November 4, 2012

Change and Counter-Change [McGehee]

Back in 2008, then-PW contributor Karl wrote a series of posts about a pattern he had discerned in American elections since the end of the Second World War: that every 16 years — starting in 1960 — there has been a “change” election where the Democrat presidential ticket has benefited from an exploitable public fatigue with recent Republican governance.

In 1960 the outgoing incumbent president, Dwight Eisenhower, was 70 years old, having been a five-star general during a war that had ended 15 years earlier — while the Democrats’ nominee, Sen. John Kennedy, was 43 years old with an attractive wife and an abundance of youthful energy. After eight years of presidential golf games and a perception of decline in America’s defense posture (the mythical “missile gap” that Kennedy’s campaign knowingly lied about), the tanned and confident Bostonian defeated the shifty-eyed and poorly-shaven Vice President Richard Nixon despite their being only four years apart in age.

In 1976, after Vietnam, Watergate, a presidential resignation and pardon, the midwestern placeholder who succeeded Nixon was defeated by a Southern Democrat who touted his “born again” Christian values and pledged never to lie to the American people. Jimmy Carter, 11 years younger than Gerald Ford, won.

In 1992, after a twelve-year run of GOP residency in the White House, Democrats and the media (but I repeat myself) hyped a faltering economy as the worst in 50 years and offered up another southern Democrat who portrayed himself as a centrist. Bill Clinton, 22 years younger than George H.W. Bush, won.

Karl’s point was that in 2008 the historical patterns put the eventual Republican nominee at a disadvantage in November — and the fact John McCain was older in 2008 than Eisenhower was in 1960, while Barack Obama was only 47, only added to that disadvantage when the voting actually began.

But each of these instances of the historical pattern was different from every other instance; events of such magnitude, following a pattern on such a time scale, have to be dependent on larger trends that combine over the course of, say, a half century to make them arise and recur as they appear to have done. And when the events in question involve people making decisions, people will learn from what happens each time.

One cannot discuss the “change” election of 1992 without also discussing what happened in the congressional election of 1994. Bill Clinton entered office with both houses of Congress comfortably in Democrat hands, but after only two years the Republicans won majorities in both houses, due in no small part to a campaign engineered by then-House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich. There was much hope afterward that Clinton would go down to defeat for re-election in 1996 — but the energy of the counterrevolution was spent by the end of 1995. I believe this was because the outcome in 1994, while exploiting public dissatisfaction with such things as Hillary Clinton’s health-care task force, was mostly driven from inside the Beltway. And Gingrich’s attempt to implement the promised changes that led to the change in congressional leadership was blunted mostly by the Republican-led Senate under Bob Dole who went on to be the Republican nominee in 1996.

This, in my opinion, is why top Democrats and their supporters in the media expect Barack Obama to be re-elected on Tuesday: the counterrevolution of 2010, they are sure, was a onetime reaction to 2008 and has passed into history, its energy and commitment no longer a factor in 2012. After all, the Republican nominee for president in 2012 is just another warmed-over “his turn” also-ran from 2008, much like Dole had been a failed challenger in the GOP primaries in 1988. History, they believe, will simply repeat itself.

History doesn’t repeat. It rhymes.

What the failure of the so-called Gingrich Revolution of 1994 demonstrated was that real change doesn’t come from the top down. The top was the problem for congressional Republicans before 1994 and — as the Senate’s intransigence in 1995 showed — after. And while Democrats and the media (BIRM) tried in 2010 to portray the Tea Party movement as organized by right-wing think tanks and GOP-funding corporations, that was never the truth.

I’m not the first to argue that Tea Party energy will unexpectedly(!) impact this election. I think that to the extent Karl was right about the pattern he described back in 2008 the Tea Party may be the first sign that the coalescing demographic and political trends that created the pattern may be about to dissipate.

If you haven’t already voted, you’d better. History will bite you in the ass if you don’t. And history has great big sharp teeth.

Posted by McGehee @ 10:45am
13 comments | Trackback

Comments (13)

  1. Talk about change – this should creep you out.

  2. Clinton could also run on Peace and Prosperity and Ending Welfare as We Know It.

    The Food Stamp President can’t do any of these things.

  3. Making a beginning by way of an introduction to political philosophy “at the beginning,” as he put it, Leo Strauss spoke to his 1966 Meno seminar class as follows:

    All political action is concerned with either preservation or change. When it is concerned with change it is concerned with change for the better. When it is concerned with preservation it is concerned with avoiding that something worse comes. Therefore, all political action presupposes opinions of better and worse. But you cannot have an opinion of better and worse without having an opinion of good or bad. But when you see that you follow an opinion, you are by this very fact driven to try to find knowledge — to replace opinion by knowledge. Therefore all political action points by itself toward knowledge of the good. Now the complete political good we call the good society. And therefore all political action points toward the question of the good society, and political philosophy can be defined as the quest for the good society.

    And there, in the quest for knowledge by which to “replace” opinion, history enters in. And history, we find, is eventually to become grown into Historicism in the 19th century, another form of what Strauss goes on to describe — along with other forms or names of the 20th century (the Great Society, the Open Society) –as a species of the good society.

    “But,” Strauss goes on to say, “I have to correct myself immediately. While this reasoning which I sketched seems to be evident to the meanest capacities, its value, its power to convince has decayed in modern times, in our age. […] Political philosophy is today regarded by many people, especially in the academic professions, as impossible on two different but related grounds, which we indicate by the words Science and History.”

  4. I don’t think of this in terms of a “Change election.” Democrats, consciously or not are benefiting from the same thing that the Disney company consciously used for their films re-releases and as their video marketing model.

    The Disney video products main appeal is to a certain age range. Ones too young can’t push the parents to buy the product and ones to old have seen it, own it and are not going to push for another copy. They figured out that 7 years was the right amount of time to wait between releasing their films to the public. That was enough time to have a brand new audience to have grown up who would want to see their films as for them they would be brand new.

    The Democrats are likewise. Too young and they can’t vote and even younger they aren’t even interested in the Democrat’s progressive fantasy product. Too old and either they are the dissatisfied customers for the previous “change election” or have simply out grown those fantasies that Democrats sell.

    Their market is an age range that has to have not seen the failures of previous Democrat administrations and yet be old enough to vote. It seems to take 16 years to raise up a new generation of those gullible youths who then make the margin of victory for another Democrat Presidency. One which brutally teaches them the lessons contained in “The Gods of the Copybook Headings”

    If we could just go back to using the copybooks and headings method in schools again perhaps they wouldn’t need the Democrat school of hard knocks every 16 years.

  5. Obama’s not a failure because he’s a Democrat (well, not entirely at any rate) he’s a failure because he’s a Senator.

    Senator’s fuck up* so badly that we only reelect a Senator to the White House once every other generation.

    *list of Senator’s elected to the White House from the Senate:

    Harding (teapot dome)
    Kennedy (bay of pigs cuban missle crisis viet nam)
    Obama (see zombie’s list over at PJ Media)

  6. I’ve been likening Bronco to Harding since he was sworn in.

    Of course, if McCoot had been elected, I doubt he would have broken the fuck up chain of command, being a senator his ownself.

  7. I was musing today after posting this essay, that a constitutional amendment prohibiting a sitting Senator from seeking re-election to the Senate — while allowing him to run again after leaving that body — would both improve the average campaign skills of the average Senator, and make them more fit to be President if elected to that office.

    Longtime Senators become poor campaigners because they only run every six years, and always only in one state, usually with a power base that lines up behind him immediately after he wins his first term. Primary challenges die on the vine and few ambitious in-state members of the other party are willing to spend a year or more running for a seat that it’s highly unlikely he can win.

    And of course, two or three terms in the Senate put the incumbent completely out of practice as a productive member of society.

    Naturally any change to the way Senate seats are filled would quickly evolve a new strategy for an in-state power base to keep that power while any given Senator is out of his seat — but maybe if the maintenance of that power becomes too costly and labor-intensive the benefits might be noticeable.

  8. I like that idea, McGehee. I would expand it to not allowing them to run for a Senate or House seat while serving in either body.

  9. Legislators make poor executives, period.

  10. To all of these historical pattern analysis things I say, fine, that’s good to keep an eye on patterns, wouldn’t want to miss anything significant, but do understand that was then and this is now.

    And for all that is accounted for in these analyses, the important lines that are tracked, they leave out the way the world changed since then, the way parties themselves changed along the data points, demographics changed changed along the way, and all the little things that happened in between.

  11. shorter bour3 – baracky/shit happens

  12. Exactly. Change is the only constant, and to the extent any substantive pattern emerges it is only temporary — until the larger trends that converged to create it move on and stop supporting it.

  13. I’m one of those people who thinks that Senators should be appointed by their states like in der olden days UNLESS the state wants to hold an election to see who they appoint. The popular election of all Senators is a big part of where state power started to flow into the Fed and never really stopped. We need a smaller fed and bigger states.

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