America voted. In 2006 Republicans were under attack by the electorate and they lost both houses of Congress. In 2008 their losses continued and Democrats gained greater majorities in both houses. America had decided that Republicans had squandered their trust and the ability to govern had been compromised. In 2010, the attacks continue but this time from within the party. The far right wing of the party is vicious in its attacks upon moderate and conservative members alike, throwing them all out in favor of untested, untried, and unknown people. These new candidates have one thing in common – ultra conservatism that is unlikely to play well in a general election. As a friend said recently, the Tea Party appears to stand for the Take Everything Away Party. Everything such as Social Security, Medicare, unemployment benefits, food stamps, public education, and other social safety nets.
I am reminded of the late 1960s when the Democratic Party was pushed toward ultra-progressive positions by very vocal progressive activists. Those extreme positions did not sit well with the country and, in the longer term, we had Republican Presidents for 12 straight years. America does not like extreme positions, whether left or right. That is why this midterm election is shaping up to be a most interesting election and one to be watched.
There are two ways to watch this election. First, there is the short-term view. The overarching anger may be enough to force a change in leadership in one or both houses of Congress, as happened in 2006. Everybody is mad right now. The Republicans are mad at themselves over fiscal excesses and the failure to aggressively promote a restrictive social agenda, a Christian version of Sharia law. Even though the Republican members of Congress have voted no to everything, in lockstep, for the last two years, it has not been enough to save them from right wing wrath. The Republican Party is re-identifying itself as a far right party. That might play well in November but is very unlikely to maintain loyalty in the long term. On the other hand, it may not play well in November because the moderate members, and independents, may decide they have no place at the table and are not interested in sliding further to the right..
Not to be left out of an angry knee-jerk reaction, the Democrats are quite likely to shoot themselves in the foot this November. Obama has been a big disappointment to the more progressive elements in the party and they threaten to stay home. They are mad that Obama did not close Gitmo, did not eliminate warrantless wiretapping, did not include a public option in health care, did not repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, did not address immigration issues, sent troops to Afghanistan, and the list goes on. They consider Obama too conservative and may attempt to neuter his power to enact changes by not voting.
The second way to watch this election is the longer term effect on both parties. Republicans, by moving so far to the right, are clearly moving outside the mainstream. As happened to the Democrats 30 years ago, this far right movement is quite likely to backfire once reason returns. Even during the height of the communist scare, the John Birch Society never gained much traction. Fear only goes so far with a reasonable population and Americans, above all else, reach reasonable decisions – over time. The conservative fierce internal fighting is unlikely to consolidate policy positions that resonate with the electorate, suggesting longer term the Republicans have the most to lose. However, Democrats are not off the hook. They are not internally fighting but, instead, are miffed. If they resolve their pique before November and come out to vote, Republican gains may be kept below the change of leadership threshold. Longer term, Democrats have much to gain by Republican infighting but seem posed to squander the opportunity. Neither party is approaching our future with any degree of maturity.