How Long in the Wilderness?

Reflecting on Nancy Pelosi and the torture controversies, E.D. Kain makes the following prediction:

To me, Pelosi’s denial (and accusation against the CIA) lays bare a deeper truth about the Democrats.  Without Obama they’d be nearly as big a mess as the Republicans.  Most of them are complicit in the Bush torture program and the wars.  The party is almost headless without Obama – led by the fickle and hardly inspiring Reid/Pelosi duo.  After Obama, if conservatives learn anything over the next eight years – yes, I’m predicting it will be eight – unless the Democrats get some sort of order and discipline and more importantly, some grander vision, then I think the GOP should have no trouble at all coming in and cleaning up.

I have thought for a while that the Republicans will be out of power for a significant period of time, both because of the Bush administration’s failures, and because the current Republican attempts to rebuild (e.g. constant infighting, unconvincing narratives about the role of fiscal excesses in Bush’s unpopularity, rallying around Rush, and Michael Steele’s various embarrassments) seem woefully ill-suited to the current political environment. I still think E.D. overstates things considerably when he says that Republicans “should have no trouble at all coming in and cleaning up,” but the idea that Obama is a sui generis figure  is worth entertaining. The gap in charisma between Obama and Nancy Pelosi or Henry Reid, for instance, is substantial, and Obama is significantly more popular than many of his policies. Will the Democrats still look as relatively desirable once Obama is no longer the spokesperson of the party? And will Obama’s popularity wane significantly as his Presidency progresses?

Frankly, I wouldn’t mind seeing the party that brought us torture, Iraq, opposition to immigration reform, and a significant share of the financial crisis stay in the political wilderness a while longer. Incompetence should have consequences. But I haven’t been particulalry impressed by the Democratic leadership either, and I have serious concerns about President Obama’s SCOTUS nominations (no matter how empathetic). It’s interesting that both parties seem fairly rudderless at the moment. The Democrats’ main advantages are that they have a gifted and charismatic communicator in Barack Obama, and that they did not initiate the Iraq War. Neither of those advantages will be particularly helpful in 2016, and perhaps not even in 2012. I still think the GOP is likely to remain out of power for quite some time; voters will not forget the failures of the Bush years overnight, and there are serious problems with the GOP’s infrastructure and message (electorally and from a Catholic perspective). Nevertheless, as E.D. notes above,  the “fickle and hardly inspiring” Congressional Democratic leadership suggests a GOP revival may come sooner than expected. If so, I hope the revival does not involve torture, pre-emptive war, or end in a financial crisis.

26 Responses to How Long in the Wilderness?

  • John Henry,

    Frankly, I wouldn’t mind seeing the party that brought us torture, Iraq, opposition to immigration reform, and a significant share of the financial crisis stay in the political wilderness a while longer. Incompetence should have consequences.

    You’d prefer the party that brings us infanticide and federal funding of abortion and experimentation on tiny humans?

    Good grief.

  • Matt,

    My political opinions (which are still a work in progress) do not track well with either party, and, to the extent you think the post says I prefer Democrats, either I have been unclear or you misread the post. If I am more critical of Republicans, it is most likely because I voted Republican and was subsequently disappointed (to put it mildly) by Republican leadership.

  • JH,

    I recognize that, but you do know that we have a 2 party system, and expressing a preference for one party to remain out of power necessarily means the other will be in power.

    I’m sure most of us would chose a 3rd more Catholic option if one were presented, that’s just not reality. Given the circumstances, whatever it’s faults, one party is clearly superior to other.

  • The problem with the Republicans is that they couldn’t control their spending. It turns out that the Democrats are suffering from the same problem too. I guess, we are all suffering from the consumerist binge.

  • “How Long in the Wilderness?”

    2010. The failure of Obama both economically and in foreign policy is going to be on an epic scale.

  • The dynamic has changed too much to retain conventional wisdom on the parties’ political fortunes. The welfare state has expanded past the point of no return. Issues like marriage, abortion, family, etc. have brought us to the brink of having two civilizations that cannot coexist in the same territory. And now we’ve got a terrible recession.

    I don’t think there’s any way to analyze what happens in 2012 or later because there is too much social upheaval.

  • That’s an interesting point Steve; I agree that we are in uncharted territory simply because of the size of the debt we’ve taken on and the severe recession. As far as ‘culture war’ issues, I think they generally yield to economic concerns for a significant portion of the electorate(as they did this past November). I agree there is a lot of uncertainty, even a higher degree than usual because of the economy, but I also think the ‘social upheaval’ is fairly mild compared to, for instance, the mid-60’s through the mid-70’s.

  • How long the GOP or any party remains in the “wilderness” depends to some extent on where you are. If you live in a “red” state like Texas, the GOP never went into the wilderness. If you live in a “blue” state like Illinois or Massachusetts, the GOP may be in the wilderness at least as long as the Israelites were (40 years).

  • Elaine is right of course to some extent. On the state level it probably depends on how much the Federal taxpayer kicks in to save them. If the “progressive” states don’t continue to get bailouts they will be in collapse and see big gains for the opposition.

    On the federal level, 2010 will almost certainly see a surge by the Republicans, not necessarily to the majority, but hopefully enough to allow a block on the worst of Obama’s policies and nominees.

  • That’s a good point, Elaine/Matt. The South is the GOP’s base, and it is a fairly valuable electoral stronghold. I probably should have been clearer in the post, but I was referring to national politics, where the Democratic party is clearly in the ascendancy.

  • John Henry,

    Democratic party is clearly in the ascendancy.

    They have nowhere to go but down at this point, and they will, fall significantly in congress. National polls have already swung in the Republican’s favor or very close. Presidentially, a lot will have to happen to take Obama down in 2012 (and a lot may happen), so far he seems immune to paying the price for his errors and bad policies.

  • On the other hand, if Obama continues moving toward “Bushism”, he’s going to lose his base:

    Obama to Revamp Military Panels for Detainees

    This cracks me up. The looney left is going to be in a tizzy.

  • ps. more news about harsh crackdown on peace protesters. Worse yet the 2 protesters have a substance abuse problem (they carry around gasoline-filled bottles with rags stuffed in them, strictly for inhaling purposes).

    http://wcco.com/rnc/mckay.crowder.molotov.2.811139.html

  • And of course, there are smaller Dem or GOP strongholds at the regional, county and local levels. County-by-county electoral maps of the 2004 and 2008 elections show this pattern. On these maps, most states are varying shades of purple rather than solidly red or blue.

  • Matt and Elaine are on to something. The GOP’s national fortunes rely on its ability to do a better job on the local level. Even if you take a place like Maryland where I live, especially in Montgomery county, there’s no reason the GOP should have absolutely no voice here. It comes down to local recruitment and just hitting the pavements, making small waves that reverberate at a national level.

    The national focus of the party is really a problem, both philosophically and practically. The absurdity of the Florida situation is just such an example. You have a popular sitting governor deciding that he has to make his splash in DC and run for the Senate, a move that has completely upset the applecart in one of the few states with a successful state Republican party. The NRSC of course had to throw fuel on the fire. It’s like the national GOP can’t get out of its own way (with moves like trying to brand the Democrats as the Democratic Socialist Party at RNC meetings just another example).

  • As far as ‘culture war’ issues, I think they generally yield to economic concerns for a significant portion of the electorate(as they did this past November). I agree there is a lot of uncertainty, even a higher degree than usual because of the economy, but I also think the ’social upheaval’ is fairly mild compared to, for instance, the mid-60’s through the mid-70’s.

    I agree that this is true. The reason I bring them up in this situation is threefold:

    1. The direction our country is heading with respect to the culture war issues (abortion, marriage, fornication, adultery, pornography, etc.) indicates a societal addiction to sex. Even if it’s not reflected in exit polls, this will drive election results.
    2. Are we on the brink of massive divine retribution for our culture of abortion, fornication, adultery, pornography, etc. as Father Corapi believes? I really don’t know, but this would drive circumstances that would affect future elections in ways we can’t anticipate.
    3. Even if we do not experience a direct divine chastisement, there is no question we will suffer the consequences of dismissing natural law. This will absolutely drive entitlement spending. Something has to give here, and nobody knows what it will be.

    <<<<<<>>>>>>

    [ed. Steve - I inserted in italics the comment you were responding to for clarification. Hope that helps. JH]

  • Tip O’Neill, Democratic House Speaker during the Reagan years, said that “all politics is local.” Both parties forget this at their peril.

    Democrats have made significant gains in suburban areas (I’m thinking of suburban Chicago though I’m sure there are other examples) by concentrating on local races. Republicans need to do the same. If the GOP can win back city councils, county boards, state legislative seats, etc. — particularly in the suburbs — then maybe, eventually, the governor’s mansions, Congress and White House will take care of themselves.

  • One way to alleviate the problem Paul refers to (too much party focus on the national level to the detriment of state and local races) would be to allot presidential electoral votes by congressional district rather than on a statewide winner-take-all basis.

    If this were done in states like Illinois or New York that are dominated by highly populated and predominantly Democratic metropolitan areas, it would allow the downstate/upstate/rural residents (who include many GOP voters) to have some effect on the outcome of a presidential election, whereas now they have none.

    Combine that with a move toward computerized Congressional redistricting (now being done in Iowa) in place of blatant gerrymandering to protect incumbents, and national races would become a heck of a lot more competitive.

  • Elaine,

    proportionality is a terrible idea and is not consistent with the intent of the constitution (electoral reps chosen by the state, not by the district).

    It’s a bad idea because it concentrates electoral power in the largest centers principally in NY and LA. You see, in each state there are districts which always go one way or the other, and districts which swing. The current system requires candidates to show interest in small and large states, and all districts in those states. If proportionality (by district or by % of state) was in place, the smaller states with dispersed population would be ignored because the difference between a win and a draw in those states would only swing 1 or 2 electoral votes, whereas a strong win in NYC and California swings many more electoral votes.

  • As for Steve-O’s idea that “massive divine retribution” would affect the outcome of future elections… perhaps we can glimpse a small-scale example of how such change would look in post-Katrina Louisiana. (Of course, I am not saying that Katrina was necessarily massive divine retribution for anything, but you get the drift).

    One of the reasons strong, pro-life, reformist GOP figures like Bobby Jindal and the GOP successor to scandal-ridden Congressman William Jefferson (sorry I can’t recall his name right now) were able to get elected in Louisiana is because hundreds of thousands of New Orleans residents left the state and never came back after Katrina — and they took hundreds of thousands of usually reliable Democratic votes with them.

  • Ah, Matt, but the Constitution leaves it up to states to decide HOW they will allot their electoral votes. (The district system was used in many states prior to the Civil War, by the way.) And the current system doesn’t encourage interest in “small and large states”; it encourages interest only in perceived “swing” states while states that are solidly red or blue are ignored.

    It also means that if, say, a Democratic presidential candidate won NY, CA, FL, IL, and a few other large states by a fraction of a percentage point, while losing many other smaller states by a landslide, and even losing the overall popular vote, he or she would still win the election.

    And furthermore, it disenfranchises people like me (a downstate Illinois resident who votes GOP most of the time). Yes, I voted, and I voted for McCain (with some reservations) out of a sense of duty and aversion to Obama’s anti-life views. However, I knew darn well it wasn’t going to make any difference since Obama had Chicago in the bag, and with it, all of Illinois’ electoral votes. With a congressional district system, however, my vote might have actually meant something since I live (just barely) in a Republican district (now represented by Cong. Aaron Schock.)

  • Elaine,

    yes, of course and each state should have the right to apportion it’s electoral college if it’s foolish enough to do so.

    Granted that your vote in the election doesn’t influence the result, but then again if you’re in a strongly Red or Blue district, it still doesn’t count so you’re in the same boat there. Obama is unlikely to spend a lot of time in your district anyway, because he can hit all the Chicago districts in 1 day, and send a few hundred million there in pork to secure it, vs. campaigning all over the state, and spreading is pork money thin.

    The true landslides you’re talking about, where one party would not win any of the districts in a number of states are incredibly rare and even more rarely would that party be able to win a substantial majority in enough states to win the election. The reality is we are just not that disproportionately divided by party in any region.

  • I wouldn’t call a proportional electoral vote “foolish”, just different.

    No matter how we slice the electoral vote system, we are going to at least occasionally end up with presidents that win the electoral vote while losing the popular vote, and who ignore smaller states — unless we go to the proposed electoral compact system that guarantees an electoral victory to the winner of the national popular vote. However, that too has its problems and would only aggravate the problem you refer to (elections being decided in big states with big metro areas.)

    For the proportional electoral vote system to really work in terms of making elections more competitive would require a drastic change in how congressional districts are drawn, and of course, an end to gerrymandering districts so they are dominated by one party or the other.

    Otherwise, the only way for pro-lifers or conservative Republicans to make a difference at the national level would be for them all to move to red states and boost their electoral vote count.

    As distressed as I am by the current state of affairs in Illinois, I don’t plan on moving, partly because I’m not really into hurricanes, kudzu, fire ants, tumbleweeds, wildfires, decade-long droughts, or year-round air conditioning. I’ll wait for global warming to bring them to me instead :-)

    In the meantime I’ll put up with the tornadoes and blizzards and continue to work and pray for the reform of our state, which as I’ve said before, is a long-term project on par with praying for the conversion of Russia.

  • Elaine Krewer,
    I wouldn’t call a proportional electoral vote “foolish”, just different.

    What I mean is, that it would be completely foolhardy for any state to diminish their importance in the electoral process by being proportional while all or the majority of states are “all or nothing”.

    No matter how we slice the electoral vote system, we are going to at least occasionally end up with presidents that win the electoral vote while losing the popular vote, and who ignore smaller states — unless we go to the proposed electoral compact system that guarantees an electoral victory to the winner of the national popular vote. However, that too has its problems and would only aggravate the problem you refer to (elections being decided in big states with big metro areas.)

    Which is precisely why the founders did not chose direct election. There is no issue having popular vote losers being selected, it’s perfectly acceptable in a republican democracy.

    Otherwise, the only way for pro-lifers or conservative Republicans to make a difference at the national level would be for them all to move to red states and boost their electoral vote count.

    I don’t understand what you’re talking about. Republicans have made a difference at the national level over the course of the last 40 years. The battle has shifted back and forth, but it is not helpless even under the current system. No need to move to a red state though. Even in the blue states, conservatives out reproduce liberals, and the red states all grow while the blue states shrink due to fertility levels and taxes.

    If you want to talk about effective reform… look at restoring the proper balance between state and federal powers… eliminate the direct election of senators.

  • I probably should have specified that my support of a proportional electoral vote system is based on it being implemented nationwide for all states at the same time (so that no states are unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged).

    I’m all for promoting a proper balance between state and federal power, but I’m not so sure eliminating direct election of Senators would do that. Do we really want to go back to having state legislatures pick Senators?

    That system is what allowed Stephen Douglas (pro-choice on slavery) to beat out Abe Lincoln for the Illinois Senate seat they were competing for when they held their famous 1858 debates. It led to dozens of accusations of bribery or other corruption against prospective Senators believed to have “bought” their seats. Legislative deadlocks also left many states without Senators for long periods in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

  • The part of the 17th Amendment that really needs to be scrapped is the provision that allows governors to fill Senate vacancies by appointment — the provision that gave us Roland “Tombstone” Burris. I wouldn’t have a problem with legislatures choosing interim or temporary Senators, particularly in cases where 2 years or less are left in a departed Senator’s term.

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