September 1, 2010

POLLING: Bad news for Democrats: Ohio voters long for Bush. Yeah, with every passing day the Bush Era is looking more and more like a golden age . . . .

Related: Why is it even close in West Virginia? Two words: ‘Barack Obama.’

“Miss Me Yet?”

UPDATE: A reader sends this “Don’t Get Cocky” advice. It’s worth reading.

A Plea From A Moderate Republican

The chest-thumping that is prevalent today among conservative pundits is justified by polling data that seems to spell doom for the Democrats in November. Still, I can’t help but feel like I’m having déjà vu. And you know what they say about those who don’t learn from history.

In the last few years of the Bush administration, the President’s poll numbers crept ever downward. Democrats in politics and the press rejoiced that Americans were finally “waking up” to the fact that they had been right about Bushitler all along. They boasted loud and often that Republicans were losing the country because of their unpopular decisions to go to war in Iraq, establish new national security protocols, lobby for Social Security reform, stress border security, etc. Liberals started at the ideological position that those policies were immoral (if not illegal), and when Bush’s poll numbers dropped, they inferred causality. It never occurred to them that Bush’s poll numbers were dropping because many on the right didn’t think his policies went far enough. Conservatives wanted him to put more emphasis on border security, not less; they wanted to see a more aggressive approach to entitlement reform, not a Medicare prescription boondoggle; they wanted a comprehensive immigration solution that started with border security first, not blanket amnesty. The list could go on. The left, especially liberal journalists, just assumed that their criticisms of the right were being validated by the greater populace with each and every poll. It was wrong at the time, and it’s the main reason that so many of them today can’t understand what happened to their “mandate.”

Conservatives are making the same mistakes right now.

Obama’s poll numbers are dropping and more people than ever are self-identifying as Republicans. Naturally, conservatives believe this means that the public has finally “woken up” and decided that Obama and the Democrats are closet socialists hell-bent on “eroding the bedrock of American prosperity.” They started at the ideological position that the stimulus was a mistake, that health care reform was an overreach, , that the auto industry bailouts were a disaster, that we have to win in Afghanistan at all costs, etc. Every time Obama’s approval rating drops another point, they infer validation that more and more people are seeing the light. It doesn’t occur to them that his poll number are (among other reasons) dropping because liberals are angry that Obama/Reid/Pelosi haven’t worked harder to advance the progressive agenda. Liberals disapprove of the fact that that Obama settled for Obamacare instead of embracing a true, single-payer system; because they watered down financial oversight instead of going for the corporate jugular; because they escalated the war in Afghanistan instead of forcing the new government to sink or swim on its own. The list could go on.

You’re probably asking, “What about independents identifying as Republican? That’s true validation, right?” My answer would be, where else are Independents supposed to go? Their affiliation shift is a protest, and a fickle one at that. Right now, people are unhappy with the present course, specifically when it comes to national fiscal policy. If Republicans make great gains in the November elections, which it seems like they will, they need to govern with perspective and humility. If they mistake their electoral success for a “mandate” to challenge social norms, they’ll be swept out of office again soon. Ironically, the loss of independents from the Republican coalition over the next couple of years would probably provide the boost Obama needs to win reelection in 2012.

If in two years, conservatives are scratching their heads and saying, “What happened to our movement,” they’ll have only themselves to blame.

Humility and perspective are the most underrated commodities in modern politics. Just because people are trending Republican at the moment, it doesn’t mean that they’re particularly conservative. Every time I read a story about how the conservative death knell was greatly exaggerated in 2006 and 2008, or how independents are finally coming back into the conservative fold, I feel like there’s no doubt the right will screw this up again. Conservatism isn’t really back in vogue. Anti-incumbency is. And it will be again when the Republicans are back in charge. You know, déjà vu and all that.

Yes, the polls are proof that the public doesn’t like what Obama and the Congressional Democrats are doing. It would be a grave mistake to interpret it as love for the Republicans. That love must be earned, if it is to exist at all.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Jeff Techentin writes:

I don’t disagree with the empirical points your reader makes. However, the danger for Republicans is the same as it always has been: that in office, they begin to act indistinguishably from Democrats. Thus I think this election cycle presents a unique opportunity, one where Republicans could elect a number of representatives who pay more than lipservice to limited government, who believe that the notion of restoring power to the people who have ceded it to the government is a meaningful one, and who are unwilling to “give to get” with other people’s money. There isn’t just a groundswell against what Obama and the congressional Democrats have done, there’s a growing sense that we have to change the way things are done from the bottom up.

Electing folks who’ve been baptized in the tea party movement is the only way for the GOP to sustain itself as a political party. If the “job” our Congress is to perform is to dole out goodies to the public, you might as well hire Democrats to do it, since they’ll do with with élan and panache. Why bother having a GOP at all, when its only role is to be the one to complain petulantly about the particularities of the largesse? Democrats can do that just fine, too.

Better to have a real alternative, a group that would be devoted to allowing people to pursue their own happiness rather than living on the indulgences of their neighbors, and to enjoy that happiness once they’ve achieved it. Will it sustain a majority beyond this election cycle? I can’t begin to predict. But I’d like to see it try.

And reader David Gulliver comments:

The primary difference between 2006 and 2010 is that more Americans self identify as “conservative” than “liberal” and have for many years. It is not about party. It is about philosophy. I believe 2006 was correctly the result of conservatives giving up on the Republican Party. However, I do not think for a moment that 2010 will be about liberals giving up on the Democratic Party.

Go back to 1994: the Clintons and the Democratic Congress were moving full steam with a liberal agenda. Conservatives, not Republicans, revolted. Clinton triangulated and spent his final 6 years as a moderate. There was no mass defection of the liberal base from the Democratic Party. The most absolutely disenfranchised liberals who voted for Nader were a small percentage of the vote – granted, it was enough to make Bush v Gore happen, but that 5% of fringe voters exists almost every election year and was more a reflection of Bush and Gore themselves than of the conservative vs liberal split.

The reality is that America wants conservatives – and Republicans will win or lose based on how well they fill that role.

Stay tuned. And reader George Bednekoff emails:

I believe that the federal system allows Americans across the political spectrum to get along in a politically diverse country, but only if the size and role of government is relatively small at the national level. With more government functions at the state and local level, voters in different regions can agree to disagree. As an example, Massachusetts chose to have lots of government intervention in their medical insurance market and their choice has very little impact on my life in Texas. However, expand similar government intervention in health insurance to the national level, Obamacare, and political debate is elevated to 1850s level of divisiveness. A Republican congressional majority could help turn down the heat of American politics if they resist the urge to make a federal case of everything. They need to learn from their mistakes in the Terri Schiavo case, No Child Left Behind, TSA stupidity, the TARP bailout slush fund, and reckless earmarking.

Indeed.

MORE: Reader Michael Kennedy writes:

Glenn, one short comment. A lot of us over the years thought that, if the country ever actually got a taste of what leftist rule was like, it would scare the wits out of them. The trouble was that nobody would run such a risk in spite of the grumbling about RINOs and all. Then, it happened !

We were right. Now, maybe we can keep the GOP honest with tea party people on the local committees.

Let’s hope.

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