Free Markets, Free People
Dave Barry takes a humorous look at 2010 and finds it was the worst year ever – well except that year during the Cretaceous Period when an asteroid hit the Earth wiping out 75% of the planet’s living things. But other than that …
Heh. Barry, in his own way, does point out that for most everything that happened in 2010, the political leadership seemed clueless as to how to handle it. For instance, the BP oil spill:
Time and again, top political leaders personally flew down to the Gulf of Mexico to look at the situation firsthand and hold press availabilities. And yet somehow, despite these efforts, the oil continued to leak. This forced us to face the disturbing truth that even top policy thinkers with postgraduate degrees from Harvard University — Harvard University! — could not stop it.
Now certainly that’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, but in fact, our “top policy thinkers” accepted the job of stopping the leak (or at least they claimed it was their job) and then, unsurprisingly, were unable to do anything about it. Call it a metaphor for the expansion of government in areas it has no business.
But how about those in which it supposedly does have business or has at least been conducting business for quite some time – such as the economy:
But by then our faith in our leaders had been shaken, especially because they also seemed to have no idea of what to do about this pesky recession. Congress tried every remedy it knows, ranging all the way from borrowing money from China and spending it on government programs, to borrowing MORE money from China and spending it on government programs. But in the end, all of this stimulus created few actual jobs, and most of those were in the field of tar-ball collecting.
Clueless again. I spot a trend. And it didn’t get any better in foreign affairs:
North Korea continued to show why it is known as "the international equivalent of Charlie Sheen." The entire nation of Greece went into foreclosure and had to move out; it is now living with relatives in Bulgaria. Iran continued to develop nuclear weapons, all the while insisting that they would be used only for peaceful scientific research, such as — to quote President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — "seeing what happens when you drop one on Israel."
Barry’s fisking of the political year is quite pointed and demonstrates, with his own brand of humor, what we were saying all year. For instance:
[January] which begins grimly, with the pesky unemployment rate remaining high. Every poll shows that the major concerns of the American people are federal spending, the exploding deficit, and — above all — jobs. Jobs, jobs, jobs: This is what the public is worried about. In a word, the big issue is: jobs. So the Obama administration, displaying the keen awareness that has become its trademark, decides to focus like a laser on: health-care reform.
Read the whole thing. It is a pretty good indictment of how inept, misguided and clueless the current leadership has been. It is the recurring theme and it has a recurring theme as well:
In U.S. politics, President Obama, responding to the mounting public concern about jobs, invites Democratic and Republican congressional leaders to the White House for a historic day-long summit on: health-care reform.
To include November:
[November] the elections turn out to be a bloodbath for the Democrats, who lose the House of Representatives, a bunch of Senate seats, some governorships, some state legislatures and all of the key student council races. Also, a number of long-term Democratic incumbents are urinated on by their own dogs. Obama immediately departs for a nine-day trip to Asia to see if anybody over there wants to hear about the benefits of health-care reform.
Barry’s humorous retrospective on the year not withstanding, he demonstrates something very important to be remembered as 2012 approaches. When people go to the polls that year, and assuming President Obama is indeed the Democratic candidate, he’ll be forced to do something he’s never had to do.
Run on a record.
If Barry’s recounting is any indication, it isn’t a shining one.
There is a lot of analysis going on about Obama’s first year and why, it seems, his job approval numbers are so dismal. And why, given the promise he brought to the White House, at least according to the PR faithfully pushed by his campaign, are Democrats looking at the possibility of large net losses in both houses of Congress?
The first hints of the dissatisfaction of the electorate came in the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races where Republicans won – in VA handily. The Democrats claimed their candidate there ran a lack luster campaign and it wasn’t at all a referendum on the Obama administration and the Democratic agenda. But now, the very same thing is happening in Massachusetts with an unknown GOP state legislator giving the Democratic candidate for the “Ted Kennedy” seat, a run for her money (and, in the latest poll, up by 4 points over the Democrat).
Is this too the result of just a lackluster campaign and a poor candidate? Certainly a case can be made for that – except in this case, it is reliably and overwhelmingly Democratic Massachusetts. It doesn’t work quite as well there as it might in VA. It is beginning to sound like a bit of whistling past the graveyard.
In fact, as with VA, it is a reflection of some deep-seated dissatisfaction with Democrats in Congress and yes, with Obama as well. Charlie Cook nails the problem today in his analysis of why the Democrats are in such deep electoral trouble:
Honorable and intelligent people can disagree over the substance and details of what President Obama and congressional Democrats are trying to do on health care reform and climate change. But nearly a year after Obama’s inauguration, judging by where the Democrats stand today, it’s clear that they have made a colossal miscalculation.
The latest unemployment and housing numbers underscore the folly of their decision to pay so much attention to health care and climate change instead of focusing on the economy “like a laser beam,” as President Clinton pledged to do during his 1992 campaign. Although no one can fairly accuse Obama and his party’s leaders of ignoring the economy, they certainly haven’t focused on it like a laser beam.
Cook is actually minimizing the problem somewhat. In fact, Obama and his party leaders have given little but lip service to the economy, unemployment and job creation while they’ve spent enormous time on agenda items which mean very little to a country suffering the depth of joblessness and economic hardship now prevalent. Add to that their extremely obnoxious handling of what they have focused on, the blatant partisanship in which they’ve conducted their “business” and the total lack of transparency in that process and you have a pretty toxic picture painted of Democrats in general.
Why, then, did Obama’s promise fail to materialize in his administration – at least in the first year? Well there are many reasons. Among them is a rookie politician (Obama) who got rolled by an experienced Democratic leadership that saw a small and closing window of opportunity to pass huge social welfare agenda items that had repeatedly failed in the past and chose to tackle them while ignoring the obvious elephant in the room. My guess is they miscalculated in more than just the way Cook contends. With their majorities, I’m sure they thought they could quickly put these bills together and pass them, leaving plenty of time to work on the economy. But, of course, given the diversity of opinion and interests even among Democrats, that wasn’t the case. It has dragged into the new year while work on the economy has been essentially non-existent (they threw a $787 billion pork bill out there and called it “stimulus”, figuring their usual panacea – throwing money at a problem – would work. Unsurprisingly, it hasn’t).
Voters are mad about that. Rightly or wrongly, they blame the government for what does or doesn’t happen on their watch economically. For the most part, government can best affect the economy by making it easier for markets to expand and create jobs – tax cuts, less regulation, etc. Spending rarely sets up the conditions to do that. But regardless, of what action the government takes, voters expect the economy to be the absolute focus of government in times of economic crisis.
That has not been the case at all with this administration or Congress. And, it appears, they’re going to pay a huge price for that in 2010 and possibly 2012. What was a bright Democratic future less than a year ago has now become a scouting trip for a good place in the “wilderness” for Dems. If, as many economists expect, unemployment remains at 9% through 2012, we may be reading the obligatory columns about the “Death of the Democratic Party”. And while Obama’s personal popularity may remain high (while his job approval numbers tank), that doesn’t mean such perceived economic negligence will be rewarded with a second term.
That scene is incredibly muddled and getting more muddled every day. In some ways, such as the Democrat retirements, it reminds me of the political atmosphere of 1994. Charlie Cook, who knows Democrats and their electoral chances, pretty much writes the Democratic Senatorial majority off as a dead loss after 2010:
Come November, Senate Democrats’ 60-vote supermajority is toast. It is difficult, if not impossible, to see how Democrats could lose the Senate this year. But they have a 50-50 chance of ending up with fewer than 55 seats in the next Congress.
When the Republican in the race for Teddy Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts is competitive, you know the electoral landscape has changed and just about anything is possible.
Of course, in terms of divided government, that’s very good news. The fact that it is Republicans, who for the most part, still don’t seem to have a clue, not so much. Of course that obviously depends on who the Republicans end up running, or winning, those seats. Florida’s race between Crist and Rubio is a good example. Crist is the moderate establishment (business as usual, McCain type Republican) while Rubio is more of the Tea Party conservative.
And it is there that the establishment Republican party seems to be missing the boat – again. After a sweeping victory by Barack Obama and the Democrats, the Republicans quite naturally tried to do a little soul searching and, for whatever reason, came to believe that their problem was they didn’t appeal to enough moderates. Yet in the year that has passed since the Obama administration has been in office and the Congress with prohibitive Democratic majorities has been wreaking its havoc, independents, who establishment Republicans choose to characterize as “moderates”, have been abandoning the Democrats in staggering numbers. And they’re looking for a place to go.
Why are they abandoning the Democrats? Because they bought into a myth a compliant and noncritical media aided and abetted concerning the new administration and now they’re seeing the radical truth. And they don’t like it.
However, what they don’t want is a merely less radical replacement. Democrat lite. What independents are in the middle of doing is rejecting, in toto, the Democratic agenda. Rasmussen and others have been providing these clues for months. In the latest Rasmussen poll:
With Democrats in majority control of both the House and Senate, it’s not surprising to find that 79% of Republicans are not confident that their congressional representatives are actually presenting their best interests, but 74% of voters not affiliated with either party agree. Democratic voters are evenly divided on the question.
74% of voters “not affiliated with either party agree” that their Congressional Rep (obviously that includes some Republicans) is not actually representing their best interests. Now that could be for any number of reasons, but on thing for certain, if 74% aren’t happy with their Rep, I’d guess they’re not happy with what the establishment Republicans are selling either.
Enter the Tea Partiers. First written off as brownshirts, angry whites, red-necks, un-American, ‘teabaggers’ and any other pejorative the left-wing thought it could get away with, the movement has grown into a political force. But make no mistake about it – it’s a populist movement. Regardless it has, to a large degree, managed to tap into this unhappiness with what is going on in Washington and give it some structure.
And what continues to astound me is the establishment Republicans seem to think that they “own” the movement – that when push comes to shove, this group will fall in line and vote for them.
There is going to be a war between the Teapartiers and the establishment Republican party. The Teapartiers don’t necessarily support or even like many of the establishment Republicans. As a result that war is going to be waged in primaries. And much like it was on the left (Lamont/Lieberman) it is a war for the soul of that party. Establishment Republicans really don’t seem to understand that – yet. So we see stories like this one where the establishment party is said to have “soured” on Sarah Palin. Love her or hate her, she represents as well as anyone, the populist nature of the movement that the Republicans don’t seem to yet understand. Add the stupidity of the leadership and the visible infighting within the establishment wing of the party, and you hold little hope that they will wake up in time to smell the roses and figure out the formula for electoral success.
Where’s this all headed? To more polarized politics, if that is possible, with the sides much more differentiated – if the Teapartiers get their way. Republicans are going to be moved in a much more conservative direction, come hell or high water, if they want Tea Party support. And the Tea Party movement is going to attract (has attracted?) enough of the independent voters to make the electoral difference.
Conventional wisdom says the electorally successful win by appealing to their base, picking off enough independents to make the difference and then governing from the center. I don’t think that CW is valid anymore. It appears that the public has finally had the scales removed from their eyes with the present administration. The premise that a centrist government is what America wants has been overcome by events. Those events, products of that centrism, have given us the state of affairs with which we’re now afflicted – a welfare state with huge deficits, a debased currency and a behemoth government that is out-of-control. Listen closely to those who spoke up at the summer town halls. It wasn’t just about Democrats and Republicans, folks – it was about the direction of the country and the realization that both parties had participated in creating the horrendous mess we now enjoy.
All of that to say that CW is ready to be turned on its head and, in fact, people (to include independents) are demanding action to roll back government and reduce spending. That should be right in the Republican’s wheel house. Yet instead of really talking their supposed principles and actions to accomplish them, establishment Republicans still insist that it is more important to ensure they have a “big tent”. That is a complete sell out of their principles. The “tent” is established by those principles. What Republicans have to do is fashion a message that makes that tent attractive and brings people to them. That’s what will make it “big”. Compromising their principles to fill the tent is a sure way to lose – and that’s precisely what they’ve proven over the last few elections.
Politically, 2010 is going to be a very interesting year to watch. For libertarians, the best hope is divided government and a Republican party that rediscovers its primary principles and decides to live up to them. I think we’ll get the divided government. However, my concern is the midterms will see enough Republicans elected, despite themselves and their lack of a principled stand, that the important message about principles will continue to be lost on them – again. That will result in a Senate not much different than we have now, where compromise and collegiality are more important than principle and the people. That means big government, more spending and more deficit. And that means Republicans will remain the minority party and out of the White House in 2012.
I spoke with Tom Campbell for over 45 minutes on a range of topics, and I’ve split my posts on that discussion into two posts, one here and one over at The Next Right. Here at QandO, I’m going to cover the more policy-oriented topics, and over at The Next Right the topics have to do with new media, elections, and the politics of fiscal conservative governance.
It pains me to see my native California in such dire straits. The state is broke, farms are collapsing, and unemployment is over 12 percent. The public colleges that might help retrain a lot of those workers are slashing classes.
The tax and regulatory burden has finally overcome the state’s many natural advantages, leading its citizens to abandon the Golden State. And these are people who can’t be having an easy time selling their homes: California, one of the first to suffer in the real estate collapse, is still near the top of the heap in foreclosures.
California, as we say, has issues. I talked with Tom Campbell about some of the most important ones: the budget deficit, jobs, health care, education, water and infrastructure.
Charlie Cook, one of the most respected of the political prognosticators, continues to sound the alarm for Congressional Democrats. Since August, Cook has been telling them they’re headed for electoral disaster in the 2010 midterms if they don’t change their ways.
Most of the erosion of support has taken place among independents. Although the country still seems willing to give President Obama the benefit of the doubt, at latest for the time being, they’re not willing to extend that to Congress. The threat to the Democratic majority in the House, unsurprisingly, comes in the districts of the Blue Dogs:
I am becoming convinced, based on this and other research, that although many independent voters are disappointed in specific things that Obama has done, they still hope that he will do well and believe that he might. To be sure, red America has already given Obama the thumbs down. And blue America just wishes he would be more liberal. But it’s purple America, the independents who voted for Democrats in the 2006 midterm election by an 18-point margin, that makes the biggest difference right now. Most House Democrats live in blue America and show little awareness that their party has a problem. However, the Democrats’ majority is built on a layer of 54 seats that the party picked up in 2006 and 2008 that are largely in purple — or even red — America. Democrats ought to keep in mind that 84 of their current House members represent districts won by President Bush in 2004 or John McCain in 2008.
A whopping 48 of those Democrats — eight more than the size of their party’s majority — are from districts that voted for both Bush and McCain. That America is very different from the Democratic base in blue America, and it sees many major issues very differently.
Two things to note – as Cook notes, the number of Blue Dog districts comprise more than the Democratic majority in the House. If independents continue to desert Democrats in the numbers they have, it is not at all inconceivable that they could lose every one of those districts (all of which voted for Bush and McCain).
Secondly, the other point to understand is the leadership comes from the “blue” side of the tracks – safe blue districts – consequently they’re most likely not going to back off on their more liberal agenda (Pelosi’s claim that the health care bill will not pass the House without a “public option” being a perfect example). That could end up mortally wounding Democrats chances in those 84 districts that are traditionally red districts – enough so the Republicans regain the majority.
The political tea leaves continue to point to trouble from Democrats as well:
The 17-point advantage that Democrats enjoyed in the January Gallup Poll (when “leaners” were included) shrank to 5 points in August. Their edge on the generic congressional ballot test has vanished, according to most national polls. For three years, Democrats enjoyed high single-digit or low double-digit leads on this question — a very good indicator of which direction (and how hard) the political winds are blowing as a congressional election nears.
Of course the question is “can Democrats recover before November, 2010?”
What we are seeing is an electorate growing just as disgusted with the Democratic majority as it did with the Republican one in 2006. The mounting ethics problems of House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., combined with ongoing allegations about House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha, D-Pa., and others on his panel threaten to make matters still worse for their party.
Despite Nancy Pelosi’s promises to have the “most ethical Congress ever” when Democrats were swept into the majority in Congress, she’s shown no stomach for actually taking on the tough ethical problems the House Democrats face. Cook is implying that unless they do (and they won’t), that combined with their agenda and the growing disgust among independents with both, could doom their chances of maintaining their majorities in 2010 (much less likely in the Senate, but the Democratic majority may be much less than at present by the end of election night).
Some Democrats are beginning to see the possibility of such an occurrence. Joe Biden said recently that the agenda the administration is pursuing is over if Republicans win in 2010.
We can only hope Cook is correct – mixed government would be a God send given this president.
It would be the perfect ending to Specter’s desperate attempt to hold on to his office by switching parties. TPM is reporting:
Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) is privately telling supporters that he intends to run for Senate, TPMDC has confirmed.
“He intends to get in the race,” says Meg Infantino, the Congressman’s sister, who works at Sestak for Congress. “In the not too distant future, he will sit down with his wife and daughter to make the final decision.”
The move would constitute a primary challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA), who intends to run for re-election in 2010, after having switched parties earlier this year.
Sestak is a retired Navy Admiral in a time when that’s a very good thing to be, especially if your primary opponent is Arlen Specter. I have no idea how a state wide race would shape up for the two sides, but in a Democratic primary I can’t help but believe Sestak would trounce Specter. And deservedly so. Everything I’m reading is PA Dems are having a very hard time warming up to Specter. Think about it, how can you take seriously a guy who switched parties simply because he knew he’d get killed in a Republican primary and claimed he never promised to be “a good Democrat?”