The bottom line for me on this election: It was not as big as Reagan’s election in 1980 or the Republican “Contract with America” election of 1994, but it was close. In order for it to be validated it terms of a watershed turnaround for the country, it will require a Republican in the White House in January 2017. In fact, the expectations were so high in this one that, had the Republican victory not been so sweeping, it would have been regarded a major setback.
Is it a mandate? No, not for certain initiatives or policy pronouncements, but certainly one for reversing the incredible crisis of competency and credibility of this failed administration. How the GOP approaches this aspect of the mandate will determine their chances for full consummation in 2016.
Meanwhile, President Obama is on the ropes, and he must know this, but his base will not let him concede this point and his arrogance will not allow him to change course, admit any deficiencies, or even be a gracious loser. As Democratic analyst Kirsten Powers said the day after the election, there is a big disconnect in the White House–they contend that this election result was not a rejection of Obama and his policies, but rather a problem of Democratic candidates around the country, therefore they see no need to adjust or to genuinely seek common ground.
The world of political analysis will now focus endlessly on the degree to which Obama and the Republican leadership will work together on the issues that are important and almost every story line will concentrate on the public demand that is supposedly reflected in the election results to “end the partisan gridlock” and “get things done”. Well, I agree that these are worthy objectives, but the devil is always in the details–it really does depend on what gets done. And here lies the major difficulty posed by the monster we have created called the “permanent campaign”.
One of my favorite liberals is William Galston, who recently reminded me that it was Jimmy Carter’s pollster Patrick Caddell who first seriously recognized this condition in 1976 when he said: “Governing with public approval requires a continuing political campaign”. Galston goes further to observe that, with the demise of the strong party system and the shift of party nominations to public primaries, election tactics moved away from consensus-building to the “war room”. And then he adds an important point that cannot be overemphasized: “There is a difference between the vagaries of public opinion and the long-term interests of the people, and it is the task of representative democracy to reflect that difference. Pursuing the people’s long-term interests may sometimes require elected officials to disregard the kinds of preferences that the people reveal in public opinion surveys or even in elections”.
This observation is a deeply conservative notion, very Madisonian, and, however difficult to swallow in the Twitter and Facebook world of instant gratification, deserves consideration by the serious leadership of both parties. For, if we haven’t learned anything else these past six years, we should have learned that the permanent campaign has seriously damaged our civic life.