For those who have been exiled in wilderness tents for the past two weeks, Republicans won big victories in Congressional “mid-term” elections this cycle and already are starting to assert themselves accordingly. A virtual mirror image of this phenomenon happened in 2006. Neither pendulum swing was an isolated event; tracking of national partisan results for President and Congress since the late 1800s shows that power is fleeting for either side.
Given such a track record, neither party should get too smug after a big election win, because as history has shown (over and over and over), that winning side hallucinates a massive mandate that doesn’t really exist, assumes too much of the electorate supports all of its favorite policies, abuses its power, then suffers a “shocking” defeat when the inevitable blowback occurs against its behavior the previous few years. That begs the question, why do these swings always seem so shocking when they are inevitable?
Partly, the surprise at such swings comes from shortsightedness and ignorance, both by politicians and the public. After all, we live in an era of flavor-of-the-year fads and ten-second attention spans, combined with an utterly wretched academic knowledge of history and civics among most of the populace. The tawdry misadventures of Justin Beiber and the Kardashian women are more important than the national debt or Middle East policy for far too many people, and that’s just pathetic! Part of the problem is that each hapless-ignoramus vote, from some schlub or ditz who can’t even name the three branches of government, counts the same as each vote from those of us who can name every member of the Supreme Court and who actually study the issues.
Politicians of both–yes, both–sides pander shamelessly to that ignorance, and the fear that they can fuel as a result. Those evil bad guys are going to take away your welfare check (left), religious freedom (right), bedroom behavior (left), guns (right), clean air (left), kids’ education (both), privacy (both), money (both)! And there are just enough nuggets of worst-case scenario truth and slippery-slope potential in such fear-mongering to make it somewhat believable. Don’t think this isn’t by design either; elections have proven to be won that way for generations. The Republicrat monolith that spawned NSA domestic spying and quantitative easing (corporate welfare if there ever was) then plays both leftists, and conservatives like me, for the sucker, because of a lack of alternatives.
Does this mean a continual mandate for compromise? Perhaps, on some issues that are not binary and where compromise is possible–usually economic ones where budgeting lines can be drawn in between partisan preferences. Both sides have a history of offering profuse lip service to compromise until it means they actually have to give up something. For example, compromise can be done on social squabbles like so-called “gay marriage”–and here’s how. Civil unions are a middle ground between zero recognition and full advocacy. The middle is always best, right?–or so the few true centrists claim. [I obviously do not agree, and neither do my mirror images on the left.] However, the left flatly refuses to compromise on that issue, revealing itself as hypocritical when complaining that the right refuses to compromise on any issue. And so the no-recognition and full-“marriage” sides dig in because neither want to accept that middle solution.
[As an aside, yes, I put “gay marriage” in quotes deliberately and without apology, because marriage by definition cannot be anything but man-woman; yet somehow I am just centrist enough on this specific issue to support legal recognition of civil unions for those who are seeking benefits related thereto. In fact, there is a very solid Libertarian argument, rooted in a literal reading of the Constitution, for no Federal involvement or recognition of any sort of marriage.]
Speaking of Republicrats: Secondarily, but importantly, we have no large, self-sustaining, third-party choices; as such, the electorate keeps being presented with a ceaseless somewhat-right R vs. far-left D target when what it often claims to want is the middle. I’m not sure a third party is much of a solution, however, because for every Tea Party that might rise up, so might a Green Party, and the republican democracy gets even more fragmented and fractious. As has happened in Europe, the Greens would siphon off votes for prevailing leftist party. The Tea Party (where I most closely fit) would siphon conservatives from Republican ranks. The Libertarians would siphon both. Good luck getting a majority on much of anything under that model, outside the occasional Green-Democrat or Tea-Republican coalition, and what does that yield? The same stinking dichotomy we have now anyway!
Personally, I tend not to advocate the middle ground most of the time. I am staunchly conservative and freely state this, with no reservation. Calling me a “right winger” is not just a compliment but a badge of honor. I won’t even pretend to be centrist on most matters, because I am not pretentious. I freely admit that I don’t want compromise on a lot of issues–because it only means taking this nation halfway to hell instead of all the way. If middle-road compromise is always the best solution, all the time, no exceptions, then…I am part of the problem, and moreover, am glad of it. [Now you be honest and ask yourself, is the middle unfailingly the best path, every time, all the time?] If more of my left-wing friends would quit falsely claiming to be centrists and compromise-seeking, and instead, be brutally honest and admit a mirror image of my own unwillingness to yield on many issues, we’d at least understand each other better in our endless disparity! We won’t agree anyway, so what’s the point of play-acting like we ever could?
That said, I also admit that compromise (as malodorous and “sellout” as it seems to me in many cases) is a time-honored part of solving some problems facing this country. It can be beneficial in the net to make compromises that neither side fully likes, on some (not all) issues. There sometimes is merit to the old adage that you’re doing something right if you manage to enrage both sides.
However, there often is no middle ground on more contentious, generally yes/no topics like abortion legality, a choice of starting military action in a specific conflict area, or Federal funding for (abortion, birth control, condoms, or any other private-bedroom issue). When the left controls the presidency and Congress simultaneously, a slew of edicts and even laws flow forth favoring their side. Ditto with the right. Then the pendulum swings with the electorate, disgusted with absolute power, voting in enough of the opposite side to stop the bleeding.
Therein lies the Founders’ pure genius in setting up this representative democratic-republican system (lower-case “d” and “r”): the voters get to tell the side that has gotten cocky and overly self-assured in power: “Enough! Stop it!” This means a halting to what one side or the other deems as “progress” and the invariable sore-loser whining by that side (which I fully admit to as a conservative ’06 and ’08, even as leftists refuse to admit now and in ’04). Yet the system works. Sometimes the car of “progress” need to stop, lest it drives us over a cliff.
In the most recent midterm elections, that “Enough, stop it!” message was directed at a Democrat-ruled Senate and administration whose actions (including those carried over from previous Rs and then made worse, like NSA/FBI snooping and the growing national debt) overflowed with arrogance, hubris, and contempt for the rule of law. I hold that much of the voters’ emplacement of Republicans in 2014, and of Democrats in 2006, was not out of a mandate for the favored party’s platforms (proactive voting), but instead a backlash (reactive voting), in order to check and balance the runaway presumptuousness and abuses of the other side.
Pendulums that are constantly pushed will continue to swing. And so it will be, back and forth, this and that, Republican and Democrat, tick, tock, tick, tock. Despite highly dubious predictions by Democrats, there will be another Republican President who, at some point, partly overlaps an R-dominant Congress. Those Rs will go overboard and compel a Democrat President and Congress, who will desperately do everything they can to push that agenda as far as possible before the next backlash throws them out. And so forth, and so on…
To deny this is to deny historic truth. Since complaints without solutions are worthless, what’s my solution? I advocate complete elimination of all partisan elections. No Rs, Ds, or other letters after any candidate’s name. Let every election be decided solely on the basis of issues, not letters or parties. This ideal forces politicians to be accountable not to parties but to voters (and unfortunately, lobbyists…something we can’t prohibit constitutionally under freedom of speech and association). At least this does remove rigid party-platform politics and the problem of a candidate being stuck at the mercy of his/her national party’s platform and money machine.
Is a party-free politic realistic? Not any time soon, but I see no realistic solutions…none. As such, we’re stuck with partisanship and division, like it or not. Get used to it. Deal with it. We’ve had to for two centuries.
The lesson is simple, the truth independent of liberalism or conservatism as ideals. Human nature is that power corrupts. This ain’t changing, at least not before the Second Coming. The pendulum will not stop, and each side will swap out control of government at irregular intervals until the very implosion of society and government itself.