The last time I devoted an entire post to the 2006 elections, I suggested that the GOP would Hang on by the Skin of Its Teeth. Now, I’m wondering if the Democrats could nudge the GOP out of power. Fred Barnes, normally one of the most optimistic (about the GOP’s prospects) pundits, predicts that the Democrats will win 18 seats, enough to capture the House.
While I still hope (and believe) the GOP will hang out, it’s entirely possible that the Democrats could win just enough seats to garner a majority in the House for the first time in twelve years. And while I think the Democrats will make gains in the Senate, it seems increasingly likely that the GOP will hold that house, even if the Vice President has, once again, to cast the deciding vote for control.
Should the Democrats win, they — and the MSM — will of course spin this as a repudiation of President Bush and an affirmation of liberalism. That analysis will be based less on the actual election returns — and the dynamics of this year — than on their own wishful thinking. Outside of some very “blue” regions, Democrats this year have, by and large, eschewed ideology while many Democrats is tight races have moved to the center.
A Democratic majority with a number of freshmen Democrats from “red” districts looking forward to their first re-election in a presidential election year, are not likely to join a House Speaker from America’s most liberal city in pushing forward a left-wing anti-Bush agenda. These freshmen will join those centrist Democrats who have voted with the GOP on a number of controversial issues this session. Thus, given the dynamics of this election, while a Democratic majority would not be a good thing for President, it would not be the disaster some are forecasting.
Expect instead a Democratic majority at least as fractious as that voted out in 1994. Today’s Democrats lack the “philosophical glue” (such The Contract with America, the set of policy proposals which helped the GOP win that year) that held the GOP caucus together for the better part of its first year in power in forty years.
That said, given the extreme leftism of a number of potential committee chairs in a Democratic House, I’m supporting my party this year despite is failure to live up to the ideas which brought it to power just twelve years ago. It’s a choice between a Republican Party which sometimes gets things right — and a Democratic Party interested primarily in preventing the GOP from getting anything accomplished.
If people are dissatisfied with the GOP this year, it’s not because of the party’s conservatism, but of the party’s failure to hold true to the conservatism of Ronald Reagan whose basic ideas formed the backbone of The Contract with America. The GOP suffers this year not merely for losing sight of the philosophy which led Republicans to victory in 1980, 1984, 1988 and 1994, but also from the dynamics of 2006. Normally, in the sixth-year of a president’s Administration, his party suffers substantial losses in Congress, a phenomenon which pundits dub the “Six-Year Itch.”
In addition to this itch, the Foley scandal seems to have put a damper on GOP prospects. Up until the story broke, Republicans seemed to be surging in all polls. While they have rebounded a bit since the height of the scandal, we’re still not where we were a month ago.
There have been a number of elections American history which have shown a clear affirmation of one party’s platform — and a repudiation of the opposition’s. The “realigning” election of 1896 repudiated the populism of William Jennings Bryan and the anti-business attitude of his Democrats while affirming the conservative fiscal and monetary policies of Republican William McKinley.
Thirty-six years later in 1932, the American people seemed to repudiate those policies by overwhelmingly electing Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In 1980 and 1994, Americans repudiated the tax-and-spend liberalism of the Democrats and affirmed the fiscal conservativism and foreign policy of a GOP rejuvenated by the leadership of Ronald Reagan.
In each of those years, the victorious party (and at least in 1896 the losing party as well) ran on a well-defined platform of ideas and policy proposals. This year, neither party has made particularly clear where it stands on the issues. We know the Democrats oppose President Bush and the war in Iraq. We know that the GOP has distinguished itself from the Democrats’ plan to abandon Iraq with or without victory. But, by and large, both parties have left us in the dark on the overall direction they wish to take the country. (To be sure, there have been a number of exceptions in individual races.)
Even if the Democrats win this fall, all it will mean is more headaches for the Administration. It will not mean that America has shifted substantially to the left — or that the American people want a liberal governing philosophy. If anything, it will mean that the people are fed up with the current majority party’s absence of governing philosophy.
While I’m hoping for a Republican victory largely because the Democrats seem more interested in obstructing than in governing, I won’t despair should Americans vote the GOP out of power. Because they haven’t campaigned on any positive agenda, a Democratic victory will be more a product of the dynamics of 2006 than popular affirmation of liberalism. And the fractiousness of their caucus may well prevent them from doing much damage.
It is the very absence of forward-looking Democratic agenda that keeps the GOP in contention in a year where so much is working against them. Given the GOP’s failure to to hold true to its principles, its scandals and the “six-year-itch,” the Democrats should be shellacking the party in power, but right now, the best they can hope for is to nudge the GOP out. Not a very ringing endorsement of the party — or its priniciples.
– B. Daniel Blatt (GayPatriotWest@aol.com)