Skip to comments.Obama's Triumph, the GOP's Calamity (Good Analysis!)
Posted on 11/15/2008 8:48:24 AM PST by publius1
An ocean of ink, India and printers and virtual, has been spilled in celebration of a black mans ascension to the presidency of the United States. We have read, and read again, about the historic nature of Barack Obamas triumph, the new voters he helped bring to the polls, the young people he has inspired, and the participation on November 4 of the largest number of voters in American history. We have been told that, owing to the decisive nature of Obamas victory and the enhanced power of his party in both houses of Congress, a new political era has dawned. What happened was more than an election: it was, to quote the Democratic lawyer Lanny Davis in the Wall Street Journal, the Obama realignment, only the sixth such moment in American history (the others being the elections of 1800, 1828, 1860, 1932, and 1980).
That November 4 marked the emphatic end to one period in American political history and the no less emphatic beginning of another is a proposition no one seems to doubt. Obama is indeed the first Democrat to win an outright majority since Jimmy Carter in 1976, and will be working with a Democratic Congress that has only grown in strength thanks in part to the size of his victory. Given the emotions generated by election day and the understandable exhilaration of the winning side, it might seem churlish to doubt that a wholesale partisan and ideological shift has occurred. And yet one cannot but note that the mighty ocean of celebratory ink evaporates into a puddle when it comes to describing just what this new era might actually be.
As a candidate over the course of two exhausting years, Obama narrowed his message to a single dramatic laser-like pinpoint: change. This proposed change had, and still has, two components, political and spiritual.
Politically, the change promised by Obamas was primarily change from somethingfrom eight years of George W. Bush and the purportedly corrupt, incompetent, and aggressive misrule of the Right; from five-and-a-half grueling years of war in Iraq; from the divisive politics of Washington in which the concerns of the suffering middle class were largely forgotten; and from the social agenda of the Right that many, especially those under the age of thirty, were said to consider overbearing.
In the early months of his campaign, Obama acted specifically as an agent of change inside the Democratic party itself. Both Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, his only serious rivals for the presidential nomination, had voted in the Senate in 2002 to authorize the Iraq war. In the same year, by contrast, then-Illinois State Senator Barack Obama had given a single antiwar speech. Running five years later as the antiwar candidate, Obama was promising his fellow party members a change from the idea that ambitious Democrats needed to demonstrate hawkish resolve and a willingness to use force in order to be taken seriously as national candidates.
By the middle of 2008, Obama found it useful to amend this stance by advocating a shift in military resources away from Iraq and into Afghanistan. But this change, too, was a change from something, a tactical move to shift the topic away from the astonishing success of the surge in Iraq and the consequent looming victory in a war once apparently unwinnable.
And this in turn points to a darker and more urgent element in Obamas promise of political change. That promise was a means of harnessing and channeling the powerful but scattershot negative energy generated against Bush and the Republican party over the previous years. Obamas election has ratified the soundness of this strategy. Although it appears that George W. Bush may have finally won the war in Iraq, Obamas election demonstrates decisively that Bush lost the war for the hearts and minds of the American people, and lost it in a rout.
And here an added feature must be noted. Obamas promise of change implicitly offered, as well, the prospect of an escape from the ugliness that had come to dominate our national discourse. From Monica Lewinsky and the Clinton impeachment battle to the Gore-Bush fight over Florida to the rage that erupted on the Left in the run-up to the Iraq war and has never ceased steaming and bubbling and overflowing in the following six years, American politics has been cooking at a white-hot temperature. Obamas smooth, unruffled demeanor marks him as one of the coolest customers in the annals of American politics. He needed the volcanic heat to get himself elected; but by defeating the Republicans, he has given the rhetorical aggressors what they so desperately wanted, while at the same time pouring balm on the conscience of independents who may have voted Republican in 2004 but perhaps decided to go another way this year out of an impulse to sue for peace.
Spiritually, the change promised by Obama was even more sweeping, and even more remarkable. It was to be a change in the American essence, in the nature of the countrys understanding of itself. As he said in his victory speech on election night:
If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer. . . . Its the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled. . . . Its the answer thatthat led those whove been told for so long by so many to be cynical and fearful and doubtful about what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day. . . . Change has come to America.
In effect, then, Obama was casting himself, and is still casting himself, not as an agent of change but as the change itselfas its embodiment, its personification. In this sense, the Obama era has already succeeded. It is already complete. In the terms he himself has set, he can do nothing more important as President than what he has already done by being elected President.
So far, from the point of view of his supporters, that certainly seems to be more than enough. Indeed, the spiritual change promised and embodied by Obama gave his race the quality all great campaigns offer to their supportersthe idea that the grueling volunteer work they will be doing and the vote they will have to stand in line for hours to cast are merely preludes to a positive, even joyous, result.
And not just his supporters. Nationally, too, it is undeniably pleasing to note how the 2008 election reflects the growing social and racial capaciousness of the American body politic. A man who, had he been an adult in the year of his birth, would have had insuperable difficulty casting a ballot in North Carolina or Virginia won both of these states as a presidential candidate 47 years later. Americas most lasting and most morally challenging barrier has been broken down, transcended.
But even in Obamas description, his election only reflects this change. It is not the motive cause of it. Nor does it tell us anything about what we might be changing to. For that, we need to return to politics.
One can see the brilliance of Obamas political strategy, the strategy of change from something, in contemplating what the election has revealed about the condition of the Republican party. It appears that Obama won nationwide by a margin of 53 to 46which, as it happens, is almost exactly the same collective margin as in the midterm elections of 2006, when Democrats retook the House and Senate from Republican control.
The repudiation of the GOP is unambiguous. John McCain led a party whose hold on the nation shrank dramatically during George W. Bushs second term. In 2004, 37 percent of voters said they were Republicans; in 2008, that number declined to 32 percent, a vertiginous drop in so-called party identification on a scale not seen since the post-Watergate election of 1974.
McCain failed to win eight states that Bush had won in 2004including Indiana, a Republican stronghold in the last ten presidential elections. McCain also failed to take a single state in the Northeast, the Upper Midwest, or the Pacific West. Barack Obama won states in every region of the country.
After Ronald Reagan solidified the Republican hold on the formerly Democratic South, it was universally proclaimed that the GOP had created an electoral lock so impregnable that even Bill Clinton, who emerged victorious in 1992, was said by his campaign consultant James Carville to have succeeded only in picking it. That success, moreover, was largely due to the presence in the 1992 race of the third-party candidate Ross Perot, who took crucial votes away from George H.W. Bush in southern states the Republican candidate would otherwise have won without breaking a sweat.
The absence of such a third-party candidate in 2000 restored the Republican lock on the South, and the 2004 election results seemed to double-bolt it. McCain misplaced the key to the lock. In Virginia, a state Bush had carried by ten points, McCain was defeated by five, a nearly unprecedented fifteen-point turnaround in just four years. Bush won North Carolina by nearly thirteen points; McCain lost it by a quarter of a point.
In the House, the Republican minority declined in number by 25 seats to 177, almost exactly where the GOP had found itself before it took control of Congress in 1994. In the Senate, the number of Republicans appears to have fallen from 49 to 42. This brings Democrats tantalizingly close to achieving a cloture-proof 60-seat majority that would allow them to shut off debate on any bill of their choosing and bring it to a certain vote. It is possible they will achieve that majority in the midterm election of 2010. At that point, Democrats will be able to move legislation through the Senate at will for the first time in more than three decades.
And yet, there is surprisingly little indication, from the results of either the 2006 election or this one, that the low repute in which the GOP is held translates into broad support for the Democratic party. According to the website Pollster.com, the approval rating of the Democrat-controlled Congress fell from 27 percent on election day 2006 to 15 percent just before election day 2008, a drop of 44 percent. And while, as we have seen, the GOPs partisan identification numbers tumbled by five points, or 13 percent, between 2004 and 2008, Democratic partisan identification rose by only two points, or 5 percent.1 In other words, voters who ceased being Republicans outnumbered voters who became Democrats by two-and-a-half to one.
Even worse for Republicans is a bit of data that once again seems to rain a little on Obamas parade as well. A report by Curtis Gans of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate notes that while the percentage of eligible voters who voted Democratic rose a few points this year, as it has in every quadrennial election since 1980, the number of eligible voters who voted Republican fell by 1.3 percent. All in all, the national GOP lost every tenth vote it had received in 2004. On the other hand, and despite the presumption that Obama was hurtled toward the White House by an unprecedented turnout featuring millions upon millions of new voters, the electorate of 2008 looks to have been proportionately almost exactly the same size as the electorate of 2004.2
What we are seeing, in other words, is a wholesale flight from the Republican party but not an epoch-making reversal of partisan or ideological direction. Or, at least, not yet. As Gans writes, While this election did not in itself realign American politics after 28 years of Republican dominance, it presented the opportunity for such a realignment to take place.
And that, of course, has interesting policy implications. Democrats in Congress, flush with new power and a President of their own party, will wish to enact all sorts of laws representing a decisive break from the policies that have dominated Washington since George Bush came into office. In doing so, they will be armed with the knowledge that Americans say they trust Democrats more than Republicans on every issue before the nation save terrorism.
It is not necessary to list the items that will be taken up by the next Congress; they are too numerous. They are also, many of them, politically provocative. And theres the rub. For just as, throughout the twelve years (1994-2006) in which the GOP held the reins of power on Capitol Hill, the leadership of the Republican party in Congress stood farther to the Right than did the nation as a whole, so today the leadership of the Democratic party stands considerably farther to the Left on nearly every issue, from abortion (where some restrictions are overwhelmingly supported by voters) to guns (where ownership is overwhelmingly supported) to domestic surveillance (where efforts to prevent a future terrorist attack are overwhelmingly supported).
The national exit poll on November 4, whose raw data skewed wildly in favor of Obama voters,3 still showed self-described conservatives outnumbering self-described liberals by 12 percentage points. To be sure, these numbers do not offer much comfort to those who place themselves to the right of center, because all indications are that the views of self-described moderates, who made up the plurality in the exit poll, tend to shade in a more liberal direction today than they did fifteen years ago. Still, taken together with the terrible congressional-approval ratings, the numbers do suggest that a wholesale shift in an unabashedly liberal direction would pose a significant threat to the Democratic partys efforts to achieve a durable alteration in the political dynamic of the sort that followed the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.
Moreover, although it is tempting to declare any given point in political time a hinge moment, in which what comes after will be radically different from what has come before, the truth is that these supposed realignments are peculiar creatures.
The Republican realignment that began in 1980 hardly followed a straight line. In that year, Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter by ten points and swept in ten Senators. The following year, he signed the biggest tax cut in American history. Then, in 1982, he signed the biggest tax increase in American history, and his party lost 26 seats in the House of Representatives. In 1984 Reagan won 49 states, in the largest electoral landslide in American history; two years later his party lost control of the Senate.
George H.W. Bush won by eight points in 1988 and was defeated in 1992 with a smaller percentage of the vote than Barry Goldwater had received in 1964. In 1994, Republicans won 52 seats in the House and eight seats in the Senate and ushered in the age of the Gingrich Revolution. That age lasted all of nine months, brought to a screeching halt by the government shutdown of 1995 and the restoration of Bill Clintons political fortunes. By the time George W. Bush became President in 2000, Republicans held only a three-seat majority in the House of Representatives.
The election of 2000 offers a particularly instructive example of the way in which this supposed 28-year realignment was politically a highly ambiguous business. While George Bush ended up prevailing by a few hundred hanging chads in Florida, he lost nationally to Al Gore by a half-million votes. More important, Ralph Nader, the Green-party candidate, received three million votes, meaning that the Left vote in 2000 was nearly three percentage points larger than the Republican vote. In that same election, Democrats took four Senate seats away from the Republicans.
The attacks of September 11 jolted the United States to the Right, and Republicans dominated in the two successive elections of 2002 and 2004. But the failure to secure a quick victory in Iraq, coupled with a general sense that the President was incompetent and the GOP corrupt, jolted the electorate back. One might even say that the results of 2006 and 2008 restored the leftward ideological direction that was evident in 2000 and that might well have resurfaced to capsize George W. Bush had it not been for his galvanizing response to the terrorist assault on the United States.
Still, there is no question that Ronald Reagan did alter the political course of the United States. He did so by pursuing a practical, specific, and extremely ambitious agenda for change that was laid out in detail in his successful bid for the presidency. In office, he worked to rebuild the American military and reestablish the American strategic advantage against the Soviet Union in a series of moves that hastened a collapse of an empire he, almost alone, believed could be defeated. He oversaw a radical overhaul of the federal income-tax system, first by lowering marginal rates and then by simplifying the tax code. And, in a precursor to Obamas promise to elevate the American spirit, he sought to restore national self-confidence and a sense of pride in country with a promise to invigorate the key American institutions of family, work, and neighborhood.
Reagan was also fortunate in his enemies, who assumed he was popular and his legacy enduring because of his oratorical gifts, personal charm, and sunny disposition. They helped, and helped enormously. But they would have meant little without the overarching vision, the determination to enact it, and the results that demonstrated the wisdom of his course.
Barack Obama, it need hardly be said, comes to the presidency with no comparable agenda, or much of an agenda at all. True, he has had position papers galore, but in the course of his run he contradicted several of their core assumptions or promises. He proposed significant spending increases, but in light of the credit crisis has said they may have to be postponed. He has said something similar about his tax plan, which features certain cuts for the middle class and a substantial increase for Americans making over $250,000 a year. He supported gay marriage, then opposed it. He opposed welfare reform, then said he would not question Bill Clintons decision to sign it into law. He has spent more than a year backing away from his statement that he would meet with Americas enemies without preconditions.
All this changeshall we call it that?may be seen as a sign of Obamas growth: that is, as it became clearer to him that he might in fact occupy the White House, he began to understand he was burdening himself with a laundry list of promises it would be impossible to keep. It may also be seen simply as the maneuvering of a candidate aiming to make himself as palatable as possible in a general election after having spent a year running to the Left in a Democratic party process dominated by the Left.
Or Obama may hold the gut assumptions one would assume of a man with his adult biography: a man who has lived in and around elite left-wing universities since he was eighteen years old, a community organizer working from a demonstrably radical playbook, a parishioner of a church with a radical anti-American pastor who officiated at his wedding and baptized his children and from whom he took the phrase the audacity of hope as the title of his second book, a state senator from one of the most left-wing districts in the United States, and so forth.
We know what Barack Obama is. He is a pathbreaking political figure, a human watershed, an orator of surpassing skill, a politician of genius. We do not know who he is. We will find out only when he becomes President. If he aims to be a leader guiding a realignment that will restore the Democratic party to a position of political and ideological dominance, he will have to take the measure of a country that has lost confidence in his rivals but has not yet shown its fealty to his fellow partisans.
America may not be a center-Right country, but it is not a center-Left country, either. Perhaps Obama thinks he can make it so. But the memory of the shortcomings of American Left-liberalism that still resides somewhere in the nervous system of the American body politic offers reason to believe that a lurch to the Left is not the change America voted for.
On election night, with his two enchanting girls flashing their million-watt smiles in anticipation of that new puppy thats coming with us to the White House, Barack Obama told the worshipful throng before him and the tens of millions who voted for him that they had chosen to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day. The day is now upon us, and hope, however audacious, will no longer be enough.
Let’s say McCain had lost in the primaries. Would that have made a difference in the final result? I don’t think so. As far as I know all the other major GOP candidates were pro-bailout. If the GOP had run one of these pro-bailout candidates, even a more conservative one, it would have lost anyway. The problem goes far beyond RINOs in the traditional sense.
Under current law, the death tax only goes away for only one year, 2010, then comes back with a $1M exemption in 2011. Obama is proposing a $3.5M exemption. McCain had proposed a $5M exemption.
And to think that a few short years ago we were just a few Senate RINO votes away from eliminating the death tax.
“So, the middle class won’t be paying less tax than they are now—but this is a “tax cut” in the Obama world. “
Exactly! And even Podhoretz doesn’t appear to understand this. McCain wanted to preserve the Bush tax cuts and then do additional tax-cutting beyond that in terms of capital gains etc. Obama wanted to repeal those cuts (meaning tax increases for EVERYONE) and then selectively give back PART of those tax increases to 95%. Far too few voters ever connected the dots to figure out the real choice was between preserving tax cuts for everyone vs. increasing tax for everyone, especially those at the top.
Quite the contrary: post-election polls showed that voters believed OBAMA, not McCain, to be more likely to CUT their taxes. Obama ran as a tax-cutter, McCain let him get away with this (and the MSM certainly had no incentive to clue in voters to the truth), and the rest is history.
bump for later
I agree. I don't think anyone could have beaten Obama this time. All the other R contenders in the primaries had flaws, either ideologically or in attracting money and votes. Obama proved to be a masterful fundraiser and campaigner.
What I am advocating is that the Republican nominee should be selected by Republicans. With "open" primaries, we will get an influx of liberal voters polluting the conservative gene pool.
In 2012, it will be even worse, as 0 will run unopposed for the Rat nomination, leaving hoards of Rat voters free to raid the Republican primaries, giving us a leftist or otherwise weak nominee.
And his measures to end it will be just as unsuccessful as those of FDR, but today the same ability to hoodwink the public may not exist because of the enormous changes in the structure of communications. Thus he will either have to take over in a tyrannical fashion or suffer the fate of Jeemy.
That's because all of those heaping praise and spilling all that ink talking about how 'historic' the Presidency of Barack Obama is going to be, have NOT ONE CLUE about what the man really will do. He's never really given any specifics, because the MSM never required him to do so.
1 Or, to look at it another way, self-identified Democrats made up 39 percent of the electorate this yearexactly the same number as in the 2000 election, which ended in a tie.
2 The overall vote tally in 2004 was 123 million; when all the counting is done this year, it will top out at around 127 million. Taking into account the seven million additional eligible voters in 2008, turnout will have risen at most from 60.6 percent to 61.2 percent.
3 According to the raw exit poll, Obama should have won nationally by 18 percentage points; in fact he won by 7.
FWIW, these footnotes and the story supports the conclusion that the GOP lost mostly independents and moderates, like 2006.
What we need to do is lose the GOP. Conservatives still refuse to understand that conservatism is a movement not a party. We need a party that is exclusive to our principles rather than involve ourselves in one that includes a variety of other groups that are anything but conservative. If this is to be a re-alignment let us hope it means the death of the GOP which has outlived it’s purpose and the rise of a new political party more amenable to conservative principles and subject to a litmus test for membership. Unless the GOP disbands we will be forced to operate within it’s parameters and will continue to face losses if RINOS like McCain are allowed to infect it’s body politic.
That sounds like a recipe for permanent minority status. Conservatives are only about one third of the electorate according to exit polls in 2006 and 2008. Without attracting the small 'l' libertarians, variously estimated at 10 - 15 percent of the electorate, I don't see any hope. The numbers are not there. Then you still need a mix of moderates and independents to get over 50 percent just for the popular vote.
Read it and weep. re: numbers
Political parties that have principlesattract voters to their ideals. If we are true to our conservative principles and provide a contrast to the left wing drivel of the other side we will attract voters. That is what Reagan did. By and large most people have conservative values, though when asked they don’t self identify that way. An all inclusive party ends up trying to placate everyone and stands for nothing. Give the people in charge of the democrattic party their due. They know what they stand for. Obama did not move to the center to win the election, McCain did and what it got him was nothing. Conservatives could try to take over the GOP, but that would mean a long drawn out struggle with the Rockefeller country clubbing RINOS and does not guarantee we’ll win. It’s time to let the GOP float on it’s own and let it sink to the irrelevance it justly deserves. It pains me to have to say this. But after many years as a republican I have come to the conclusion that drifting it to the right is a hopeless cause.
If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer. . . . It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled. . . ....y'know, other than gays, and the straights against gay marriage, and Republicans... WTH -- "not disabled"? What a PC maroon. But anyway, it would have been a rousing speech, except that there is literally nothing behind it. Thanks neverdem.
What Messianic pablum. Obama cannot help himself. He sees his candidacy as the culimination of some strange spiritual movement. Yet he is extremely practical on issues like tax hikes and spending. He is impossible to identify.
Demography is destiny. The American electorate is changing rapidly thanks to immigration and minority birthrates. Immigrants and minorities vote Dem. The traditional Rep political power base has traditionally been non-Hispanic whites, particularly males. They are becoming an increasing smaller percentage of the population. Whatever vision the Reps come up with to reneregize the party, it must deal with the changing demographics of an aging, more diverse society that will be nearing half a billion people within the next 50 years.
"Minorities, now roughly one-third of the U.S. population, are expected to become the majority in 2042, with the nation projected to be 54 percent minority in 2050. By 2023, minorities will comprise more than half of all children.
In 2030, when all of the baby boomers will be 65 and older, nearly one in five U.S. residents is expected to be 65 and older. This age group is projected to increase to 88.5 million in 2050, more than doubling the number in 2008 (38.7 million).
Similarly, the 85 and older population is expected to more than triple, from 5.4 million to 19 million between 2008 and 2050.
By 2050, the minority population everyone except for non-Hispanic, single-race whites is projected to be 235.7 million out of a total U.S. population of 439 million. The nation is projected to reach the 400 million population milestone in 2039.
The non-Hispanic, single-race white population is projected to be only slightly larger in 2050 (203.3 million) than in 2008 (199.8 million). In fact, this group is projected to lose population in the 2030s and 2040s and comprise 46 percent of the total population in 2050, down from 66 percent in 2008.
Meanwhile, the Hispanic population is projected to nearly triple, from 46.7 million to 132.8 million during the 2008-2050 period. Its share of the nations total population is projected to double, from 15 percent to 30 percent. Thus, nearly one in three U.S. residents would be Hispanic.
The black population is projected to increase from 41.1 million, or 14 percent of the population in 2008, to 65.7 million, or 15 percent in 2050.
The Asian population is projected to climb from 15.5 million to 40.6 million. Its share of the nations population is expected to rise from 5.1 percent to 9.2 percent.
In 2050, the nations population of children is expected to be 62 percent minority, up from 44 percent today. Thirty-nine percent are projected to be Hispanic (up from 22 percent in 2008), and 38 percent are projected to be single-race, non-Hispanic white (down from 56 percent in 2008).
The working-age population is projected to become more than 50 percent minority in 2039 and be 55 percent minority in 2050 (up from 34 percent in 2008). Also in 2050, it is projected to be more than 30 percent Hispanic (up from 15 percent in 2008), 15 percent black (up from 13 percent in 2008) and 9.6 percent Asian (up from 5.3 percent in 2008).
We didn’t get beaten by a resurgent Leftism. We got beaten by a politically feckless George Bush and an incompetently RINO GOP.