The Politics of Hatred

Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts tonight prompted an acquaintance of mine to remind me of my prediction that the GOP was a doomed party. “So much for that prediction”, I was told.

Not so fast. My analysis, which I was toying with a year ago before and after Obama’s victory, was that demographic factors were threatening the long-term survival of the GOP. In spite of tonight’s spectacular victory for the GOP, I’m not quite ready to toss my analysis out the window just yet. The main reason is that I am not convinced that what I call “the politics of hate” can sustain either party.

What are the politics of hate? By that I do not mean that the platform of either party is based in a hateful ideology, though I’m sure many would find aspects of either that they would describe that way. What I mean is that I see what was once a tendency in politics becoming the obsessive, dominating factor – visceral hatred for the incumbent, regardless of the party he or she belongs to, and regardless of the party affiliation of the voters.

Of course I am not arguing that party affiliation no longer matters; only that it seems to matter less. For some years now the number of Americans who believe the country is “on the right track” has consistently remained below 50%, and only on occasion does it rise into the 40s for extended periods of time. The same can be said of congressional job approval, which in the last year did not break 40%. Of the several factors we might cite for Obama’s victory in 2008 – the lackluster performance of the McCain campaign, Obama’s charisma, or what have you – I think it was hatred for George W. Bush and his legacy that drove the vote more than anything else. A good GOP candidate would have had a hard time washing off the stink of Bush.

The level of hatred that the electorate has for the incumbent now, for Obama, the Congress, and their policies, doesn’t appear to me that different than the same sort of hatred everyone had for Bush over a year ago. Of course neither Brown nor his opponent were incumbents in this race, but everyone knows this election was a referendum on the Obama administration, and that this outcome is more of a defeat for Obama than it is for Coakley. And I won’t be surprised, if things don’t look better for Obama later in the year, if hatred of the incumbent party fuels more GOP electoral victories.

I am certainly not surprised that many people have turned against Obama; he promised a lot, and delivered next to nothing, as every politician in recent history has done. The political process in the United States is not autonomous; it is subordinate to a myriad of “special interests”, above all those of Wall Street, and cannot simply do what the voters want it to do. These special interests control or at least heavily influence both parties. Both Obama and McCain spoke about special interests, as does every candidate who wants to get elected, but both were beholden to them and neither would ever betray them.

That means that the hatred of the American people will constantly be focused on the incumbent, Republican or Democrat. Local elections will remain local referendums on national politics, and hatred of the incumbent party at the national level, the White House and Congress, will fuel the outcome of the race, all other things being relatively equal of couse. I’m not that old, but I don’t remember the same degree of national anxiety and obsession over every local race as a child under Reagan/Bush Sr., as a teenager under Clinton, or a young man under Bush Jr.

My prediction, on the other hand, was centered around the GOPs prospects in the electoral college. And here is where I think the long-term demographic factors favor the Democratic Party. To ignore demographic shifts is simply to ignore reality. A GOP that takes them into account might survive the century; a GOP that ignores them will cease to be relevant, and there is no way around it.

We know the racial, ethnic, gender, age and income breakdown of each party, we know which way the demogrpahic trends are going – the simple math is that there will be more racial minorities, more women, more young people, more poor(er) people in the years to come. Local victories they may continue to win, with smaller turnouts of more motivated and dedicated voters, but how they could ever claim the White House again in the event of an electoral college lockout is beyond me – and this will be the case if Texas becomes a solid blue state in 10-20 years.

Of course if this scenario actually happens, then the Dems will remain the hated incumbent party. Eventually the scales may tip back to the GOP, but my prediction is that the Democrats key constituencies will not jump ship to the GOP anytime soon. When people come out to choose a president, only catastrophic failure on the part of the Dems will overpower the demographic factors that work in their favor.  In other words, ceteris paribus, I think the long term advantage goes to the Dems, unless the GOP “reinvents” itself to a certain degree. So far, that hasn’t happened. Both parties seem to be content to simply rely on the hatred of the incumbent party to give them another shot when their turn comes around. But this exhaustive cycle of electoral hatred can’t continue indefinitely, can it?

So while I am happy for my Republican friends (I remain an independent, as both parties are nauseating to me), I hope they don’t let the champagne they will be guzzling tonight get to their heads. For what it’s worth, I’m glad the Obama administration got a bloody nose tonight. But the long-term picture may bear out a different story.

5 Responses to The Politics of Hatred

  1. LOP says:

    Coakley that she had won by doing nothing, and that is the only reason why she lost. If she had taken an effort to get into the race early on, the pro-infanticide Brown would not have won. Look to Brown’s failure in the senate, and failure to hold on to the seat in his next election. Look for Republicans who now greet him with joy bemoaning him in a year’s time. He is going to make things much, much worse for you. Enjoy.

  2. Coarkley is even more pro-infanticide than Brown.

    And she knows better – she’s a Roman Catholic whereas Brown is a Protestant (Reformed Church if I recall correctly).

    Yes, I hate liberalism and I LOVE George W. Bush – a far, far better president than the Obamination of Desolation.

    And I want every single liberal Democrat faux Catholic thrown out of office straight on their behinds.
    I couldn’t be happier that Brown won.

  3. Art Deco says:

    I doubt Obama or McCain were all that beholden to particular interests, but the rent-seekers themselves (acting through careerist sociopaths) have the critical gates manned, and the whole institutional set up (bicameralism, filibusters, executive veto, and promiscuous judicial review) militates against any effort to scrape barnacles off the ship. The result is an series of elite cartels amongst whom a self-interested dynamic prevails which is running the country into the ground. You have escalating public frustration as nothing ever improves.

  4. Donna V. says:

    There’s another demographic emerging – and I don’t think many people have noticed it yet.

    When Clinton took over the WH in ’92, he was a fresh young face compared to the WWII vets who had been running the country for seemingly forever. His election signaled the rise of the baby boomer generation into the Chief Executive Seat. But after 2 two-term Boomer presidents, the nominees in the last race were a man who was born in the ’30’s and a man born in the ’60’s. And, although McCain’s war record was questioned by some on the left, nobody could fault Obama for not having served in a war that ended when he was still a child. In fact, some of Obama’s appeal was that he was a post-Boomer and thus divisive arguments and charges and countercharges about being a draft-dodger, etc. which exhausted the country in ’04 would not play a role in the ’08 general election.

    However, it was clear to some of us then and has become clearer to more Americans since the election that although Obama was too young to have participated in radical politics in the ’60’s, many of his guides and mentors were veterans of the New Left movement. He is very much a product of the ’60’s after all.

    I was reading a WSJ editoral about the most radical members of Congress and I couldn’t help noticing that they’re all pretty long in the tooth – Obey, Pelosi, Frank, Waxman. They are a definite ’60’s crowd. They were activists back then and most were elected in the post-Watergate ’70’s. They have dreamt of turning the US into a social democracy for 30 years – and ideologically, Obama is right there with them.

    Last year, the Dems were able to take warmed over ’60’s radicalism and make it look fresh and new, in part because the GOP candidate was so old and uninspiring. The Republicans looked like the party of grumpy old white guys.

    Palin, despite her negatives, broke that stereotype. So does Brown. So does Rubio in Florida. Jindal gave one very poor performance last year, but hey – the guy was born in 1971. He’s extremely bright and he’ll be around for a while, so he’s got time to brush up on his speaking skills.

    What I’m getting at is the sudden emergence of GOP candidates who are about the same age or younger than Obama. They are attractive, energetic and bring a youthful flair to the party that was sorely lacking it last year. Now, it’s the 60’s generation in Congress who look like tired old party hacks. The GOP’s rising stars are people who came of age during the Reagan years and found the Gipper inspiring.

    I suspect that many of the young people who were so starry-eyed about Obama last year will find their enthusiasm waning once they get out into the job market of 2010 and actually have to start paying taxes. If the GOP can find more young, attractive (while looks shouldn’t matter, in the age of high resolution TV, they certainly don’t hurt) and articulate candidates to run, I think the demographics dynamics will change.

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