represent the broad tent that is the Democratic Party. Conservatives, too, must remember that their own principles of lean government and open markets should trump the narrow interests of a Republican Party still beholden to the incoherence of Tea Party demagogues and xenophobic agitators.

For the next four years, regardless of who wins tonight, my goal is to avoid the reflexive castigation of conservative proposals that has steadily crept into my decision-making process. A nation with two healthy parties is a far stronger one than a nation with none. But it’s up to all of us to subject our ideological compatriots to the same degree of thoughtful critique as we extend to our political opposites.