The great set-up

In the process of wrapping up a detailed “crystall ball” prediction on the mid-term elections – House takeover for the Rs, Senate on the bubble, big gains among governorships – the very non-partisan political scientist Larry Sabato makes the following observation:

It is not that Republicans are popular—most polls show the party even less liked than the Democrats. Many observers find it amazing that the less-liked party is on the verge of triumphing over the better-liked party. Nevertheless, in the time-honored American way, voters will be inclined to punish the party in-power by checking and balancing it with more members from the opposition party.

Sabato also adds an interesting historical note that should further gladden the hearts of Republican partisans:

Since World War II, the House of Representatives has flipped parties on six occasions (1946, 1948, 1952, 1954, 1994, and 2006). Every time, the Senate flipped too, even when it had not been predicted to do so. These few examples do not create an iron law of politics, but they do suggest an electoral tendency.

If the Rs gain control in a wave of that magnitude, one would expect some pressure on them to do something, to try something. Other than to shout about Muslims, and further obstruct Obama, their mandate seems to be to cut taxes and spur economic growth, and yet also to bring the budget under control, while a significant wing of their coalition believes defense spending is sacrosanct, and needs to be increased.

The logical and mathematical implications would seem to be either a political real assault on entitlements and domestic spending… or general political gridlock heading into 2012.  The former is difficult.  The latter is what American politicians are good at.  To whatever extent they try the former, it will give Obama an opportunity to stand up as the last safety before the goal line on the Good Society, and to pick an issue or two for Clintonian triangulation.

Too many other major questions will still need to be resolved for anyone to venture a prediction about the next presidential race, but, whoever wins and however he or she wins, the shape of the American discussion appears set, and its course may yet turn the 2010 wave, assuming it occurs as predicted, as a rather minor historical footnote.

But a lot of my old friends will enjoy it at least in the same way a sports fan enjoys watching his team win a championship.  That’s not nothing.  Not quite.

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4 comments on “The great set-up

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  1. If unemployment stays high,2012 could produce another turnover surge. If there’s another “disaster”,like 9/11,or Weimar,well,Last in,First Out. All things being equal,Obama could win in 2012,despite being the “Weakest” President in my memory which goes back to Eisenhower,and I define weakest,in the sense that he was positioned in 2009,to make some coherent policy,but he made a mess of it,so far trying to be the great uniter.
    Until,the Republicans find a unifying candidate like Reagan/Nixon,I’ll assume Obama will win.
    My dream election in 2012 would be Obama/Palin,but too often,my dreams fail to solidfy.

  2. The logical and mathematical implications would seem to be either a political assault on entitlements and domestic spending… or general political gridlock heading into 2012.

    I don’t see why IF/THEN is the logical logical operator. The logical possibilities include both and neither. I tend toward the expection that they will find a way to find satisy all the possibilites, creating a kind of political Moebius strip. The only other question is whether the twist is clockwise or couterclockwise.

  3. @ bob:
    Mmmmm… that sounds like all = nothing at all, which is what I think, too. My use of the word “political” may have been misleading. I should have said “authentic” or “real.” In other words, if you going to keep defense static or even expand it, and you’re going to cut taxes, and you’re going to make progress on overspending, and by some calculations even if you’re not going to try the first two, you’d need to do something no one’s ever done in this country. I’m leaving out the possibility of a massive economic boom…

  4. There will have to be an attempt, this time the damage inposed by this administration, is magnitudes worse than the Clinton era, something like the Roadmap will have to be tried. I mean what has been tried in the last year and a half, really had no chance to work.
    Romer’s own research confirmed the point, years ago,

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Noted & Quoted

TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

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Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

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[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

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