Slate's guide to your annual Thanksgiving arguments.
Can Obama win in 2012?
No: By his own admission, the president has had a hard time communicating what he thinks and how he feels. He's been trying for almost two years and hasn't succeeded. Bill Clinton was able to come back in 1994 because he could make those connections so easily. (I'll wait while you make your joke about how easily; meanwhile, pass the yams.) Obama can't fake that connection. Also, Clinton had a far better economy to work with. In the 2010 election, Obama couldn't turn out young voters or minorities despite an exhaustive effort. In some cases, performance among those groups was lower than in 2006. He's not going to be able to count on those groups in 2012. There are also now Republican governors in the key swing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, New Mexico, Nevada, and Wisconsin. That gives the eventual GOP candidate a leg up on organizing.
Yes: The electorate that punished Democrats in 2010 will not be the same electorate in 2012. The 2012 electorate—younger, more African-Americans, more Latinos—will favor Obama. A few years of GOP control in the House will remind depressed Democratic groups why they need to turn out in elections. Political science shows that governors don't matter as much as the pundits think. Independents and moderates who soured on Democrats in this last election will judge Obama against an opponent, not against himself. And Obama will be blessed by his opponents. Even if he doesn't get Sarah Palin, his preferred candidate, the ultimate GOP opponent will get the nomination only by courting the Tea Party faction. That will produce a nominee along the lines of Sharron Angle, Christine O'Donnell, Ken Buck, or Joe Miller—Tea Party-approved but deadly in the general election.
Ground Zero Mosque
Let it stay: The Islamic cultural center known as Park51 is not a threat to American values, but a representation of a key American value: religious tolerance. The stated mission of the organization behind the project, the Cordoba Initiative, is to build "interfaith tolerance and respect." It is promoting the exact opposite of what the 9/11 bombers believed. Its location is serendipitous, because it shows the good that Islam does just a few blocks from the horror done in Islam's name. One of the people leading the project, Abdul Rauf, is committed to reclaiming Islam from radicals like Osama Bin Laden. Bin Laden, by contrast, is committed to purifying Islam of initiatives like the one Rauf is promoting. He is as much Bin Laden's enemy as George Bush is.
Move it: Why does there need to be a mosque right there? It's a matter of respecting the pain of that place for many Americans and New Yorkers and of honoring the dead. Of course Islam does not equal violence, but the 9/11 attackers made their attack in the name of Islam. Yes, everyone should be educated about the distinctions between true Islam and their distorted version, but can't we do it somewhere else? Also, the good imam who is behind this effort is not the innocent you suggest. Just days after 9/11, Abdul Rauf suggested "United States' policies were an accessory to the crime that happened" and that "in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the U.S.A." When Carmelite nuns moved into an abandoned building at the edge of Auschwitz, it created a similar tension. They had the best intentions—they wanted to pray for the dead—but Pope John Paul II gave more weight to the raw feelings of Jews and asked the nuns to move.
Does the GOP have a mandate?
Yes: Regardless of what voters tell pollsters about Republicans, they actually voted for Republicans. They gave them control of the House to put a block on the administration. By taking immediate measures to show that Republicans are listening to voters—by enacting a ban on earmarks, targeting wasteful government spending, and other ideas—GOP leaders will only build trust. Plus, whether they actually have a mandate or not, they have to act as if they have one because Tea Party activists have made it clear that they are on "probation."
No: Unlike after the 1994 GOP takeover of Congress, when the ruling party had public support, polls today show that Republicans are no more popular than Democrats. This was the consistent finding of pre-election polls, and it has remained true in those taken after the election. A recent CNN poll, with 48 percent seeing both the GOP and Democrats as equally unfavorable, is typical. Republicans have claimed that they are listening to the American people, but polls show people have different priorities than GOP leaders. In election exit polls, 37 percent—a near plurality—said they wanted Congress to spend more to create jobs, something Republicans say they don't want to do. Republicans also say that tax cuts are a priority. In exit polls, only 17 percent of those asked said they should be a priority. And those voters who do want cuts want them designed differently than GOP leaders do. One recent poll showed that 57 percent of the public either wants the Bush tax cuts extended for only those families making less than $250,000 or not extended at all. So did another. So did the exit polls on Election Day.
Should Obama cooperate or fight with the GOP?
Fight: Obama tried the cooperation route once before, and there are now 63 new House Republicans and six new Republicans in the Senate. Mitch McConnell and John Boehner show no interest in working with him. McConnell has repeatedly said his primary goal is defeating Obama in 2012. Boehner and House leaders refuse to cooperate on extending the Bush tax cuts. They'd rather taxes go up on everyone than compromise. Plus, they can't cooperate. Any Republican who works with the White House will face a Tea Party-backed primary challenge. If Obama fights for jobs, independent voters will come along. Oh, and Obama needs liberals in 2012. They don't want to see cooperation with the enemy.