The Era of Republican Dominance Isn't Over
It sometimes seems a bit hard to believe, but America has moved very far to the right over the past several decades. The top marginal tax rate has been cut by more than half. The federal courts are full of Republican appointed judges who, if not all strict constructionists, at least are definitely not judicial activists. Our foreign policy is so aggressive that even the Democrat nominee for president seeks to burnish his foreign policy credentials by threatening an invasion of Pakistan. And Bill Clinton was right—the era of big government—if not of big spending—is, for the time being, over.
But many believe that that situation is changing. The Republican party was soundly repudiated by voters in 2006. It lost its majorities in both the House and the Senate, and President Bush has seen the lowest approval ratings of any president since Nixon. And the trends has continued in 2008—the Democrats could possibly (though are not very likely too) find themselves with a filibuster proof 60 seat majority, and the House Democrats could add another thirty seats to their lead. And while McCain still has a shot at winning the presidential election, it really isn’t a very good one; Barack Obama will probably be our next president.
Given the world financial crisis, which was caused by free markets run amuck (well, that and hyper-low interest rates, and government influence on former mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but the “free markets run amuck” narrative is the story everyone believes), and bungled Iraq War, it seems that perhaps the die is turning. Many believe that conservatism’s time is over, at least for the time being, and statist liberalism is coming into the ascendancy.
Paul Krugman’s recent column sums up this line of thought pretty well. The idea is that moderates will be left out of the new GOP, which will take a hard turn to the right. From there, it will become the party of intolerance and extremism, casting whatever remains of the moderate wing out. The Democrats will start getting the majority of the independents, and the Republicans will spend decades out in the cold. Liberalism, according to this line of thought, will prevail.
I disagree. Not only will conservatism remain the nation’s dominant political philosophy, I believe that the Republicans could very well retake their position as the country’s dominant political party.
The GOP has passed through its darkest days: things simply can’t get worse than the combination of a mismanaged war, a bungled hurricane, and a serious financial crisis. Voters have good reason to be angry at the Republican party—when people criticize Bush in my hearing, I rarely bother defending him, since I usually agree with much of what they say. (How do you defend his handling of the Iraq War? Or Bush’s budget control?) The Republicans in Congress are incompetent and corrupt. You can’t blame people for disliking, and even hating, the Republican party.
But all the hate people should feel for the GOP has manifested itself in a pretty mild way. True, the Republicans go crushed in the 2006 midterms, but the Mark Foley story stole the narrative and anyhow, the losses in 2006 were not particularly bad for considering the circumstances (two-term presidents nearly always lose congressional seats during their sixth year midterms).
2008 has also been quite mild for the GOP, considering the still considerable level of Republican hate. The Democrats will win some more seats in Congress, but will probably find themselves a bit short of a filibuster proof majority. Obama will probably win the presidential election (but don’t let the odds dissuade you from voting), but McCain still has a chance. This is impressive, given that McCain is a mumbling old man while Obama is a silver-tongued orator with a great personality. And whatever happens, Obama certainly won’t have a Reaganeque landslide victory. The GOP is bloodied, but still competitive.
Perhaps the true political mood of a country can be read better from the way it is governed than the electoral results, which are often nothing more than the results of a popularity contest. And the Democrats, in their brief stint in power, have done nothing to move the country very far to the left. Along with the moderate wing of the Republican party, they proposed a comprehensive immigration reform bill. It failed—shot down by the conservative wing of the Republican party. Democrats tried to force the U.S. to withdraw from Iraq, again with the help of some moderate Republicans. That failed too. They tried to accuse Bush of corruption. And apart from catching Scooter Libby, who got pardoned anyway, they couldn’t get any results there either.
The Democrats haven’t just been unable to get anything done—they have been blocked by the conservative part of the Republican party. If the electorate is as far left and so many Democrats (and Republicans) seem to think, the influence of the more conservative part of the Republican Congress would be much less than it is. Conservatism still has influence in Washington—and so does the Republican party. Don’t count the GOP out yet.