Sunday, April 04, 2010
A Telling Conversation
I have a friend who is a Republican. Not a conservative nor a deeply political person; her votes are more of habit and generalities than they are of intense political ideology. In the last election, she voted a mostly Republican ticket but refrained from voting for a presidential candidate because she didn’t like Sarah Palin, couldn’t vote for Obama, and there wasn’t an option of writing in my name.
That last bit isn’t a joke, by the way. We had gone from the office together and voted at the same time. When we were on the way, she told me she planned to write in my name because she thought I was a better candidate than any of the folks on the ballot. She’s probably wrong, but it would have made me smile; sadly, we saw nothing on the ballot that allowed for write-ins.
When I stopped by the office last week to use the printer, we talked for a bit and she wanted me to know two things that she said would shock me.
“I’m never going to say this again, so I have to get it out right now,” she said. She’s a notoriously stubborn and outspoken person, so when she goes for something like this, you know that it must hurt to the core. “First, I still don’t like him, but the Nuggets need George Karl back. Second, I still don’t like her, but even if Sarah Palin is the candidate, I’ll vote for her just to get Obama out of office.”
I was stunned by both admissions. She’s a long-time Nuggets season ticket holder, takes basketball more seriously than anyone I know, and has lobbied for Karl’s removal for over a year with me arguing the opposite. Her disappointment in McCain’s pick of Veep candidates was, if anything, even more absolute at the time. She didn’t like Palin, she didn’t think the woman was qualified, and she wasn’t fond of any woman being that close to the presidency--and oddly sexist opinion that brought out the kind of arguments I usually try to avoid in the office. That, in one conversation, she could possibly admit that George Karl brought value to the Denver Nuggets and that Sarah Palin would make a better president than Barrack Obama was like a Christmas miracle for me.
My Democrat friends will say that they never had her vote anyway, and there is truth to that, although her commitment to voting for any Republican candidate over the current president is out of character and more meaningful than they might admit. And, beyond that, the story doesn’t stop there.
Her kids both voted Obama in the election. Again, neither is particularly political and I don’t know either of them enough to guess at their motivation. My friend went on to tell me that she wasn’t sure how her daughter felt, but that her son was fuming mad over the president’s performance and bitterly regretted his vote. This is a young (mid-twenties), hispanic union member working in a non-professional capacity. He is the Obama demographic.
He’s also a nice kid, a smart kid, and, I stress this because I think it is important, not typically a politically oriented person.
The Democrats are going to lose the midterms in a big way. Barring a previously untapped and Clintonian capacity for triangulation that the public truly buys into, Obama won’t see a second term, either. The presidential election is a long way off, and, business cycles being what they are, the political situation could dramatically change between now and then. If the economy, the job numbers, and the tenor of the Obama presidency don’t change soon, though, I think it will reach the kind of tipping point where Obama might experience something that I can’t recall ever seeing: watching his own party abandoning him for another candidate when his “electability” is called into question.
Could Hillary be in the perfect position for 2012? I think it is entirely possible and I think that Democrats might find it easier to unite behind her than they would in fighting the early (too early, yes, but we’re speculating her) legacy of the Obama administration.
For the midterm elections, the future seems easier to predict. Obama and the Democrats are losing the center left and the independents right now, Republicans will see the return of some of the defectors who were tired of the Bush years, and some Democrats will stay home because they are going to be disheartened by the constant fight and the simple fact that the Obama years aren’t going the way that they expected. When you expect a deity and you get a mere Chicago politician, some folks are going to start questioning their choices.
Certainly, the human mind has amazing powers of self-justification and there will be a core of believers that will dig in and keep fighting. The great majority of voters aren’t true believers in much of anything, though, and their numbers are skewing to the right. The Tea Party wasn’t the flash-in-the-pan that many people thought it would be (and that the progressive left hoped it would be), and while the real impact of the movement has yet to be seen, only fools would deny the massive influence that the grass-roots uprising has had on the political conversations of the day. And the left’s continued attempt to minimize the movement with talk of “teabaggers” (and, yes, Mr. Ditto, I’m looking at you right now) is only entrenching the strange agglomeration of libertarians, conservatives, and center left citizens into an anti-incumbent and anti-establishment mood. Demeaning them, ignoring their worries, and insulting the Tea Partiers with accusations of racism, stupidity, and name-calling has only had the immediate effect of making the progressive left look even less attractive and less relevant to contemporary America than they did before the election of President Obama in what was far more a reaction to the previous administration than it was a mandate for massive social and political change.
While the Democrats lose the middle, it is entirely possible that giddy Republicans or Tea Partiers won’t learn the right lessons from recent elections or from each other--and my guess is that the Tea Party could overplay its hand in a few elections and cost conservatives some ground it might otherwise take, but that’s a conversation for another post. But Tea Party overreach and GOP clumsiness seem unlikely to derail the particular train that looks to bring massive defeat to the Democrats at the hands of an aroused, angry public in the mid-terms.
I’m no genius (political or otherwise) and I’m not reading tea leaves that aren’t readily apparent to others. What will be interesting is to see how the left rallies in those upcoming contests to try to maintain the advantage that they gained in the last election. In a way, though, that massive gain makes it even more apparent that the more time that goes on the more they are responsible for continued problems. Who else could it be? It helps that the Democrats managed to turn their supermajority into something that looked desperately like weakness.
If I’m right, though, and the GOP makes significant gains at the midterm, they will need to shift the tone of their message. No longer will it be good enough to be the minority fighting the good fight, but they will need to begin leading for the first time in many years. There is much to be red-faced about in being a Republican right now; the record of the supposedly conservative party has been, ahem, mixed as of late. Not finding a way to lead on the biggest issues of the day--not just offering up solutions, but actually delivering them and making the case for those solutions--would be devastating.
I believe that there is a historical opportunity coming to Republicans in mid-terms, but that opportunity could be an invitation to tragedy for conservatives if we don’t find a way to make something useful from it.
More reading for Sunday night:
Legal Insurrection has this gem: “If Obama has lost my friend, the Frank Rich-loving, Sarah Palin-hating greedy Democratic geezer that he is, the Democrats are in deep electoral trouble.”
Update: Be sure to see this post on Billllllll’s Idle Mind. “What did we do to deserve this?” Excellent question, Mr. Surplus Ells.
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