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.