Both parties give reasons for criticism
I’m going to try to fight off the urge to discuss why Tuesday happened the way it did. Was it an outgrowth of a public who is simply under-informed and easily manipulated? Was it a genuine fear over the “problems” in Iraq? Was it boredom and a need to shake things up? I really don’t know, but I would suspect that it’s a combination of those things. It only took six years, but Democrats finally convinced Americans to be fed up with President Bush.
More interesting to me is what this means for the two years ahead.
Let’s look at what has happened. The Democrats have their first majority in both houses of Congress in more than a decade. The Republicans haven’t failed to hold at least one house since the Republican Revolution in 1994. The reorganization of the party that caused that tremendous shift in power involved consolidating the base and pandering to conservative Christians in the heartland. All that policy did was win majorities in both houses and eventually a two-term president.
Has that strategy, though, been played out? Did the Bush/Huckabee conservative Christian wing of the party go far enough to alienate the middle that they needed to win general elections? The same question can be asked for Democrats. Have they realized that their strategy of being as liberal as they can and trying to convince Americans to agree with them isn’t working?
These questions will be answered in the next couple years and the answers could determine the political playground for the next decade or so.
Republicans have seemed to steadily get more and more conservative since they gained power. There are two possible explanations for that trend. First, they had power and decided to use it in a way that they thought was best. Second, they wanted to continue to do what was working to secure more electoral victories. The second seems unlikely.
The point of gaining power over the government, presumably, is one of the two primary reasons for running for office in the first place (the other being money, let’s not kid ourselves). Once they gained power, libertarians who voted Republican had to cringe.
These aren’t fiscal conservatives. They do what they think is right. That means they follow their hearts. If they think the government should control our lives and money – that’s what they made the government do.
Sure, they cut taxes, but that didn’t stop them from passing just as many wasteful and inefficient government programs as Democrats would have passed. They moved the Republican Party way to the right, and now the standard Republican candidate is often off the spectrum when it comes to the average American’s ideals.
Democrats know how much this can cost. Since the 2000 elections, they’ve gotten more and more angry. The anger was channeled into becoming more and more liberal. They moved so far to the left that they selected a senator from Massachusetts as their candidate, lauding him as the most elect-worthy of the contenders in the primary.
It should be noted that they didn’t really do anything differently in this election – they just capitalized on the fact that the Republicans have upset the majority of Americans on a few key issues.
So, we look at what this means. Arkansas now has only one Republican in a major office (John Boozman, who is the congressman for this district). Many states distanced themselves from Republican incumbents like they were contagious. Each party can react in two different ways to this cycle – each party has a chance to win in 2008.
Republicans can take note of this good-old-fashioned whipping and adjust their strategy. They’ve got the conservative Christian base locked up with a few key issues, so there’s no reason to select candidates who are members of that base. They can’t discard all their core values, or they’ll lose votes to a third party lunatic on the far right end of the spectrum. They can either continue the trend and select a radical conservative who wants to end science and interfere in people’s personal lives, or they can find a person who is reasonable (but still conservative) on the social issues that are important to conservative Christians, but who can send out a message that will appeal to a broader section of Americans.
Democrats, also, have a choice to make. They can continue what they’re doing and hope that Americans will continue to hate the president as much two years from now as they do now. It will be difficult to win running a campaign against a person who isn’t running for the office, but Democrats have avoided having any ideas of their own (other than being against anything proposed by Republicans) for the last six years and they won back Congress.
Alternatively, they can wisen up and find candidates who speak the same language as people who live in states that aren’t in New England, the Great Lakes and the Pacific Coast. They need to come back to earth and speak about things Americans care about and propose plans to fix those things.
Of course, both parties can continue to do what they’re doing – and Americans can suffer the consequences of an agenda supported by a vocal minority, conservative or liberal.
Reed Luthanen is a law student at the UA. His column appears every other Friday.