Wednesday, November 09, 2005

"Stinging Defeats for G.O.P." Yesterday

The New York Times characterized the Democrat candidates' victories in the New Jersey and Virginia governors' races as "stinging defeats" for the Republicans nationwide, and suggested that the losses portend further losses in next year's midterm congressional elections.

In California, ballot initiatives supported by Gov. Schwarzenegger met defeat, but so did three initiatives brought by the political Left. In Ohio, four initiatives "backed by labor unions, government reform organizations and the Internet-fueled activist group MoveOn.org," in the NY Times's words, were likewise defeated. In New York state, the voters soundly rejected a ballot initiative for a state constitutional amendment, dubbed by taxpayer advocacy groups as the "Runaway Spending Amendment," which would have sharply curbed the governor's ability to veto spending bills.

The Times painted a basically gloomy picture regarding Republicans's prospects, but suggested that the Democrats still have some work to do in convincing voters that they are a better alternative:

The elections capped a season of political turmoil for the Republican governing majority, which has been buffeted by Hurricane Katrina, the war in Iraq, soaring energy prices, scandal on Capitol Hill and, most recently, the indictment of I. Lewis Libby Jr., who was chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney.

The national mood remains dark. A new poll by the Pew Research Center, released on Tuesday, showed Mr. Bush with an approval rating of 36 percent, the lowest of his presidency; his approval rating among independents had dropped to 29 percent, from 47 percent in January, and he was also losing support among Republican moderates and liberals.

But Republicans note that voters have yet to turn to Congressional Democrats as a compelling alternative. The Pew survey found that voters were unhappy with both Republican and Democratic leaders.

Still, the results are likely to feed the Republican anxiety on Capitol Hill and exacerbate the sense among Republican lawmakers that after years of having Mr. Bush as an advantage at the top of the ticket, they are increasingly on their own.

Certainly the two gubernatorial defeats must sting. (Update: Jay Homnick makes a good point in the comments section, observing that the Democrats already held both of these governorships.) However, the record on the ballot initiatives suggests that although voters are not overly excited by Republican candidates and sitting political figures (such as Bush and Schwarzenegger) at this time, they are not ready to move strongly to either the Left or Right in policy terms.

The ballot initiative defeats in all three states mentioned earlier, especially the two in California that would have given greater power to the governor and the one in New York that would have favored the state legislature, suggest that voters in these big states were highly wary of making any serious changes at this time. That is to say, the voters were conservative in rejecting overt movements to the Right or Left in all three states.

23 comments:

Jay D. Homnick said...

As Laura Ingraham deftly noted, none of these news reports mentions the fact that the previous governors of Virginia and New Jersey were also Democrats.

James Elliott said...

That is to say, the voters were conservative in rejecting overt movements to the Right or Left in all three states.

That's about as succinct and accurate an assessment as any. Though what exactly happened in Detroit, I'm not so sure... I mean, even Kilpatrick thought he was done for!

The California voter turnout was just sad. I was the 98th person to vote in my precinct. At 6pm. Though I am proud of those that did turn up for defeating all the propositions. Maybe now we're beginning to figure out how stupid it is to legislate by proposition.

Tlaloc said...

I agree that the run away from the republicans isn't automatically a run toward the democrats. 2008 would be the perfect time for a credible third party alternative to make a play. Probably wouldn't work because our system is so badly designed as to only really allow two parties but if there was ever a time that'd be it.

tbmbuzz said...

There is nothing inherently wrong with a two party system, Tlaloc; in fact, a two party system promotes a modicum of political stability that a multi-party system lacks. (Admittedly I write this based on vague recollections of a Scientific American article from 25 years ago). The main problem with the American political system IMO is the fact that incumbents have pretty much rigged the system to virtually guarantee their reelection and make it almost impossible to dislodge them, the latest example being the unconstitutional McCain-Feingold Incumbent Protection Act, traitoriously signed by GWB. :)

Two fundamental changes would radically improve the American political system IMO: term limits on legislators and judges, and line item veto power for the President.

Hunter Baker said...

Don't forget ending partisan redistricting, which I hate even when it benefits me. It's disgusting and undemocratic. Who wants to play a game with rigged rules?

Tlaloc said...

"There is nothing inherently wrong with a two party system, Tlaloc;"

Actually there is, a two party system guarantees a polarity and the kind of strange alliances you see in modern politics. What do the business plutocrats and the social conservatives have in common? Nothing except that they have to work together to have a chance against the big city and union liberals. It's nonsensical but unavoidable in a two party system.

Furthermore a two party system pretty much guarantees only two positions on a given issue. One party is pro choice the other is not. There is a heavy push to "play to the base" that forces politicians away from the nuanced center and off to extremes. This is undeniable especially now when we have so much evidence of it in Washington.

Frankly I don't believe democracy can work on the large scale ( I can point you toward my discussion of why if you like) but when you add in the handicap of a system that is prejudiced toward only two parties it becomes that much more tenuous.


"Two fundamental changes would radically improve the American political system IMO: term limits on legislators and judges, and line item veto power for the President."

I totally disagree. The line item veto would only give the president more power at a time when his office is already running all over Congress (and soon the SCOTUS).

Term limits for legislators is fine but not for judges. Judges need to be insulated from all the political issues so they can concentrate on the law. Furthermore as they are merely arbitrators and not originators of legislation (no matter how often the right cries "activist judges" it simply isn't true) it makes no sense to limit their terms.

James Elliott said...

I think people of all ideological and political bents can learn the lesson of the Democrats from Wisconsin. Tommy Thompson had a line-item veto, which he would use to do things like cut clauses out of sentences. So, all of a sudden, work requirements plus training assistance becomes work requirements only. The line item veto is a bad, bad thing.

Of course, so's having one party/ideology in control of all three branches of government.

The most inherently stable systems, if I recall the studies correctly, are those that are multi-party with power-sharing agreements. Of course, there are plenty of arguments on both a domestic and geopolitical scale. You've got your hegemon theory, your two-party/nation theory, and your multi-party/pole theory. In the long run, I don't think it's very easy to say that one is inherently more stable than the other. The hole in any system, revolution, or plan is one word long: People. People do wacky, nonsensical things all the time.

mjwatson said...

Strange alliances are guaranteed because of the two party system? Do you think that this does not occur in parliamentary systems to build governing coalitions? There are valid complaints about the two-party system I'm sure, strange alliances is not one of them (I suspect what is meant here by strange alliances is what others might call "politics").

Our two-party system does not play to the extremes for the simple reason we do not have extremes in the United States. When compared to the multi-party systems of Europe, for example, we look positively tame. Neither the far right nor far left of Europe would stand a chance of getting electing in the US. We can agree, or disagree, on whether this is a good thing.

And the notion that judges do not legislate from the bench is a strange one. That they should not I think we all agree. That this has in fact occurred, and increasingly so, is so widely recognized that liberal law profs (i.e. Tushnet) are decrying decisions like Roe because of the precedent it sets for a conservative court to impose it's own "substantive due process".

Tom Van Dyke said...

The most stable systems are the US and UK, which have evolved organically into 2-party systems, although a third might arise and subsume the weaker of the two extant.

By far the largest problem in politics is in corruption and tyranny; the simple threat of another party is a moderating influence, and the system self-corrects with an occasional shift in magnetic poles when the dominant party refuses to be moderated.

As for ideology, by world standards, Clinton, Kerry, both Bushes, Tony Blair, and whatever the Tories are up to these days are all peas in a pod, and I don't mean that pejoratively---our agreements are vast, our differences magnified by those who have a rooting interest in that sort of thing.

tbmbuzz said...

mjwatson is pretty much on in his assessment of two-party vs multi-party systems. I disagree, however, with his statement that there are no extremes in the U.S. What the two-party system essentially does is move the political process toward the middle and away from the extremes. If one party begins to move toward the extreme, it loses elections and power - witness the Democrat Party over the past decade or so and its presidential election results over the past quarter century.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I figgered it was Mary Jane Watson, Spider-Man's girlfriend (and eventual wife).

Tlaloc said...

"The most stable systems are the US and UK, which have evolved organically into 2-party systems, although a third might arise and subsume the weaker of the two extant."

Stablity however is not the goal. Accurately reflecting the whims of the populace is the goal of democracy. A two party system is very bad at that, in part because it is so stable.



"By far the largest problem in politics is in corruption and tyranny; the simple threat of another party is a moderating influence,"

Indeed which is partly why a heavily prejudiced system that allows only two parties is so flawed, it prevents any meaningful competition which might help provide a count corrupting force.



"As for ideology, by world standards, Clinton, Kerry, both Bushes, Tony Blair, and whatever the Tories are up to these days are all peas in a pod, and I don't mean that pejoratively---our agreements are vast, our differences magnified by those who have a rooting interest in that sort of thing."

Absolutely, but this is just another reason to say a two party system is broken. Despite how increadibly olarized out politics are we still cover only the tiniest fraction of the real political field. It's like two kids fighting over one chair in an empty auditorium.

Kathy Hutchins said...

I cannot speak to the rest of the country, but what yesterday's election in Virginia should have told the GOP is: Tell your elected state officials to quit acting like Democrats, or else the rank and file will not trouble themselves to go to the polls. The Republicans in Richmond have spent four years outspending and outtaxing Mark Warner. Jerry Kilgore comes along and runs a campaign that makes Mayor Quimby look like Albert Einstein. The only thing it was a referendum on was opposition to egregious stupidity.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I find no foundation for your definition of the goals of either a polity or a democracy. As Mr. Karnick wrote on this very blog at its inception, the modern liberal experiment is to balance freedom and order (stability), taking pains to maximize each.

Neither for your assertion that two parties are an insufficient number to enforce accountability.

But I did think you'd agree that the "neo-liberal" Anglosphere is pretty homogenous politically.

And I do thank you for your courteous reply.

mjwatson said...

Two clarifications:

1) Despite my chaste admiration for Kirsten Dunst, the name doesn't refer to her Spidey character.

2) By "no political extremes" in the US, I meant in context that there are no political extremes with political viability. That there are extreme individuals and marginal groups is of course true.

connie deady said...

I actually think the country is governed best when one party controls the presidency and another the congress. The worst excesses occur when either party has complete control.

James Elliott said...

I figgered it was Mary Jane Watson, Spider-Man's girlfriend (and eventual wife).

I am so glad I wasn't the first person to go there. Thanks for taking one for the team, Tom.

James Elliott said...

I suspect that Tlaloc's larger point - and please tell me if I got this wrong - is that a two-party system means that the parties have to embrace various single-issue voter groups. Hence the Democrats have become largely the "Left" with everything from Communists and weird-ass hippies to big government social service academic types. And then there're the environmentalists, the peaceniks, etc. The Republicans, the "Right," get the social conservatives, the isolationists, free-market boosters, gun nuts (boy did I used to be one of those!), and government-hating whackadoos.

I am, of course, being highly facetious.

But the broader point is that neither party is left with a coherent, overriding message because it must, in the interest of politics, play nice with all these disparate groups that may or may not have all of their goals in common.

So, I guess the argument becomes, "Do multiple smaller parties or two big-tent parties more accurately reflect the people's wishes and make for better government." Personally, while I procedurally prefer parliamentary governance, I'd have to say that the big-tent parties are SUPPOSED to be a more moderating influence. But then, the modern day GOP with a party plank that stands in opposition to like 60% of its rolls, and a Democratic party completely paralyzed by its disparate constituent groups, kind of stand that on its ear.

You can't help but think that maybe there was a really good reason the Founding Fathers held the idea of political parties in contempt beyond just negative experience with the Whigs and Tories.

mjwatson said...

The Founding Fathers also founded political parties, with the exception of Washington who was the most opposed.

But, to take a different tack, by what standard of political perfection are we judging our two-party system to be lacking? Is there another polity that better meets this standard while facing the same challenges we do?

Are we letting some amorphous and untested theory of the perfect cloud our appreciate of the good? For all the problems our system has, I'm not sure what realistic standard finds it wanting (realistic being the operative word).

Tom Van Dyke said...

James, I think your delineations of the trees in each the left and right sides of the forest shows we shouldn't go by appearances.

Each party is a coalition, no different than those set up in multi-party systems. You might say that Reagan Democrats are the swing party.

Connie, a problem with the parliamentary system is that whether the left or right is ascendant, it controls both the legislature and the executive, making the split government you like and the gridlock that I as a conservative like impossible.

As for "proportional representation," the US and parliamentary systems alike pay the shrill backbench crazies no heed. Whether Sheila Jackson Lee and her ilk have their own party or are part of the Democrat one makes no nevermind.

connie deady said...

Connie, a problem with the parliamentary system is that whether the left or right is ascendant, it controls both the legislature and the executive, making the split government you like and the gridlock that I as a conservative like impossible.

I agree. I'm not real crazy about a parliamentary system. Like DeToqueville, I really do admire our democratic experiment. I think the founding fathers were geniuses. They built a syste designed to be stable, with respect for minority and checks on absolute power.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Gridlock is God.

I've always secretly suspected you're an Edmund Burke, who was the father of conservatism, and quite a moral person. The impetuous Jefferson thought the French Revolution was great, but Burke knew better.

Eventually we get there, pounding out a consensus on each other, taking baby steps, but avoiding the ditch.

Even the most Spartan of Republicans today preserves the New Deal, and Jon Corzine just won an election running on a platform of tax cuts.

It's all good.

James Elliott said...

The Founding Fathers also founded political parties, with the exception of Washington who was the most opposed.

The parties you speak of grew out of a fundamental difference in opinions among the Founders as to whether or not they should remain loyal to their state or to the nation as a whole. Hence Federalist versus Republican. On the one hand, you've got Jefferson and Madison insanely loyal to Virginia first, nation second, and Adams, Hamilton, and Washington (bucking the trend there) deciding that the fledgling nation needed to be coherent and unified, first. Interestingly enough, you see the North-South split begin right there. It's a fascinating time in history. It was more similar to the liberal-conservative split we see today, but revolving around an ideology of how government should be run (or, rather, who should be paramount). I don't pretend to know the answers, but it sure is interesting to think about.