October 26, 2010


Would He Rather Fight Than Switch?: If President Obama faces a Republican House, he will have two models to choose between: Harry Truman and Bill Clinton. (Jay Cost, November 1, 2010, Weekly Standard)

[1946] and 1994 were very different midterm elections. In 1946, a still essentially liberal country voiced its frustration and exasperation with the painful readjustment to peacetime. Once balance was restored to the economy, the country was prepared to move back to the left. In 1994, the country was no longer liberal at its core, and the 1994 midterms were an ideological correction of the leftward bent of the early Clinton administration. Thus, the strategies of Truman and Clinton made sense in their respective political contexts. Each president made an accurate judgment of what his midterm rebuke meant in the broader scheme, and thus was able to respond in an effective way.

It follows that the success or failure of President Obama’s response to a new Republican Congress will depend very much on whether he accurately reads the public’s mind. If he thinks the country is center-right, he will accommodate, as Clinton did. If he thinks it is center-left, he will “give ’em hell,” as Truman did.

So far, the president has telegraphed that he intends to fight. He has warned that a Republican victory would mean “hand-to-hand combat.” A comment the president made in a recent interview with the New York Times Magazine suggests he expects Republicans to move his way, not vice versa:

It may be that regardless of what happens after this election, they feel more responsible .  .  . either because they didn’t do as well as they anticipated, and so the strategy of just saying no to everything and sitting on the sidelines and throwing bombs didn’t work for them, or they did reasonably well, in which case the American people are going to be looking to them to offer serious proposals and work with me in a serious way.

What is animating this sentiment? Part of the answer appears to be Obama’s belief that, deep down, the country is with him. He seems to think that Republicans—much like their forebears in 1946—have made political hay out of economic uncertainty, but that when it comes time to govern they will have to come to the table, his table, or suffer a rebuke in 2012.

Ever since the conservative wing of the Republican party triumphed in 1980, liberal analysts have been warning the GOP that it must moderate if it is to survive. The most recent iteration of this argument is the “emerging Democratic majority” theory, long promulgated by John Judis of the New Republic and Ruy Teixeira of the Center for American Progress, which has ties to the Obama administration. In essence, their theory holds that demographic, social, and economic changes will move the country back to the center-left. They saw the 2008 presidential election as the first of many victories for this new majority.

The president’s apparent plan to fight the GOP makes sense in light of this theory. If he thinks his election really was a leftward realignment, it follows that he will hold the new line against the conservatives, who in this view cannot sustain their coalition into 2012.

If this is what President Obama is thinking, I believe he has bet wrong. There are two glaring problems with the notion that 2008 was a realigning election that brought forth a new Democratic majority, which has only to be revived in 2012. First, while the exit polls confirm that President Obama brought new voters into his coalition, they also show that his decisive advantage was the 17 percent of Bush 2004 voters who bolted the GOP coalition in 2008. If John McCain had managed to keep these Bush voters in his camp, he would have won the White House. What’s more, for all the new voters President Obama brought into the Democratic coalition, he lost almost as many Hillary Clinton primary voters, 15 percent of whom backed John McCain. Indeed, the exit polls indicate that, had Hillary Clinton been the nominee, she would have won by 11 points, while Obama won by 7 points.

...just look at the rest of the Anglosphere. The English Speaking world is pretty conservative these days.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 26, 2010 6:48 AM
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