Nonsequitur: Parties in Crisis, Voters in the Ditch

November 6, 2013

This batch of off-year elections has pundits and pols scratching their heads. What to make of the landslide victories of de Blasio and Christie and the oh-so-close election of McAuliffe? Dueling fiascoes of the federal government (partial) shut-down and the Obamacare train crashing just out of the station make analysis even more difficult.

I don’t think it’s really that tough. Both parties are in miserable shape. And voters are stuck.

The Democrats are facing a crisis of competence and credibility. At the national level, the Obama administration has proven itself unable to govern or problem-solve almost anything. Domestic programs are ineffective at best and often make things worse. In Foreign Affairs, we’ve managed to alienate everybody and made the world less safe in the process. Scandals are rampant. (A good summary of Obama’s failures can be found here.) At the state level, the blue model has shown its true colors, economic and social disaster, in Detroit, in Chicago, and whole states such as California. (A quick review of my postings under “Progressive Rainbow” should suffice as evidence.)

Short term promises fail (“you can keep your policy if you like it,” stimulus money for a “Green Economy,” reducing crime through gun regulation, reducing the annual deficit) while long term promises also fail (fiscally viable public pensions, controlling the national debt, the war on poverty). Democrats make wonderful promises. But for the last 40 years or so, they have been unable to deliver.

However, the Republicans are facing a crisis of identity. Voters are still having trouble identifying what Republicans as a group stand for. I know what Conservatism stands for. I know what Libertarianism stands for. But I can’t tell you what today’s Republican Party stands for.

The current leaders at the national level, primarily Neo-Con Republicans, don’t fit the traditional definition of “Republican”. They say they are for smaller government and less regulation; they say they are for individual liberty and Constitutional protections; they say they are for fiscal restraint and responsibility. But under George W. Bush the government grew not just the size and cost of government, but it’s reach into citizen’s daily lives. President Bush added trillions of dollars to the National Debt and thousands of new regulations. (A good retrospective of growth under Bush can be found here.) The only consolation for Republicans is that the present administration has mostly kept the Bush programs in place while spending and regulating even more. Swell.

Even Republicans identified as “new generation” leaders are considered “moderate” by some party voters and “squishy” by others. Governor Chris Christie is certainly popular in New Jersey, but his willingness to compromise with Democrats in a blue state, especially on social issues, make him suspect to conservative voters. (His date with Barack didn’t help much either.) The Republican choice of Presidential candidate in 2012, Governor Mitt Romney had a similar reputation that kept some Republicans from voting for him. Paul Ryan is recognized as a fiscal leader by the Republican Establishment, but even his very “moderate” budget plans seem too radical for some in the party and not radical enough for others.

Until the Republican Party can say to the American people, “This is what we stand for and this is how it will help,” they are unlikely to make a significant change in the voting habits of the electorate. People tend to vote for the status quo unless they clearly see a better option. All voters have known (with a few choice exceptions) for the past 13 years is borrow, spend, grow, and regulate. Nobody has really offered another choice. This is why President Obama was elected (and re-elected). This is why de Blasio and Emanuel are voted into the Mayor’s office. This is why even the debacle of Obamacare couldn’t change the outcome in Virginia. What is the alternative?

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