A Conservative victory on Tuesday
By By Tray Smith
As politics continue to be revolutionized by grassroots, net roots, cable news, and talk radio, a new rule has emerged: "all politics is national." In 1994, 1998, and 2002, the party that had the most success nationalizing the election around one or more important issue won. This interlinking of 468 individual House and Senate contest means that the old adage that "all politics is local" is now irrelevant. As a result of this shift in American politics, we are more likely to see narrower majorities and more frequent power flops in the U.S. Congress, as voters begin to use their vote for Congress to express their views on national issues instead of just local affairs.
As goes this year's midterm election, in which the Democrats successfully made national gains over countrywide dissatisfaction with the Bush administration. But while the news of late emphasizes the Democratic sweep into control of the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate, it is unlikely that this election represents a fundamental leftward shift in ideology among the electorate.
Ballot measures banning gay marriage passed in six out of seven states they were put to a vote. Arizona passed two ballot measures cracking down on illegal immigration. A slew of states passed proposals protecting private property rights. By an 11 percent margin, voters said the Republicans were the party of big government. Thirty-two percent of voters identified themselves as conservative while only 21 percent identified themselves as liberal.
These statistics make one thing very clear: Republicans lose when they are disconnected from their base and their principals. Democrats win when they pretend to be conservative. This election was not a repudiation of conservatism. It was a repudiation of President Bush.
Tuesday's results also reflect voter discontent with our ongoing military efforts in Iraq and a slew of corruption charges that have been levied against Republican lawmakers. These issues made a "throw the bums out" sixth year itch election unavoidable for the GOP.
The Democrats have much to celebrate. They won 12 more House seats than I predicted and two more Senate seats than I expected. They also won a majority of state governorships. But they must stop short of referring to this election as "1994 in reverse" or claiming a Democratic "wave." In 1994, Republicans picked up fifty-four seats in the House and eight seats in the Senate in the second year of a presidency after 40 years of Democratic control in Congress. On average, the opposite party gains upwards of 30 seats in midterm elections, a number that rises to about 40 during the sixth year of a Presidency. This year, the Democrats gained 29 House seats and six Senate seats, less than or equal to, but defiantly not in excess of, the amount of seats history entitled them. Ten of the seats the Democrats won were directly related to Republican scandals. Thus, several of those districts elected Democratic candidates because voters could not spell the name of the write-in candidates filling in for Republican incumbents under or near indictment. Those Democrats are sitting on top of conservative districts that will be easily recaptured by the Republicans, especially after the country endures two years of Speaker Pelosi. Furthermore, 18 of the 29 Democratic pickups were decided by less than 5,000 votes. 1994 was a political realignment. 2006 was a vote against an unpopular war and an unpopular president, and a reaffirmation that this is a center-right country.
A better historical parallel for 2006 is 1946, when an unpopular Harry Truman watched his party lose 11 seats in the Senate and 55 seats in the House. Those losses guaranteed the Republicans a majority in both houses of Congress for the next two years. However, in the following election year of 1948, Truman campaigned against a "do-nothing" Republican Congress (sound familiar), a campaign that got him re-elected to the White House as Democrats picked up 75 House seats and nine Senate seats. Their gains were sufficient to reclaim a majority in both chambers. Republicans would not control the U.S. House again until 1994 with the exception of a brief two-year interruption in the early 1950's.
The GOP has the ability to make 2008 the Republican version of 1948 and not the Democratic version of 1996. The question now is whether the Republicans will fold up shop and bend over for the Democrats, or whether they will reconnect with their center-right base and return to the principles of small government and a strong national defense.
That is the bottom line.
Tray Smith is a sophomore at ECHS and former intern in the Riley administration. He can be reached for comment at email@example.com.