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Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Cart Before the Horse: Guaging the Seismic Politically Philosophical Shift

Among the many analyses of the last election from the pundit class is the debat of whether or not the results from this past election will also usher in an era that moves the country leftward. The latest comes from Tod Lindberg.

Here's the main thought Republicans are consoling themselves with these days: Notwithstanding President-elect Barack Obama, a nearly filibuster-proof Democratic majority in the Senate and the largest Democratic majority in the House of Representatives since 1993, the United States is still a center-right country. Sure, voters may be angry with Republicans now, but eventually, as the Bush years recede and the GOP modernizes its brand, a basically right-tilting electorate will come back home. Or, in the words of the animated rock band the Gorillaz, "I'm useless, but not for long/The future is comin' on."

Thus Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review, in Outlook last week: The United States "is indeed, as conservatives have been insisting in recent days, a center-right
country." On election night, former Bush guru Karl Rove opined on Fox News, "Barack Obama understands this is a center-right country, and he smartly and wisely ran a campaign that emphasized it." And it's not just conservative pundits and operatives singing this song. Take Newsweek editor Jon Meacham, who wrote an Oct. 27 cover essay entitled "America the Conservative," which argued that Obama will have to "govern a center-right nation" that "is more instinctively conservative than it is liberal."

The only problem: It isn't true. Or at least, not anymore. If you'd asked me a year
ago whether the United States is really a center-right nation, I would have said yes -- after pausing for a second to contemplate the GOP's big congressional losses in 2006. At the time, Republicans cheered each other up by assuring ourselves that the worst was over: If you were running for Congress and survived 2006, you could hold your seat forever.


Here's the stark reality: It is now harder for the Republican presidential candidate to get to 50.1 percent than for the Democrat. My Hoover Institution colleague David Brady and Douglas Rivers of the research firm YouGovPolimetrix have been analyzing data from online interviews with 12,000 people in both 2004 and 2008. It shows an overall shift to the Democrats of six percentage points. As they write in the forthcoming edition of Policy Review, "The decline of Republican strength occurs by having strong Republicans become weak Republicans, weak Republicans becoming independents, and independents leaning more Democratic or even becoming Democrats." This is a portrait of an electorate moving from center-right to center-left.

Some analysts like to explain this shift by pointing to Democratic gains and Republican losses among particular regions and demographic groups, arguing that the GOP has growing problems winning over such areas as the Southwest and such groups as Latinos, educated professionals, Catholics and single women. There's something to this, but the Republican problem is actually larger and more categorical. In 2004, Republicans and Democrats each constituted 37 percent of the electorate. In the 2006 congressional election, Democrats outnumbered Republicans 38 percent to 36 and won big. This year, the Democrats made up a stunning 39 percent of the electorate, compared with just 32 percent for the Republicans. Add the painful fact that Obama outpolled McCain among independents, 52 percent to 48, and you have a picture of a Republican Party that has lost its connection to the center of the electorate.

Elections cause political shifts whereas policy, or more than that effective policies, cause politically philosophical shifts. There is a layer of the political pundit class that wants Barack Obama to succeed so badly that in their minds he already has. Certainly, there are plenty of conservative thinkers that are just as eager for failure that in their minds he has already failed just the same.

The reality of course is that Barack Obama hasn't even quite taken office yet. In order for there to be a seismic shift in the philosophy of the electorate Barack Obama will have to be a successful President. If, in fact, his plan to create economic growth from the bottom up succeeds and the economy comes out of this malaise in short order, then we will likely see a shift in the philosophical beliefs of the electorate. If his plan to provide universal health care does in fact create health care for all without raising the prices for health care to everyone else, then we will likely see a shift in the political philosophy of the electorate. If, in fact, he meets with rogue dictators and that ultimately leads to peace we will see a shift in the political philosophy of the electorate. Of course as a friend of mine used to say...

if if was a fifth we'd all be drunk

The point is that so far the slate is clean. The only shift we have seen is political. Those sorts of shifts can be very temporary when the party in power isn't successful, just look at the last shift in 2001. Barack Obama has run a bold campaign and he has a bold agenda. If that agenda works, then not only will we shift philosophically but we should. If, on the other hand, our economy is still in trouble come 2012, then a Republican Presidential candidate may have no trouble getting 60% of the votes, not the 50% that Lindberg guaged. Until then though, we should all temper our bold proclamations about seismic philosophical shifts.

On the same topic...Here's why I believe we're a center right nation.

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