“History may not repeat itself, but it rhymes a lot.” Attributed to Mark Twain although it cannot be found in his writings. Looking at the 2012 election I am struck by how much it reminds me of the 2004 election. The Democrats that year were as confident of victory as we Republicans were this year. Bush derangement syndrome was in full bloom among the Democrats as it had been since the battle over Florida’s electoral votes, and the Iraq war, which the Democrats increasingly opposed as the insurgency went on, added to their Bush hatred. Bush presided over an infinitely better economy than Obama in 2012 but the public was increasingly uneasy about Iraq as the insurgency went on and the casualty lists grew.
Democrat confidence rested upon their erroneous assumption that the wider public largely shared, to some degree, the antipathy they felt for Bush. Additionally, with Gore having won the popular vote in 2000, it was assumed that Bush would not be that hard to beat. John F. Kerry, a Massachusetts liberal Senator, was not a particularly inspiring nominee, but he kept close to Bush in the polls, occasionally taking the lead, and performed well in the debates in which Bush seemed somewhat tongue-tied and tired. Election day closed with the Democrats gleefully examining exit polls which predicted a sweeping Kerry victory. Alas for the Democrats it was not to be, as Bush, with the assistance of a good GOTV operation in Ohio, amassed a popular vote victory over Kerry by 2.4% and an electoral vote total of 286. The Republicans padded their Senate majority with a total of 55 Republican senators at the end of the election and gained three seats in the House for a total of 232.
The Democrats were devastated and disheartened by their loss, and a good deal of hogwash was written as to how the Republican party was the predominant party for the foreseeable future. (Indeed, I wrote some of the hogwash myself!) Two years later the Republicans lost both the House and the Senate, and shell-shocked Republicans were left wondering what had happened as the Democrats came roaring back into power.
Well what happened is what normally happens in American politics: the political pendulum swung propelled by events. The public increasingly became disenchanted with the war in Iraq, and , to a lesser extent, with the war in Afghanistan. The Republicans were badly hurt by some corruption and sexual scandals. President Bush seemed increasingly to be unable to come up with new policies to end the wars in the Middle East and to address problems that were beginning to surface in the economy. The typical second term malaise of most presidential administrations marked the second Bush term almost from the outset.
Today, in the wake of a presidential election where the margin of victory in the popular vote is 2.4%, requiems are being sung for the Republican party that also suffered humiliating losses in the Senate, although they retained a substantial majority in the House, losing only about six seats. President Obama presides over a bad economy that gives no signs of much improvement and an ever closer fiscal disaster. The Democrats are rejoicing now and the Republicans are weeping. We will see if their roles are reversed in 2014. Time perhaps to recall what I wrote after the dramatic Republican victories in 2010:
“The Republican party had a very good election last night, and the Democrats had a very bad election. The Republicans took control of the House and have gained approximately 60 seats with around 13 still to be decided. The House will be more pro-life than at any time in our nation’s history since Roe v. Wade in 1973. In the Senate the Republicans have gained approximately 6 seats with around 3 still to be decided. The Republicans have gained at least seven governorships with a few to be decided, and at least 17 state legislative chambers have flipped to the GOP. By any standards it was a great night for the GOP, and a vote of no confidence in both the Obama administration and the Democrat Congress. It would be tempting to predict only triumph now for the Republicans and only doom for the Democrats in the future, but it is a temptation to be resisted.
After the 2008 elections many on the Left, giddy with victory, predicted that in future the Republican party would be only a rump party of the South, doomed to wander in the political wilderness for 40 years. Typical of this commentary was a piece written by frequent commenter Morning’s Minion:
For look at what the Republican party has become in recent years: a rump party of the south and the plains, mired in an anachronistic culture that has little resonance with the modern world and with the younger generation.
Of course this commentary betrayed a fundamental misunderstanding of American political history. In that history there are no final victories and no final defeats. The great issue in contention since the days of the Federalists and the Republicans, the role of government in the lives of a free people, has remained with us no matter what names the two parties call themselves. When a party dies, the Whig party for instance, a new party steps forward to carry on the fight. The parties themselves shift and change, but the large issues involved tend, at bottom, to remain the same. Kipling wrote long ago:
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same;
That is sound advice in American politics, no matter if an election is good for your party or bad for your party.”