SUMMERTIME... AND THE PUNDITRY IS EASY
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
OK... I'm back now...
you done with your hot dog?... don't worry: burgers and brats will be ready soon!
Now, where was I?... oh, yeah:
As I said previously: pay little heed to the results of the Gubernatorial Election in NEW JERSEY this coming November; instead, pay far more attention to that in VIRGINIA. A GOP victory in the "Old Dominion" will be a positive boon to the Republican Party US in a way that a similar victory in my own Garden State would not necessarily be; meanwhile, a Democrat winning the Virginia Governorship (regardless of what happens up here in "Jersey") would simply mean the national Republicans will just have to go back to the proverbial "drawing board" going into the 2010 Midterm Elections.
And, speaking of those very 2010 Midterms:
While it is inherently problematic to begin projecting the potential fate of each Major Party in elections now still almost a year and a half away, it also happens to all be great fun!: as the late Gil Hodges, manager of the New York Mets' 1969 World Championship team, wrote in his book The Game of Baseball, taking the first guess is, indeed, a lot more fun (though one certainly risks being flat-out wrong!) than mere second-guessing after the fact.
Again, I myself (ever mindful of the caveat that- while History may, from time to time, repeat itself- it rarely, if ever, repeats itself exactly!) look back to the aftermath of the 1980 Presidential Election going into the 1982 Midterm Elections for what I think of as a pretty good analogy to the present political situation here in the United States.
To repeat: the Republicans of 2009 in the wake of Barack Obama's election to the Presidency seem to be acting quite a lot like the Democrats of 1981 in the wake of the first election of Ronald Reagan... the Party is running to its base (to the right, in the case of today's GOP; the '81 Dems, of course, ran to the left) largely because it does not really believe that President Obama's election is anything but an aberration (a belief largely fueled by many conservative talk show hosts and print commentators who sincerely believe that the Reagan Coalition is still viable, well forgetting that political coalitions in America are of their time and, thereby, have a limited shelf-life [for an argument that a political reality that forged electoral victory some quarter of a century ago now might still be relevant today is surely something of a stretch!])...
yet this is precisely what the Democrats of 28 years back thought in relation to President Reagan's election.
Many, if not most, conservative Republicans believe, and have so opined, that the United States of America is, at heart, a Right of Center nation...
compared to what?
After all, if the nation is so Right of Center "naturally" (using that adverb solely in a political context), then that "Right of Center" would then become, by very definition, the national Center (in which case, Barack Obama would never have been elected President of the United States so recently in the first place!)...
what utter nonsense!... but it is precisely the same kind of utter nonsense (merely involving a different side of that same "Center") that many Democrats of 28 years ago also believed.
Put another way: in 1981, the majority of more liberal Democrats truly believed that their own political maxims, including many an aberrant one, coming out of what tends to get lumped together as "the Sixties" (even when same actually took place in the early 1970s in which I myself was to live out most of my own teenage years) were still going to remain viable (as they then looked forward to not only 1982, but also the upcoming 1984 Presidential Election) up to- if not also well beyond- some two decades after the fact!
In retrospect- if we judge solely on the basis of who voted for whom in various and sundry American Elections: the Democratic Party US of 1981 viewed a President Ronald Reagan- conservative Republican to the core, political successor to the mantle of Barry Goldwater (a "conservative beast" whom liberals had thought they had already slain back in 1964)- as a political aberration when, instead, it was to be they themselves- the Democrats of 1981, pulled to the left (on the theory, one supposes, that Jimmy Carter had lost his Presidency by not being as liberal as, say, his challenger Ted Kennedy)- who were, in the long run, to become exposed as the aberration, if only in the context of the then-still emergent American Politics of the 1980s.
What is most interesting, however, is what actually happened to the Democratic Party come 1982 and the possible lessons we can now draw from this as we already, in the high Summer of 2009, look ahead to 2010:
To give no little perspective here: the Democrats had lost control of the United States Senate in the same 1980 General Elections that had also propelled Ronald Reagan into the White House. Going into that 1980 contest, the Democrats had held a 58-41 edge in the Senate (there was also one Independent- a former conservative Democrat who, if only ostensibly, caucused with the Democrats [this being Harry Flood Byrd, Jr. of Virginia], giving the Democrats a theoretical majority of +9)... but the Democrats had to defend 24 of the 34 Class 3 seats up for election that year (this being a legacy of these same seats having been filled, for six-year terms, in the 1974 General Election that had come at a time to the disadvantage of a Republican Party so recently sent reeling by the Watergate scandal and the related resignation of President Richard Nixon)... put another way, more than 40 percent of the Democratic seats in the Senate were up for election in 1980 alone!
The effect of having so many seats to defend, in an election in which the Party's incumbent in the White House was destined to go down to defeat, was a veritable "political bloodbath" for that Party in the concomitant Senate races: for the Democrats only won half of the seats their Party had to contest and, in addition, picked up nary a one amongst the 10 Class 3 seats heretofore held by the Republicans. You do the math and you can easily glean a +12 net gain in the Senate for the Republicans, one that- rather obviously- completely wiped out the Dems' + 9 advantage and then some [!], giving control of the Senate to the Grand Old Party for the first time in 26 years.
(The 1980 elections for the U.S. House of Representatives, by the way, were also something of a "political bloodletting" as regarded the Party of the defeated President Carter but, in the case of the lower chamber of Congress, the Democrats had enough of a cushion so as to remain in charge there. Yes, 'tis true that the Republicans had gained 34 seats net which, when added to the 15-seat net gain the GOP had enjoyed in the 1978 General Elections which had first signalled the rise of the so-called "New Right", added up to a total net gain for the Republicans over 2 Congressional Election "cycle"s not much less than that they would enjoy in the House- albeit in one single Congressional Election- come 1994, but the Democrats of 1980 now going into 1981 had once had, thanks- again- to those same 1974 post-Watergate elections, a [if only theoretically] "veto-proof" majority that they had managed to hold onto come the 1976 General Elections. Thus, after the 1980 elections, the Democrats held 243 seats in the House over against the Republicans' 192 which, coincidentally, happened to be the exact same breakdown of the House as a result of the very elections which had also produced the Nixon landslide of 1972 [and, perhaps, it was this little factoid that, somehow, persuaded many Democrats of that time that it was their control of Congress- and, by extension, even the Presidency- that was, somehow, "normal"!])
But a funny thing happened- no, not on the way to the Forum; instead, on the way to the United States Capitol- to this same Democratic Party come the 1982 General Elections. For, even while moving the Party more towards its own left of center-to-liberal base and with now 19 more Democratic United States Senate seats (Class 1 in this case) to defend in these elections, the Democrats... my goodness... actually held their own!
For, of the 19 Democratic Senate seats up for grabs in '82, the Democrats only lost one (an incumbent in Nevada- Howard Cannon- went down): but this was offset by a Dem- Jeff Bingaman (still serving in the Senate from New Mexico as of this typing, by the way)- knocking off Republican Senator Harrison Schmitt (interestingly, considering the 40th Anniversary of the first Moon Landing we celebrated just the other day, one of the last two men to walk upon the lunar surface [at least so far! ;-)]). The Virginia seat held by the aforementioned Independent (who, again, caucused with the Democrats) went to a Republican in 1982 but the Democrats won a seat in New Jersey that was held by a Republican (if only because the Republican in question happened to be a gubernatorial appointee filling a vacancy and who was not the GOP nominee for the full 6-year term)... all in all, this election ended up a wash.
So what might we now discern from all this- again, assuming (if only for the sake of my argument) that the immediate post-Obama election Republicans are, as I have already opined, politically acting more than quite a bit like the post-Reagan election Democrats- as we look forward to November 2010? Well, it all seems to so strongly suggest that, regardless of what happens as regards the fates of the two Major Parties in this year's Gubernatorial Elections in New Jersey and Virginia, the Republicans- much like their Democratic counterparts 28 years before- will, likewise, actually hold their own in the upcoming Senate races.
All one has to do is take a quick "look-see" at the Class 3 Senate seats up for election in 2010 and note that, were it not for Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania having recently switched Parties, the Republicans would've had the same number of Senate seats to defend in the upcoming General Election as the Democrats did back in 1982: an interesting coincidence (and, yes, it is only a coincidence!), to be sure... but just look at the States with such Class 3 GOP Senators!
For there aren't many States on that list which are not, even given the "anti-GOP" results of the 2008 General Elections, places in which the Republican Party is still quite strong... 7 of the 18 (if you throw Oklahoma into the mix and, at the same time, take out a Florida politically far different than even the Sunshine State of half a century ago) are in what I have argued, on this website, has already well become established as the Republican "Solid South"; another half dozen- give or take- are States outside the South which almost always have to be considered to be predominantly Republican... this doesn't leave all that many of these Republican Class 3 Senate seats for Democrats to potentially pick off come 2 November 2010.
No, indeed... projecting ahead to 2010 this early in "the game" (with the disclaimer that I ever reserve the right, if only because of the ever-present potential for things in future that cannot now be at all foreseen, to tell you- say, a year from now- something completely different than what I am now typing!), it is rather likely that the Democrats will, in the 112th Congress, not be holding all that many more seats in the United States Senate than are currently theirs in the 111th... in other words, the prospects for the GOP in the Senate come 2010 are, if only for now, not all that unlike those the Democrats came to enjoy back in 1982 (and for pretty much the same reasons!)
what's that?... oh, good... you got yourself a burger and a brat... cool!... and, speaking of which, I'm going to get myself a soft drink out of the cooler over there-- along with a hot dog, a burger and a brat ... just let me grab a bite or two here and I'll get back to you...
to be continued...