Government Myths Interlude: Making Sense Of The Election

By now, the election results for the US are well known: The Republicans keep the Presidency, they get more seats in the House, they get more seats in the Senate, and they will almost certainly be placing some people on the Supreme Court. Basically, while it isn't quite enough to be considered a blank check, especially as party loyalty isn't what it used to be, it is rather close; the Senate control is only a few seats short of being able to unilaterally break a filibuster.

How do we rationalize this with the strong anti-Bush opinions that we hear so much about? How fortunate that I've created the vocabulary I need to explain my position in my previous posts. :-)

I think what this election shows, among other things, is that you can not field an "Anybody But" candidate. Despite the perception that the campaign is all about being negative, you still must create a meta-coalition that can attract enough of the vote to win. The democrats have failed narrowly to do this in 2000, failed firmly in 2002, and now failed miserably in 2004. The news for the Democrats is not just bad today, it is trending in the wrong direction, too!

I think den Beste called this outcome a little over a year ago, with the linked piece ending in:

Clinton was not the last Democratic president; the Democrats will yet again control the White House. But they won't do so in 2004. I think 2004 will instead initiate what sports franchises refer to as "team building", forcing the Democrats to start contemplating that now-classic rhetorical question: "why do they hate us?"

The Democrats clearly need to look into the mirror and figure out where their disconnect is. It is clearly time to tweak the meta-coalition, and given the amount of time the failures have been allowed to fester and dig in, it is likely some hard decisions will have to be made, or the Democrats will continue to fade. Going out on a limb here, I will predict that either the Democratic party of 2008 will field a Presidential candidate with significant and obvious differences from the candidate of 2004, or a significant left-wing showing from a third-party will occur again, making Nader in 2000 look like an amateur. (One suggestion to that third party: Nader is spent. Come up with someone better. And, based on past elections, probably richer, too.)

I do not think there is one obvious answer here; I think that by the very nature of our meta-coalition system there are a wide variety of valid choices. I can not speak for large segments of the country, but here are some ideas for the Democrats that, if implemented, would at least offer me a very difficult choice in 2008. (Given who I am, it would be too much change for them to get an undivided vote from me. But especially if the Republicans are still holding significant portions of the legislative houses, my general desire for gridlock, coming from my libertarian leanings, might be enough to push me over the edge, if some of these are in place).

Remember, this are my personal opinions, not God-given truth.

  • The Teachers Union: The NEA represents teachers, not students. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this, but the way they pretend otherwise ("committed to advancing the cause of public education"), and the way this line is uncritically accepted because Education Is Holy, and therefor teachers are the Priests, is wrong. Non-performance-based pay raises and job security for teachers are at best orthogonal to quality education; they are typically actively inimical to it. Support quality education reform, which will mean spiting the teachers union. You may find surprising support among the actual teachers, too; you don't teach to get rich, you teach because either you love it or you can't do much else, and if a teacher really believes a candidate will stand for education, I think they may break with the union. In fact, I think if the Democrats actually stood up to them, they might be able to bust the NEA as we now know it.

    (To be clear, I do not have a problem with the idea of a teacher's union and I would not normally celebrate a union busting. My problem is with pretending it is anything beyond a teacher's union.)

    Also, think big. More money for teachers, more school, more testing, more this, more that, more of things that have already failed have been tried. Instead of more, think different

  • Small government: The Republicans have given up on this. It has not gone unnoticed.

    This one is fraught with peril for the Democrats because of the large number of current special interests that are based to one degree or another on big government: The aforementioned NEA, the Social Security promises, environmental issues that require regulation and enforcement, etc. In its defense, I would point out that a radical restructuring is probably called for, and while I don't know that this is the right one, it is worth thinking about. Whatever the ultimate "right answer" is, I can guarantee it seem as insane as this proposal does to current Democrats, so this can't just be dismissed. 

  • Civil liberties: Both parties are complicit in trading security for no safety. This is a rather easier one than the previous one, since it plays into opposing Bush, but is also a stand for something, and not against something. As a result, it can also outlast Bush himself. (In fact, even had the party won this Presidency, it would likely be even worse for them in the long term than a loss, since the "Not Bush" energy would be gone, leaving them even more adrift. This was expressed frequently by many people in various guises.)

    The downside is while I don't think that it really contradicts any concrete platforms of the current Democratic party, there is a certain philosophical conflict; there is a strong theme of paternalism throughout the various Democratic interests. However, I give the same defense for this as I did for the previous point: Something drastic has to change. Also, themes can change. 

  • Foreign Policy: There isn't much you can do here for me personally, since I believe President Bust is taking a very realistic view of the world and acting on it. It may not be going swimmingly but when you find "Creating A Middle East Democracy 101" down at your local college bookstore, let me know.

    You've invested enormous political capital into Iraq being a failure. I am sophisticated enough to realize that does not translate for every individual directly into wanting failure, but that is a fine line, one frequently crossed. Even today, I am having a very hard time rationalizing this as anything but Not Bush. Cut all the crap away, and we are giving at least the chance of liberty to a country that was previously ruled by a dictator that ranks up there with Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, the only constraint on his evil being the amount of power he could grab.

    Isn't the Democratic party supposed to be the party of compassion? Aren't the Republicans supposed to be the rich old white men who don't see anything but dollars? No matter how you slice it, Iraq isn't about money; it can never repay us for what we are pouring in and the oil crap doesn't fly with me.

    Drop the tranzi moonbats who have other ulterior motives for failing in Iraq. Remember that France doesn't vote for you. Out-compassion the Republicans. Move more swiftly when situations like Darfur occur to nip them in the bud. Stand ready to support democracy advocates in other countries. Help us in Iraq, instead of betting the farm on hurting the effort.

The strategic idea here is to reach "behind" the Republicans; this squares with the last paragraph of this essay, which I saw after writing most of this. The Democrats need to be bold, to go on the offensive, and not just marginalize some of their moonbats, but to steal issues from the Republicans in domains they are neglecting. The current playing field isn't working, and at this point the right move is just to shake it up and hope they can pick up pieces more quickly than the Republicans.

As a final note, I would observe that the elections did work this time, per the discussion in myth #3; they produced a gracious loser within a reasonable amount of time. (The vote tally won't be done now for a couple of weeks while some difficult final tallies are made in some places, but the results seem sure.) Hopefully this acceptance will be channeled into the productive avenues.

(This is an interlude in the Government Myths series.)