Sunday, November 12, 2006

Brooks' Brilliant Assessment of What the Midterms Tell Us

I don't subscribe to TimesSelect. But it's the end of their free week and I was able to copy and paste David Brooks' brilliant explanation of what happened this past Tuesday. Because a link would be like the bridge to nowhere for you, here's the column in its entirety:

The Middle Muscles In
By DAVID BROOKS

For decades, moderates have been the cowardly lions of American politics. You’d see them quivering in the corner as the anti-establishment left exchanged culture war mortar fire with the anti-establishment right. You’d see them passed over and dissed as the parties mobilized their bases and played to their primary voters.

Well, somebody’s been on steroids, because on Tuesday the muscular middle took control of America. Say goodbye to the era of Rovian base mobilization. Say goodbye to the era of conservative dominance that began in 1980. On Tuesday, 47 percent of the voters were self-described moderates, according to exit polls, and they asserted their power by voting for the Democrats in landslide proportions.

About a year ago, these angry moderates lost confidence in Republican rule. The tens of millions of dollars spent since then — the ads, the robocalls, the microtargeting — did nothing to change that basic decision.

Their disaffection with the G.O.P. was not philosophical. It was about competence and accountability. It was about the accumulation of Rumsfeld, Katrina, Abramoff, the bridge to nowhere and the failure to quarantine Mark Foley. Bill Clinton captured the electorate’s central complaint about the G.O.P.: “They can’t run anything right.”

So voters kicked out Republicans but did not swing to the left. For the most part they exchanged moderate Republicans for conservative Democrats. It was a great day for the centrist Joe Lieberman, who defeated the scion of the Daily Kos net roots, Ned Lamont. It was a great day for anti-abortion Democrats like Bob Casey and probably for pro-gun Democrats like Jim Webb. It was a great day for conservative Democrats like Heath Shuler in North Carolina and Brad Ellsworth in Indiana.

It was even a good day for some moderate Republicans, like Chris Shays in Connecticut, Deborah Pryce in Ohio and Arnold Schwarzenegger in California, who held on because they are independent.

It was a terrible day for anti-immigration restrictionists on the right of the G.O.P., like J.D. Hayworth and Randy Graf in Arizona.

If you wanted to pick out a stereotypical swing voter in this election, it would be a white evangelical suburban office park mom in a blue state suburb. She’s part of the one-third of white evangelicals who voted Democratic this year, as did 20 percent of self-described conservatives. She supported the Iraq war once but believes it has been conducted terribly. She doesn’t have a lot of faith in government generally — 54 percent of voters believe government interferes too much, while only 37 percent want it to do more, according to a recent CNN survey — but she does think government should be able to accomplish its core missions.

She embodies the message of E. J. Dionne’s 1991 book, “Why Americans Hate Politics,” which argues that Americans are sick of symbolic politics, dying ideologies and false choices. Most of all, she’s angry that politicians behave in ways that would be unacceptable in every realm of her life, and she thinks they’re endangering her country.

In some ways, this election reminds me of the 1974 Democratic sweep. The Republicans have screwed up. Democrats have surged in. But the result leads not to a liberal tide but to Jimmy Carter, who in 1976 ran as a conservative anti-political reformer who won on fiscal discipline and with the support of Pat Robertson.

This election didn’t define a new era, but it marks the end of an old one. If Democrats are going to take advantage of their victory, they will have to do two things. They will have to show they have not been taken over by their bloggers or their economic nationalists, who will alienate them from the suburban office park moms. Second, they’ll have to come up with ideas as big as the problems we face. Their current platform consists of small-bore tax credits and foreign policy vagaries about, say, “redoubling” our efforts to get Osama bin Laden. (Why not retripling or requadrupling?)

Realignments are achieved by parties that define big new approaches to problems (see F.D.R.’s Commonwealth Club speech), and neither party has done that yet. In the meantime, if I were a Democrat I’d be like Lee Hamilton, the former Indiana congressman and serial commission member. The country is hungering for leaders like him: open-minded, unassuming centrists who are interested in government more than politics. If the Democrats are smart, this could be the beginning of a new Hamiltonian age.

1 comment:

Deborah said...

Brilliant, indeed. I recently read it, and kept a copy for my files.