By: George Noga – December 7, 2014
Eons ago, I spent considerable time in politics at the local, state and national levels. I learned a great deal and have been an acute observer ever since. I always had believed Truman’s observation that voters could always spot a phoney. That was before Barack Obama. America can survive a Barack Obama who, after all, is merely a pathological narcissist; our beloved republic is less likely to survive an electorate that enabled him – not once, but twice. In the end, Truman was vindicated; most Americans now understand Obama is a phoney; it just took them far too long and only after great damage to the republic. Following are some of the other enduring lessons I learned from my time in politics.
Enduring Principles of American Politics
So, what is the true state of American politics today? Nearly everything promulgated by the media is both pap and spurious to boot. Four principles I learned many decades ago and which remain valid today are:
- There are no permanent majorities: There never has been, is not now, and never will be a permanent majority in American politics. You can put that in the bank! The media like to claim and progressives like to dream that, given present demographics of race, gender and class, Democrats have built a permanent electoral majority. These are the same charlatans who in 1992 said the GOP had a permanent majority. Anyone believing in permanent majorities is ignorant of history and also of Madison’s genius in writing the Constitution. In Madison’s words:“Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have common motive . . . or if such motive exists, it will be more difficult to act in unison.” Issues, positions, alliances and demographics continually shift and minority parties skillfully adapt. In a nation as vast and diverse as 2014 America, any electoral coalition is inherently short term and unstable.
- The longer a party is in power, the more likely it is to lose: This principle is straightforward and has held up throughout the 238 years of our republic. It remains true despite any and all issues and demographics. The longer a party is in power, the odds continue to get ever higher and higher that it will lose. Power corrupts.
- Economics trumps everything: Recall Bill Clinton’s mantra: “It’s the economy, stupid“. Far more so than any other issue, economics is paramount. Demagoguing the rich is absolutely of no benefit if the average voter perceives the economy as tepid. The US has experienced stagnant living standards for the vast majority of Americans and there is a downward trend in take home pay. Business is not investing and worker productivity suffers as a result. Wages increase when each worker uses more capital, as his marginal productivity rises. Democrats are okay with low growth as they continue to strangle business, oppose Keystone, thwart energy development, keep corporate taxes high and support unions. When Democrats try to soak the rich, they drown the middle class.
“When Democrats soak the rich, they drown the middle class.”
- The roll of money is significant but overstated: Money is important and can be effective; however, its marginal utility decreases as spending increases; there is a point at which the marginal utility of money turns negative.
Political Campaigns Versus Governing
A few things have changed since my heyday in politics many decades ago. By far the biggest is that political campaigns have become permanent and there no longer is any meaningful distinction between campaigning and governing. This is an uber serious problem and no solution is in sight; it affects both political parties. This overemphasizes short term politics and severely shortchanges the true interests of the country. There are clear and significant differences between public opinion in polling and focus groups and the long term best interests of the people.
“We must recreate a way to govern in the long term best interests of the nation.”
Something needs to change or the perpetual campaign mentality will result in more hostility between factions and confusing political formulations for objective reality. Our current system rewards those adept at campaigning at the Iowa state fair while devaluing their ability to govern. Madison anticipated something like this may happen; he wrote: “We will wait in vain for public-spiritedness to become a pervasive motive in our politics. Instead, we must create – and if necessary recreate – institutions that channel human nature as it is toward promoting the permanent interests of the community.”Therefore, it is up to us to recreate a way for America to govern in the long term best interests of the nation or we will live out our lives in a perpetual political campaign where everything is determined by polls and focus groups.
Political Calculus in America Today
While bearing in mind the principle cited supra that there are no permanent majorities in American politics, let’s take a look at the political calculus following the November 2014 election. Following is my take on where things stand.
- Most pundits relegate Republicans to permanent minority status because of their low share of the black, latino, Asian. millennial and women’s vote. Democrats should be far more worried about their very low support from white males – currently 35% and in free fall. It will be far easier for Republicans to increase their share of the Asian, latino, women. millennial and even black vote than for Democrats to reverse the trend among white males.
- The media is right on about a political party being dragged down by extremists – however, it is the Democrats who have by far the greater problem is this regard. Their contretemps with radical socialists and environmentalists eclipses any issues the Republicans have with the tea party. The situation already is so bad that Democrats cannot truthfully campaign (or even govern) based on what they really want for America.
“There is a political party dragged down by extremists, the Democrats .”
- The Democrats cannot win with their present economic agenda; yet they are wedded to perpetual low economic growth by virtue of their inflexible, socialist ideology. Attacking the rich and ramping up class warfare have lost whatever traction they once may have possessed. Their race, class and gender warfare is no longer effective.
- Demography has been ballyhooed as the enemy of Republicans. Democrats have crowed that the future belonged to them as their lock on ascendant voter groups would overwhelm aging Republicans. This was dispelled by the 2014 election as Republicans made substantial gains among women, hispanics, Asians and millennials. The Democrats (or any other party) ignore James Madison and American political tradition at its own peril!
Readers should take away four main principles: (1) there are no permanent majorities in America; (2) the longer a party remains in power, the more likely it is to lose; (3) economics always trumps every other issue; and (4) do not read too much into any one (or two) election result. Finally, we must heed Madison’s words and recreate a way to govern America in the long term best interests of all Americans – and not strictly with polls and focus groups.