Thursday, November 06, 2008

Is Obama's Election the Herald of a Long-Term Political Realignment?


Republicans Can No Longer Afford to Remain a Right-Wing, White Male-Dominated Party in a Country That's More Centrist and Racially Diverse Than Ever; They Must Expand Their Appeal to a New Generation by Moving Back Toward the Moderate Center and Reaching Out to Non-Whites -- or Else Face a Decade or More Exiled to the Political Wilderness




Sick elephant: The Republicans in 2008 took their worst electoral drubbing since at least the post-Watergate midterm congressional election of 1974, and possibly the Lyndon Johnson landslide of 1964. Conservatives insist that, saddled with a deeply unpopular president in George W. Bush and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, their massive losses to the Democrats is only temporary and would be reversed as early as 2012. But they're not taking into account the fact that the GOP's electoral base has narrowed significantly and has become too right wing for most Americans -- just as the Democrats' base became too narrow and too left wing a generation ago -- and if the party doesn't move back to the center, the GOP could find itself cast out into the political wilderness for a decade or more. (Image courtesy newscopy.org)


(Posted 5:00 a.m. EST Thursday, November 6, 2008)

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SPECIAL REPORT
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By JOHN F. HARRIS and JIM VANDEHEI
Politico.com


November 4, 2008, was the day when American politics shifted on its axis.

The ascent of an African-American to the presidency -- a victory by a 47-year-old man who was born when segregation was still the law of the land across much of this nation -- is a moment so powerful and so obvious that its symbolism needs no commentary.

But it was the reality of power, not the symbolism, that changed Tuesday night in ways more profound than meets the eye.

The rout of the Republican Party, and the accompanying gains by Democrats in Congress, mean that Barack Obama will assume office with vastly more influence in the nation’s capital than most of his recent predecessors have wielded.

The only exceptions suggest the magnitude of the moment. Power flowed in unprecedented ways to George W. Bush in the year after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It flowed likewise to Lyndon B. Johnson after his landslide victory over Barry Goldwater in 1964.

Beyond those fleeting moments, every president for more than two generations has confronted divided government or hobbling internal divisions within his own party.

The Democrats’ moment with Obama, as a brilliant campaigner confronts the challenges of governance, could also prove fleeting. For now, the results -- in their breadth across a continent -- suggest seismic change that goes far beyond Obama's six-percent margin in the popular vote.

The evening recalled what activist Eldridge Cleaver observed of the instant when Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus and a movement followed: “Somewhere in the universe a gear in the machinery shifted.”

Here are five big things about the machinery of national politics and Washington that will be different once Obama takes office on Jan. 20, 2009:

THE CRASH OF THE CONSERVATIVE WAVE

For most of the past 30 years, since the dawn of the Reagan Era, conservatives have held the momentum in American politics. Even the Clinton years were shaped -- and constrained -- by conservative ideas (work requirements for welfare, the Defense of Marriage Act) and conservative rhetoric (“the era of Big Government is over”).

Republicans rode this wave to win the presidency five of seven times since 1980, and to dominate Congress for a dozen years after 1994. Now the wave has crashed, breaking the back of the modern Republican Party in the process.

Obama’s victory and the second straight election to award big gains to congressional Democrats showed that the 2006 election was not, as Karl Rove and others argued at the time, a flukish result that reflected isolated scandals in the headlines at the time.

Republicans lost their reform mantle. Voters who wanted change voted for Obama 89 percent to 9 percent. They lost their decisive edge on national security. They even lost the battle over taxes.

Republicans lost support in every area of the country. Virginia went Democratic, and North Carolina at midnight hung in the balance. Republicans still hold a significant, if smaller, chunk of the South and a smattering of western states. The cities were lost long ago. The suburbs fell last night -- and now even the exurbs are shaky.

Republicans lost one of their most effective political tactics. Portraying Al Gore or John Kerry as exotic and untrustworthy characters with culturally elitist values proved brutally effective for the GOP in 2000 and 2004, as it had in numerous other races for years.

In 2008, such tactics barely dented Obama -- who because of his race and background looked at first like a more vulnerable target -- and they backfired against such candidates as Sen. Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina, who was routed badly after trying to paint Democrat Kay Hagan as an atheist.

The movement that brought so many conservatives to great power over the past 20 years -- Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, Bush, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove -- is left without a clear leader, without a clear agenda and without a clear route back.

The crash of the conservative wave does not necessarily mean the rise of a liberal one. By stressing middle-class tax cuts and the rights of gun owners, Obama showed he is sensitive to hot buttons. But he will take power with the opposition party diminished, demoralized and divided by a draining internal argument about its future.

A DEMOCRATIC HEADLOCK ON POWER NOT SEEN IN 44 YEARS

Many people find Obama’s post-partisan rhetoric soothing. But it’s doubtful that these sentiments, even if sincere, reflect the reality of the new Washington.

This is a city that defines itself by partisanship. Politicians and the operatives they support play for the shirts or the skins and believe that one side’s gain is the other’s loss.

In this environment, Democrats have the capital in a headlock, holding more power at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue than they have had for at least 32 years (Jimmy Carter) and, more realistically, 44 years (Johnson). Obama seems ready to press this advantage.

The best early clue of his ambitions: He wants sharp-elbowed Representative Rahm Emanuel (D-Illinois) to run his White House.

Democrats are positioned to do more than move legislation. They will flush Republicans out of key positions in the federal government and lobbying firms. They will install their own people in the federal courts. They will be positioned -- for the first time in two generations -- to raise money for those who usually give to Republicans and easily recruit the most desirable candidates in 2010, as other Democrats look to join what looks like a winning team.

NEW PARADIGM TAKES CHARGE: A REAL RAINBOW COALITION

While Obama’s race hovered over this campaign, what was most striking was that it was not the all-consuming subject that it would have been in the past. Exit polls showed Obama pulling support from 43 percent of white voters, two percentage points higher than Kerry.

And look around elsewhere in American politics. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s gender was a novelty when she first took the gavel but now it draws little notice. Represenative Jim Clyburn (D-South Carolina) is a top member of the House Democratic leadership.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party’s inability to offer more diversity in its top ranks, Sarah Palin notwithstanding, threatens to become a crippling liability. Latinos -- particularly Mexican-Americans alienated by many Republicans' seemingly anti-Latino rhetoric in the immigration debate -- broke for Obama 67 percent to 31 percent.

The party inexplicably failed to field a single non-white candidate with a plausible chance to win a House or Senate seat or a governorship. It will enter the next Congress just as it did the past two: without a single African-American member.

A party dominated by white males -- a fact made painfully obvious at the GOP's convention in Minnesota in September -- is poorly positioned to prosper among an increasingly diverse electorate. Somehow, the GOP needs to find new ways to appeal to non-whites, or else risk a long life in the wilderness as the white percentage of the overall population continues to shrink.

DEMOCRATS TAP INTO 'GEEK POWER' WITH INTERNET

For a couple of generations, conservatives had the more effective political infrastructure. They used direct mail and talk radio to run circles around liberals in raising money and communicating their message around the filter of the establishment media. Some of that money flowed into think tanks that helped nurture ideas and operatives.

This year was striking because the technology/communications advantage was decisively with the Democrats, with their mastery of the Internet. Obama and other Democrats used this to raise vastly more money than McCain and to mobilize legions of people who had not previously been engaged with politics. Liberal think tanks such as the Center for American Progress have served as a Democratic government-in-waiting.

Important to remember: This Democratic infrastructure advantage is not disappearing. Obama, regarded as a heroic figure among party activists, can use it to help raise even more money, and to mobilize support for his agenda. This is a potent force that will inspire fear, and give him unprecedented clout, over legislators of both parties.

Obama is the Google of politics: He has technological expertise and an audience his political competitors simply cannot match. Looking ahead to 2010, House and Senate Democrats will be jealously eyeing Obama’s e-mail lists and technology secrets — giving him even greater leverage over them. Republicans will be forced to invest serious money and time to narrow the technology gap.

THE '60S ARE OVER -- FINALLY

For two generations, American politics has been dominated by issues and personalities that were shaped by the ideological and cultural conflicts of the Vietnam era.

The rest of the population may have been bored stiff, but the Baby Boomers -- that forever-polarized generation -- continued their remorseless argument, as evidenced by Bush and Kerry partisans quarreling over Swift Boats and National Guard service in 2004.

Obama -- who will be America's first Generation X president -- had not yet reached adolescence in the 1960s. He seems little interested in the cultural conflicts that preoccupy the Baby Boomers. The fact that he admitted to using cocaine was hardly a factor in this election.

And this young president-elect -- at 47, the fourth-youngest in the nation's history, after Theodore Roosevelt (42) John F. Kennedy (43) and Bill Clinton (46) -- exerted powerful appeal over even younger voters. They favored Obama by 34 percentage points, 66 percent to 32 percent -- a trend with huge potential to echo for years to come.

"Guns, God and gays" will not disappear from our politics. But they are diminished as electoral weapons as the country confronts a new generation of disputes: global warming, mortgage meltdowns and the detention of terrorism suspects, to name a few.

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Volume III, Number 72
Special Report copyright 2008, Capitol News Company, LLC.
The 'Skeeter Bites Report copyright 2008, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.







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1 comments:

CultureJunkie said...

Interesting post and blog. Relevantly, as many influential experts have pointed out, Obama is part of Generation Jones--born 1954-1965, between the Boomers and Xers.

On this page there are excerpts from publications like Newsweek and the New York Times, and videos with over 25 top pundits, all talking about Obama's identity as a GenJoneser:
http://www.generationjones.com/2008election.html