Monday, April 11, 2005

Election 2006

Is it too early to start speculating about the midterm elections in 2006? Not if you’re a political junkie! Specifically, let’s focus on the Senate and this piece of trivia, courtesy of Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball:

Never in modern times has a president been able to add Senate seats in the dreaded sixth-year election. Of course, look at George W. Bush's remarkable electoral record so far. Sooner or later, there's always a first time for every mark in the record book.
Sabato points out that the average loss for the President’s party in the sixth-year is three Senate seats. Thus, even if the Republican lose only a couple of seats, the White House can still spin it as a minor victory. But can the GOP actually pick up seats in the Senate? Jayson over at Polipundit thinks so, estimating a net pickup of one seat in 2006. And here’s the long view from Michael Barone:

In the long run, Republicans are well positioned to increase their numbers in both the Senate and the House. Some Democrats hold seats because of personal popularity or moderate voting records. But when they retire, Republicans may well succeed them. In the short run, very few Republicans run great political risks by supporting Bush. Significantly more Democrats run great political risks by opposing him. Obstruction doesn't work well for Democrats in Bush seats: Just ask former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. And at the moment, on Social Security, as Democrats Stan Greenberg and James Carville wrote last month, “Voters are looking for reform, change and new ideas, but Democrats seem stuck in concrete.”
It’s for this reason that, at this juncture, I agree with Jayson that this could be the first instance where a second-term President picks up Senate seats. Forget about the red state-blue state demographics. The fundamental problem for the Democratic party is that they are a party adrift, with no ideological moorings except for blind obstructionism. Today the Boston Globe carried an article of such a comic Pollyannaish quality, at first I swore it was a parody. Titled “Foes cite progress vs. Bush agenda,” it portrayed the efforts of the Democrats to block everything as – bizarrely – a sign of “progress.”

''The Democratic caucus has never been as unified, and you've seen it on Social Security, the budget, and judges," said Senate minority leader Harry Reid of Nevada. ''It took a while for us to realize that we weren't in the majority. I think, though, we have learned the lesson well. And we have also learned that the majority party won't be in the majority forever."
The Republicans have been in control of Congress for ten years now.

Democrats acknowledge the strategy carries the risk that members will be viewed as obstructionists, focused on what they can stop instead of what they can accomplish. Republicans hope to use Democratic opposition as a weapon in 2006 elections, and Bush still has time in his second term to guide his priorities into law.
As Peggy Lee once sang: “Is that all there is?” Is this the anemic state of the party that once gave us the Cross of Gold and the New Frontier? Now comes a modern rallying cry for the new “block” party: “Holding up legislation for America.” I find it hard to believe that Americans will support a party so drained of ideas that it derives self-esteem from mindless obstructionism.


Anonymous said...

Wow. Clinton, Reagan, Eisenhower.... how far back does that useful "in modern times" caveat stretch? Let's throw in FDR. Woodrow Wilson's next, but I prefer my modern times to have mostly paved roads.

Wouldn't it be historically astounding should Bush break this incredible 0-for-4 streak? Shared by 4 of the last 14 Presidents? Over a short 85 years? I haven't been so abuzz since Aerosmith finally scored their first #1 single!

And this "the minority ______ are the party of stubborn obstruction" is an argument that has never been made before in American politics. It'll be a major vote-winner until it isn't.

That "Cross of Gold" bit you pretend to admire really worked out well for President Bryan.

What is this stuff? And MAN, don't you miss October 2004? Those were the days!

Eric said...

Well, if you had read the Sabato analysis (it’s easy! Just click on the hyperlink!) you would see that he factors the past 14 midterm elections and finds an average of three seats lost for the President’s party. But for the sixth-year midterm, the average is SIX Senate seats lost. So gaining a seat (a historical 7-seat swing) would be quite an achievement.

As for the Democrats’ obstruction: for the past two centuries, the Presidents’ judicial nominees that have passed out of committee have had a straight up-or-down majority vote for confirmation. Now Chuck Schumer – out of thin air – finds that the Constitution (which clearly enumerates when supermajorities are required) allows for the filibuster of judicial nominees. As for legislation: look at what Carville & Greenberg – loyal Democrats – are warning about. It seems inconceivable that the Democrats would admit there’s a problem with Social Security but offer no solution for what is arguably the cornerstone of New Deal policy. On this and a host of other issues, it’s all “no.”

At least Bryan believed in something and clearly spelled out his positions. The modern Democratic party believes only in winning – which is why they keep losing.

Personally, I’ll always cherish the Dec. 2004 Democratic National Committee meeting when Terry McAuliffe handed off the reins of the party to Howard Dean. McAuliffe had absolutely driven the party into the ground – losing seats in the House, Senate, and governorships – and he was being praised for his “success.” Oh man, that was some good theater.

Anonymous said...

Ah, so this historic kind-of-streak is actually 0-for-3. And if YOU read the Sabato analysis, you'll note that there are 3 more open Democratic seats next year than Republican ones. Was this the ratio in 1998, 1986, and 1958? And do those election years have anything meaningful in common with 2006? Who knows?

But what's clear is that Bush could conceivably overcome an oblique historical pattern with a puny sample size that may or may not have meaning (assuming it happens). Impressive!

I suppose it's a waste of time bringing up the "obstructionist" 95% approval numbers, or the GOP's tactics on Clinton judicial appointees that created this "crisis" in empty seats. This is strictly Yankees-Red Sox territory now, where the other side epitomizes evil in human form. Doesn't it stink, when the opposition keeps OPPOSING all the time?

Like the current martyrdom of Priscilla Owen, William J. Bryan believed in something that seemed overwhelmingly crucial to the political junkies of 1896, but which is the kind of trivia that's difficult to explain today. (Though I'm sure Charles Pickering's body will one day lie a-moulderin' in the grave, and serve as an inspiration to generations yet unborn.)

Bryan also lost 3 national elections, which is why I assume he's your platonic ideal for a Democrat, even more than Joe Lieberman.

Eric said...

Well we can analyze historical patterns all day. My feeling is that if the GOP picks up Congressional seats in four consecutive elections, well, that’s a pretty good track record.

Oh my favorite Democrat talking point: “we only violated the Constitution 5% of the time! I mean, c’mon!” Your standard “pox on both houses” argument falls flat this time. The Republicans may have shot down nominees in the Senate Judiciary committee but never before has a nominee been filibustered to thwart majority rule in the full Senate. It’s an extra-legal invention of MoveOn and People for the American Way.

Yes, that’s what I was really talking about with Bryan: free silver. Touche.