Monday, February 01, 2010

Asses backward 

I met Michael Barone at a cocktail party in 2005. He asked me where I was from, I said "Princeton," and he accurately told me the percentage of the voters who had gone for John Kerry in 2004. Neat parlor trick, but also evidence that the man understands the statistics of politics better than any other person writing for a general audience. Or, if there is a contender, I don't know who he or she would be.

That's why this column is so interesting for its forecast of an electoral earthquake.

New York Times editorialists can opine that the Massachusetts result had nothing to do with opposition to health care, but their life's work is not in peril.

Democratic officeholders know theirs is. Some are heading for the hills. Four well-regarded veteran congressmen announced their surprise retirements in December; two longtime Democratic senators folded in January. Family concerns have suddenly become very pressing.

Others are holding out against the bloggers. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that "unease would be the gentlest word" to describe House Democrats' refusal to pass the Senate health care bill. Her elegant ears must have burned in that caucus meeting.

Sens. Evan Bayh and Blanche Lincoln, up for re-election in Indiana and Arkansas and facing by far the most negative poll numbers in their long political careers, let it be known that there was no way they would support the reconciliation process, requiring only 51 votes, to jam through a health care bill.

But more than health care legislation is in trouble. I have not seen a party's fortunes collapse so suddenly since Richard Nixon got caught up in the Watergate scandal and a president who carried 49 states was threatened with impeachment and removal from office.

The victory of a Democrat in the special election to fill Vice President Gerald Ford's House seat in February 1974 was a clear indication that the bottom had fallen out for the Republican Party. Brown's victory last week looks as if something similar has happened to the Democratic Party.

Many people ask me whether the Democrats are in as much trouble as they were in 1994. The numbers suggest they are in much deeper trouble, at least at this moment.

The collapse is all the more remarkable because (1) there has been no real Democratic scandal, and certainly nothing comparable to Watergate, (2) most people agree that Barack Obama inherited the bad economy, and (3) the Republicans at least seem to be thin on national talent and internal consensus. The question is why?

My own view (to which I append the usual caveat that I have a poor sense of the average voter) is that Americans do not blame the Democrats for the bad economy, they blame them for focusing so much attention on things that are not obviously connected to improving the economy. Health care "reform" and greenhouse gas taxation may both have been sold as helpful for the economy, but the sale was not made (in part because front-loading massive new taxes, which both bills propose, is not a well-understood strategy for lowering the unemployment rate). And what is that business about spending hundreds of millions of dollars to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Manhattan just to make a point? And regulating the BCS, a move that in happier times might well be popular but this year just looks like poor prioritization for an obviously overcommited government?

We live in interesting times.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Feb 01, 09:14:00 AM:

If voters don't yet "like" Republicans, they're still ready to vote for them. Trust will only come once GOP pols prove they aren't going to tolerate Bridges to Nowhere, conservative social legislation, and military incoherence. Despite those criticisms, the country seems ready (even eager!) to take a flyer on anyone who seems willing to vote "no" on a fiscal measure. .

But I do think most voters, even Democrat voters, do hold the Democrats (mainly the Congressional Dems and not the president) responsible to a meaningful degree for the roots of our economic problems. It's not just the Republicans at fault. So, I do disagree with that one of your premises and I think voters are quite as ready to blame Pelosi as Bush.  

By Blogger Georgfelis, at Mon Feb 01, 09:18:00 AM:

I would place the credit on the fact that Fiscal Conservatives have been undercounted. The reason why the Republicans got the boot in the last election is that they were perceived to be fiscal liberals. The reason the Democrats will get the boot this election is because they *are* fiscal liberals.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Feb 01, 09:33:00 AM:

"Certainly nothing comparable to Watergate." Nothing as bad as the placing of tape on the door locks as prep for a burglary?? Only ACORN, foreign campaign donations, communist and Mao-loving czars, global warming hoax, redistribution of wealth, a fundamental transformation of America, Rev. Wright, buying off Senators for their vote, buying Union votes, ramming socialized healthcare down the throats of those they were elected to represent, receding ocean waters and the earth cooling, we are the ones we are waiting for!! Watergate must have been a terrible event. You might add that Dan Quayle spelled potato with an e at the end. Of course our Constitutional lawyer in Chief thinks that "created equal" is contained in the Constitution!! Move along.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Feb 01, 10:23:00 AM:

It should be remembered that most Americans DO NOT read political blogs on the Internet. They arrive at their political judgements based on the so-called Main Stream Media. So let's use a baseball metaphor.

1) They (us dumb sheeple) are scared of the opaqueness of the Health Reform measures. It has not been well explained, and it certainly is not well understood.
Strike one.

2) Unemployment is much worse than the statistics given by the Labor Dept. They neglect (of course) those that have "stopped looking", and of course the older folks that could still work but have now moved off into early retirement. Intuitively, most people know that the employment situation is pretty bad. And that Cap 'n Trade and other measures are a short term penalty on the economy, regardless of what "Green Jobs" may offer in 5 or 10 years.
Strike two.

3)General fiscal irresponsibility. People generally have a feel for what the Federal Deficit is, even though the numbers are pretty big. You can blame all the incumbents, but the Democrats have controlled the House and Senate since Jan 2007. Understanding the first two points brings the general fiscal foolishness into focus. Bad Karma.
Strike Three.

If Obama and friends want to help their fortunes, they must really better explain the Health Care Bill, and make some kind of progress in reversing the high unemployment trends in which have been accelerating since 2008.

I'm not sure if Barone said this or someone else, but the last two elections (2006 and 2008) were "against Bush and the Republicans." This will be the first election where the Democrats (and Obama) will be judged.
To quote a movie title, "There Will Be Blood".


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Feb 01, 11:34:00 AM:

No worries! The Kenyan will simply arrange to have some of his fellow muslims launch another terrorist attack on America and then postpone the election, declaring some kind of martial law.
Or, recognizing the Kenyan's facility with mendacity, maybe he'll just invent the possibility of a terrorist attack.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Feb 01, 11:39:00 AM:

CC, is that you? Why do you post these oddball things?  

By Anonymous QuakerCat, at Mon Feb 01, 11:56:00 AM:

I think the disenchantment begins when you get the most fundamental of things backwards; such as proposing to spend $3.8 Trillion when you only bring in $2.4 Trillion begins to raise some pretty red flags. Aside from being 58% over what we can afford, I think the average American was waiting for the Presidential candidate who chided voters for "living beyond their means" and "scolding them over a culture of greed."  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Feb 01, 01:11:00 PM:

I'm a registered Democrat who voted for McCain (despite the inclusion of Sarah Palin on the ticket, which was a huge negative in the somewhat centrist area where I live). There were two reasons for this.

First, I read "The Audacity of Hope" and realized that Obama was running to the left of George McGovern (the 1972 version). Second, I thought that many who looked to Obama liked the melody of his voice without listening to the lyrics of what he was saying.

Now, those folks realized that they should have paid more attention to the lyrics. Instead of examining Obama's plans, they listend to words like "hope" and "change." Give Obama credit, he ran a great campaign. Also, Obama was transparent -- his views were out there for all to see. He didn't necessarily fool the electorate as much as they convinced themselves into believing that he had all the answers.

He didn't. At least not the ones they believe are necessary.

As for my McCain vote, well, I held to two old principles. The first is that we have the happiest and most productive country when we have full employment. Second, I thought that the current Republicans, for all their worts (many self-inflicted), could do a better job of getting people back to work.

It seems like that the swing results from independent Obama voters who woke up and realized that his agenda isn't aligned with theirs, among other things that irk them. It doesn't look like it will be an easy fall for Democrats.

The Centrist  

By Blogger Kurt, at Mon Feb 01, 01:56:00 PM:

With regard to some of the observations made by "The Centrist" above, I would say that it always seemed to me that anyone with a centrist perspective should have looked at the leadership of Congress (Reid and Pelosi), and then looked at Obama and McCain. From that perspective, the decision should have been easy: voting for Obama would give us more of what Reid and Pelosi want, and voting for McCain would give us less.  

By Blogger JPMcT, at Mon Feb 01, 05:49:00 PM:

I'n not as surprised about the voters "turning" on Obama as TH is.

Firstly, a lot of Republicans were not at all happy with the behaviour of their congressmen, their president or the choice of McCain as a candidate. They sat out the election. It is not so much that the Democrats WON as the Republicans LOST the last election.

Secondly, the unbridled arrogance exhibited by the Democratic Congress, and the sense of entitlement and obliviousness of Obama has offended not only the now remorseful stay-at-home Republicans, but also Independents and many Democrats.

Remember that the Nixon White House paid for it's RESPONSE to the Watergate break-in, not so much as for the actual crime.

Thirdly, Many may agree that Obama inherited an economy in decline, just as Bush did. Most also agree that Obama has done nothing to help and can best be compared to someone throwing a blowling ball to a drowning swimmer. In addition, most people who hold jobs and routinely vote have investments. The Obama administration's rape of GM, the banks and the profligate policies of Fannie Mae et al are not esoteric concepts to anybody who manages a budget or reconciles a checkbook.

Lastly, the Republicans may not have chosen a "direction" because the party has not yet divested itself of the dead wood. Centrist/Moderate Republicans are why the party has fallen into it's current position. Conservative Republican candidates are plentiful...and tho the party's platform may lag behind the individual candidates, I would suggest waiting until primary season is over and see if your opinion about the party's direction holds true. I predict it will not.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Tue Feb 02, 09:53:00 AM:

"Centrist/Moderate Republicans are why the party has fallen into it's current position."

Moderate Republicans are why they won a special election in Massachusetts. Moderate Republicans are why health care "reform" is dying in a gutter.

Conservatives are just as guilty of wildly inflating their own numbers as liberals and Iraqi Sunnis.

"Obey us, we are legion." No, you're not. And your misguided certainty that you are leads to foolish politics. Like sitting out the Presidential election and handing control of the country to the most liberal Democratic government ever, if your first point is to be believed.  

By Blogger JPMcT, at Wed Feb 03, 12:39:00 AM:

Soooo...what you are implying is that it was not "moderate" George Bush's spending orgy (albeit amteurish compared to Obama), not "moderate" John McCain's Campaign Finance reform or Immigration position or not a temporary tax cut (soon to be allowed to die in the gutter)...no, not those moderate, reach-across-the aisle fiacos that completely alienated the Republican base...but it was the fault of conservatives for standing up for what they believe in and not voting for these stinkers...THAT is the problem.

I think not.

The Massachusetts Miracle happened because Brown ran a conservative campaign, with conservative ideas and it is a center-RIGHT country. Name a moderate position of Brown's that you think won him votes.

I agree his record is moderate, but by comparison to Coakley, he was Atilla the Hun.

The New Jersey and Virginia victories were clearly conservative. I know Bob McDonnell and he is NOT a moderate.

By the Way, Dawnfire, don't buy the flowers for the Health Care wake yet. There are still a few "moderate" Republicans who can be bought lock, stock and barrell to "reach across the aisle" and foist some new horror upon us before retiring in 2012.

The true definition of a centrist/moderate is the collection of dumb clucks who are always "undecided" when a poll is taken. God help us, they are always the one's who decide elections.

No wonder government is in a tailpin!!!  

By Anonymous Mad As Hell, at Wed Feb 03, 07:02:00 AM:

To JPMcT. You're wrong. I actually agree with Dawnfire on this one.

In Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts, the Democrats lost because they lost the independent vote by 2 to 1. They also lost some Reagan Democrat vote as well. The national Republican party deserves no credit for any of this. They fucked up NY-23 over "purity" which should be a lesson.

In my county, a Right to Life Catholic won an important local post despite overwhelming Democratic advantages. He attacked the incumbent on taxes and wasteful spending and didn't promote his own name until the very end. His religious beliefs are irrelevant to the office he holds, and shouldn't -- and weren't -- made into an issue.

In 2008, Obama won independents by about 55% to 45% -- which was his margin. This was largely a protest vote against Bush& Co., and the Republicans more generally. The Republicans blew it. Few of us understood what Obama was really about at the time. MSM still doesn't do math nor science.

We're not a center-right country -- that's a canard. We've always had more registered Democrats. We also have had an increasing number of people who are happy to vote to spend other people's money. Republicans only win the White House after clear Democratic failures, or when voters don't want to give that elusive third term encore.

We're more North By Northwest to the left. Republican candidates typically start at a disadvantage. They can't ignore independents. It's not that hard to win the independent / Reagan democrat vote. For openers, leave the social issues to the states. Utah ain't Manhattan -- which is fine. E pluribus, unum.

I don't know what "conservative" means. Depending on how you define it, a "conservative" can actually be a "statist" or a libertarian. It doesn't necessarily equate to the Republican base.

The looming fight is over those who get government checks and those who pay for them -- it's that simple. It's "the rest of us" versus DC. This isn't anti-government per se -- there's no one in DC that teaches my kids, stops speeding on the local drag or picks up my trash. DC & Co is just a big net drag. I'd run a platform of cutting federal pay by 15%, and cutting all perks for elected officials. I'd send Nancy a retroactive bill for her family's air taxi service.

I'd tell states -- no bailouts. We need a California or a Michigan to go bankrupt to teach the rest of us a lesson.

Then I'd cap Medicare/Social Security spending to current totals -- Germany has done something like this already. I'd cut the military by something like 30%.

Without this, we're following the path of the Japanese, except the Japanese started their decline as big net savers, not spenders. So I expect some Argentina thrown into our mix. I expect our train crash by 2011.  

By Blogger JPMcT, at Wed Feb 03, 07:55:00 AM:

I wirte in defense of conservatives, not Rebuplicans...don't misinterpret what I say as cheerleading for the Republican Party.

I think profilgate policies by republican "moderates" turned a good number of Rebubicans away from the party. Altough the Libertarian party may hold a lot of ideas that are attractive, they don't win elections...so I strongly suspect many of these people became "Independents"...just as many Democratic voters have become disillusioned with the goings-on in DC and moved to the "Independent" Camp.

If such a statidtical analysis exists, I strongly suspect that most of those who made the move AWAY from the Big Two parties are center-right or actually conservatives.

And Mad-as-Hell, polls DO INDEED show that a majority of American voters adhere to conservative principles and consider themselves on the conservative side of the center...so I do not think it is a canard to say that the country is center right...at least it's voters are (and that's all that matters).

I think we are arguing from the same side of the campfire. I stopped sending the Repubican Party financial support about four years ago...but I voted for McCAin because I could see the danger of Obama. A whole lot of people stayed home...and now regret it.

The Tea Party movement is a perfect example of this. hopefully they will not be foolish enough to mimick the Libertarians and form their own party and join the ranks of Losers. Instead, transforn one of the Big Two into something that it was supposed to have represented, but didn't.  

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