12.11.06

DEFINING THE MEDIAN VOTER. Just before the election, I ordered Ryan Sager's The Elephant in the Room. It arrived just after the election and proved to be a quick enough read to qualify as Book Review No. 40. The key point appears at page 87.
If the Republican Party cannot renew its core commitment to the cause of small government now, at the height of its power, then it can never do so. And if limited government is no longer at the center of conservatism, then conservatism — at least as it has been known since libertarianism and traditionalism fused in the pages of National Review in the 1950s and in the Goldwater campaign of 1964 — has ceased to exist.
This despite the Democrats being their own worst enemies. Mr Sager pulls no punches on page 97.
But if the Republicans have exploited 9/11 oftentimes, Democrats have found themselves chained to a cast of fringe-Left clowns so repugnant as to do more damage to the liberal cause than a million Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads. While most of the dissent from the War on Terror on the Left is well within the bounds of rational discourse, the harsh gets lumped in with the bat-scat insane — and Democratic candidates pay the price.
The Democrats have just reinstalled all their Watergate era relics as committee chairmen in the new Congress, but they will be doing battle with what Mr Sager describes as a "Bushian big-government" perversion of conservatism. His sympathies lie with the "Leave Us Alone" coalition that is beset alike by Democrats full of Stiglitzian welfare economics and Republicans full of Outlaw the Sin to Save the Sinner.

At page 161 Mr Sager hints at a change that might have manifested itself in the just-concluded election.
The conventional wisdom that the Republican Party will continue to enjoy a never-ending free ride with libertarians, in other words, is dead wrong. The Democratic Party is not as stupid as it looks, nor is the Republican majority as sound as it looks (or at least as Karl Rove tells you it looks). In the short and long term, both parties — whether they like it or not — are going to find themselves forced to follow a simple dictum: look to the West.
Mr Sager wrote a New York Post column this week that's not quite "See I Told You So."

But Republicans also face a strange new political landscape. Instead of split-in-two, the country now finds itself drawn-and-quartered: the conservative South as solidly Republican as ever, the liberal Northeast more Democratic than ever, the populist Midwest having taken a major turn toward the Democrats and the libertarian West now up for grabs.

This last is perhaps the strangest of all for Republicans: The West used to be solid GOP territory. It's been wavering recently, and after Tuesday, it's a full-blown swing region...

He extends the theme in a weblog post.
But the basics are described by the term “fusionism.” Libertarians and social conservatives should both be able to agree that small-government is the goal. An expanding state is a threat not just to the wallet but to the family. You can’t force morality and virtue on people. You can only leave them free to live their lives. And to the extent that we must deal with divisive social issues in a political context — such as, say, gay marriage — local control is the best way to avoid vitriolic national culture wars.
Reason's Radley Balko concurs.

From there, Tuesday by most indications was a rejection of big government conservatism, not 1994-style limited government conservatism. The second issue most important to voters, for example, was corruption. The third was Iraq. Voters who cited each voted overwhelmingly for the Democrats. Nowhere in exit polling did voters say they were throwing the bums out because they spent too little, refused to raise the minimum wage, or because voters were clamoring for more regulation of business, or socialized health care.

Corruption is the result of a federal government too flush with money and too fat with influence. When billions of dollars are at stake — either in the form of handouts and corporate welfare, or from the effects of regulation — it only makes sense that corporations and special interests would spend millions to secure a spot at the trough, or to tweak regulations to their liking. The more influence wielded in Washington, the further corrupting forces will go to win a share of it.

Pelosi and company (along with most of the country's editorial boards) believe you can continue to grow government while reducing corruption — you just need lots of McCain-Feingold-ish laws, ethics panels, and blue-ribbon “good government” commissions to keep greed and graft in check. That flies in the face of common sense, human nature, and anyone who has paid a lick of attention to politics over the last 50 years. Money always finds way to by influence where influence is available. You reduce corruption by taking money and power off the table and putting it back in the private sector, where it's won through innovation and competition, not through golfing trips to Scotland and lunches at The Palm.

Mr Balko pulls no punches when it comes to Republicans, either. Read and understand.

One of those editorial boards, at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, where one suspects there would be little displeasure with a Sewer Socialist becoming President, sees some of the same things at work, but from a different perspective.
Some of the Democrats' pickups in this Northern belt will be challenging to hold, because they occurred in GOP-leaning districts. But another half-dozen could represent permanent GOP losses, because they were in places that are Democratic and becoming more so. GOP problems in the Northeast mirror what Democrats have endured in the South, where the party's congressional losses occurred years after the region had already shifted to the GOP in presidential contests.

In his recent book, "Whistling Past Dixie," [political scientist Tom] Schaller makes an argument that is controversial among Democrats: that the party should forget about winning in the South and focus on putting together a majority coalition in the Northeast, Midwest and West, including areas where Democrats made inroads Tuesday, such as Colorado and Arizona.
Whether that Democratic Party would look like the coalition of technocrats and welfare recipients that generate the famous blue counties of 2000 and 2004 remains to be seen.
"For the first time in more than half a century, the minority party in the South is the majority party in both chambers of Congress, a truly stunning development," said Schaller, a professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

In the Senate, Democrats picked up six seats despite the fact that their opportunities were limited (only 15 of 33 Senate seats up this year were held by the GOP). Four of the six Democratic pickups came in "red" states. In 2008, the roster of races will, in one sense, be more favorable to Democrats, since Republicans will have to defend 21 of the 33 Senate seats that are up.

As for presidential politics, the electoral trends at both the state and federal level were positive for Democrats. Democrat Jim Webb's Senate victory in Virginia was more evidence of that state's trend in a Democratic direction, fueled by growth and change in the state's least "Southern" component: the Washington, D.C., suburbs. That could give Democrats another red state to compete for in 2008.

The red-state West also will offer opportunities. A growing Latino vote and migration from blue states such as California is loosening the GOP hold on parts of the West and Southwest. Democratic governors were re-elected in Arizona and New Mexico. The party picked up a governor in Colorado, a Senate seat in Montana and two House seats in Arizona. Some Republicans fear that the hard line on immigration taken by GOP lawmakers will do lasting damage to the party's Hispanic outreach.

"We do need to pay a lot of attention to the West for a lot of reasons," said GOP chairman Mehlman.
Both parties reconsidering what the median voter looks like. I love the sound of coalitions fracturing.

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