Tue 4 Nov 2008
The electorate is expected to give Republicans a thorough drubbing at the polls today, a clear repudiation of Republican Party policies. It should be no huge surprise, however. It’s certainly not to me. The Party received a warning just 2 short years ago when it was trounced in the 2006 mid-term elections. The warning went unheeded by the Party and its leadership, however. Here’s what I wrote shortly after that election:
A very recent example of this was the Congressional mid-term elections of 2006. The Republicans lost control of the House and the Senate and most analysts attributed the loss to deep dissatisfaction with President Bush over the Iraq war and to the myriad failures of the Republican leadership in both houses, failures that included significant scandal. So what has been the response of Republican Party leadership? It appears to have been that “we weren’t conservative enough – we lost our way and need to redouble our efforts to be the party of conservative values and fiscal conservatism.” Clearly the loss was not so devastating as to be acknowledged as a repudiation of policies, but, perversely, just a minor correction for not being ideologically “pure” enough.
Ideological purity. It’s not what wins elections, at least in the whole of America. As concerns Republican ideological purity, it may sell in certain districts in the south or rural America but it doesn’t translate on the national stage. That the Republican Party has been all but captured by this ideological and southern/rural wing of the party is evidenced by the recent financial rescue vote in the U.S. House of Representatives. I noted in my posting Who Are These Guys, linking to a Washington Post Op-ed, that while 86 retiring Republican Congressmen voted for the rescue bill no freshmen Republicans did. While some of this can perhaps be attributed to fear by freshmen of getting out on a limb with voters very unhappy with a major turn of events, it also tells us that much of today’s Republican Party is comprised of very ideologically conservative stock.
For those of you who’ve read the dialog between my friend Mario and me in the comments section to And One More Thing, you’ll know that Mario and I reach different conclusions about this election. Mario expresses justifiable concern as to the dangers of an Obama administration especially coupled with a solidly Democratic- controlled legislative branch. It is a reason for him to vote for John McCain. While concerned, I keep having to remind myself that the transpiring liberal backlash is a natural and direct consequence of extreme Republican government. Extreme government invites an extreme response. Under more centrist Republican leadership today’s election results would likely be very different indeed. Thus my attitude is to let the chips fall where they may. So while concerned with the prospect of a period of liberal governance I rationalize that it is but the consequence of so many years of irresponsible conservative governance. It somehow satisfies my centrist sensibilities. For this reason, and others, I voted for Barack Obama.
My real point is that the center is the place from which real progress can be made in solving America’s most daunting challenges. The fringes are living in their own ideological fantasy land. In my discussion with Mario he talked about “incrementalist” jurists. My reaction to the discussion was that if George Bush had nominated incrementalist jurists like Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O’Connor, liberal and independent voter concern with the rightward drift of the courts would not have been as dramatic. Likewise a Bush Administration foreign policy that was more internationalist and less arrogant American bully on the world stage would have sold better both at home and abroad. Tax policy that was more rational and less ideological would have taken away one of the Democrat’s strongest campaign issues.
From a Republican perspective, would it not be better for the country to be guided, incrementally, in a conservative direction? Having done otherwise, the Republican Party is to likely experience the consequences of a full tilt leftward correction that could be, as some pundits are arguing, generational in duration. All avoidable. All avoidable.
My own view is that leftist excess, as will likely develop, will be met with strong voter reaction in as little as two-year’s time. The country, however, will be left none the better for it. Certainly some of the excesses of the right will have been ”balanced”–through appointments to the federal bench and the Supreme Court, for example–but there will be overkill. Examples of this overkill could include significant give-aways to organized labor or restriction of free speech on the airwaves. This overkill, in turn, will be almost guaranteed to incite strong reaction from voters. The country in the meantime will likely be left with critical issues not addressed, issues as the country’s spiraling debt crisis (highlighted in yesterday’s posting containing the I.O.U.S.A. video).
Will the Republican Party learn its lesson and tone down its conservative message? The Conservative Party in Britain has apparently learned this lesson. Arguably so, too, has the Conservative Party in Canada. That the Labour Party in Britain has been in power for as many years as it has is also testiment to that party’s having learned that center-left is better than no left at all. Can the Republican Party grasp that center-right is better than no right at all? Will President Obama and the Democrats be willing and able to govern center-left rather than full tilt left?
I am convinced that the party in America that learns this lesson first will likely govern for a long time as well. I am not optimistic that it will happen here, however. This is certainly Obama’s challenge. If he can be that center-left leader ala Tony Blair and transform not only his party but the system, he could be a great President. My hope and prayer is that President Obama is able to pull off such a miracle. I will help him in any way I can. I doubt, however, that it will happen in America given our two-party system and present political dynamic. My own suspicion is that in America it is going to take the emergence of a third party or better yet, a third force–for example one that is overtly centrist and non-partisan–to alter the dynamic and make such a transformation possible.
On this eve of new leadership for America, let’s hope I’m wrong. We’ll know soon enough. By spring we should have a pretty good idea whether something new is afoot or whether it’s just going to be more of the same. If it is more of the same, I say it is time to work on beginning to make that third force a reality.