No comfort should be taken from the results of the U.S. midterm election by the winners. (Well, they’re allowed to celebrate for a week). The pendulum that swung across the street at the last election, swung back in this one, now breaking the glass on the other side. Republicans and Democrats remain basically loyal to their brands, and remarkably equal in their numbers. The wrecking ball in this analogy consists almost entirely of Independents, who will continue to swing wildly from one election to another.
Make no mistake, I am not pretending to be a neutral commentator. (“Honest and objective” I try to be, but that is another thing.) My views would put me at the tea-bag end of the Republican party, a little to the right of Sarah Palin. I do not write this facetiously: you can’t shut down enough bureaucracies for me, and I would privatize and deregulate things that Sarah would never go near. And I, myself, derived a certain glee from watching Nancy Pelosi’s majority disintegrate beneath her in the House of Representatives. We speak of “glass ceilings,” but I also like to watch cracked floors.
Instead, I’m referring to the dynamic of the thing. I am, by no means, convinced the American electorate in the main “gets it,” or has the stomach for the Long March, from “Dubuque” to the Beltway.
What we have instead, so far as I can see into the results, is a hard 40 per cent who actually believe in the kind of “hope and change” President Barack Obama seemed to be offering (i.e. “social democracy,” a “mixed economy,” liberal activist judges, “Keynesian economics,” non-Newtonian ideas about gravity), and will vote for it again and again. They may have been disappointed when the seas ignored Obama’s instruction to stop rising, and some even grasp what is wrong with Obamacare. But they do want something like that, and will not give up wishing. This is the rock-solid Democrat base.
And we have another 40 per cent, with about the same range of commitment, but on the other side (i.e. “Christian democracy” in European terms, free markets, judges who follow the law, the need to pay debts, moral distinctions between up and down). This is the rock-solid Republican base, and the Tea Party more-or-less expresses what they’ve wanted all along, though most are characteristically willing to compromise on details.
The interesting thing here is the evolution in the views of these “party bases,” in relation to each other. Two generations ago, my description of the basic Republican attitudes would have applied to both sides, and in particular, both sides were consciously “bourgeois Christian.” Both would have subscribed to “American exceptionalism,” and, if anything, the Democrats were a little more aggressive in pushing American ideals; hence the war in Vietnam, etc.
But roughly since Kennedy, the Democrat constituency has progressively and (in historical terms) fairly rapidly de-Christianized, and into that religious void has grown Utopian and quite internationalist aspirations for “justice in this world.”
In crude proportions, this leaves 20 per cent of “Independents.” The views of these people cannot be characterized, because they really don’t have any. They aren’t political; for those who form any political interest at all immediately begin migrating to some place in the spectrum. The typical Independent is more like a genuine free agent, and the word that comes most easily to mind is “ditz.”
These are the people who were capable of voting for Obama two years ago, and for a deep draught of Tea this week. They can be swayed easily by the media, and by whatever else is in the breeze. Two things have made them especially volatile: the migration of the centre of gravity in the media away from the older mainstream networks into the new “social media” of the Internet. And, following partly from this, the smell of panic in the Democrat ranks.
The Democrats lost the election more than the Republicans won it. Strange, because Democrats themselves might agree with that, but for the wrong reason. Had they not been breaking ranks with Obama—as much to the left as to the right—and had the mainstream media that had been in the tank for Obama not similarly skittered—mostly left—the Independents might never have taken fright.
We often say the economy works on “confidence,” and I fear there is much truth in that. It is always possible to defy gravity for a while, though, in the end, defiance leaves you either floating in space or crashed back to earth. But politics, too, work on confidence, and had Obama and friends been supremely self-confident—had they not themselves been confused and uncertain about the degree of radicalism they were pursuing—they’d still be in control of the House.