Yesterday Greece said “no” to the EU in an election in which “yes” was not an option and the world treats the vote as news. It is not news. It is “olds” as it is long since past the time that there was ever any hope of Greece regaining solvency and paying its debts.
Now we have the spectacle of both sides yelling past each other. Thomas Piketty takes the Hellenic side that Germany should forgive Greece’s debt while Stephen Moore says that Greece should just declare bankruptcy. Bankruptcy is debt relief. Whatever you call it, the creditor isn’t getting all of his money back. But neither is the debtor going to get any further infusions of cash.
So let’s look past all the hyperventilation and see where all this is likely to lead:
1. Greece is euphoric today about yesterday’s vote, but soon Greece is going to find what real austerity looks like. What it called austerity before was really just not getting as much free money as it wanted. Now it will get none. Greece basically is the adult child without a job who rebels against his German parents, even as the child is totally reliant on an allowance. Yelling, “You can’t tell me what to do!” may have felt good yesterday, but without access to the parents’ trust fund, they don’t have anything else to live on.
2. Greece can’t leave the Euro. Sure it can exit the Eurozone and go back to printing the drachma, but its past debts and future purchases are not denominated in drachmas. Gasoline is not sold in drachmas. Neither is natural gas, iron, timber, or anything else. Aside from some agricultural products, Greeks must import most everything they need and pay for it in a currency not of their own creation. This is why the “let’s just devalue” crowd is always wrong about devaluation being a path to plenty. If it were, Argentina would be a booming paradise. (Foreboding warning to Greece: Argentina has a lot more natural resources than does Greece.)
3. Socialism doesn’t die until it kills off everything else first. Fresh off its “victory” the Tsirpas government will not bow to realists in his own country and instead will steal everything they can from Greece’s upper class. The result will be a flight of capital and talent until there is none left. So while ultimately it didn’t matter how Greece voted yesterday, the resounding “no” vote was the worst possible outcome since it emboldens Syriza, a party whose platform apparently is to oppose math.
4. The EU is stronger without Greece. This is true not necessarily because Europe would be without the dead weight of Greece, but because Greece’s exit will be a cautionary tale to the other PIGS. When the reality sets in about how desperately out of money Greece is, when the country no longer has cheap credit available to it, when devaluation after devaluation takes its toll on the country, none of the remainder of the EU will soon seek a similar fate. Greece is about to find that it is the bum on the street corner holding the “will work for food” sign. (And just like the real bum on the corner, by “work” it doesn’t mean actual work until it has ran out of every other option.)
5. There will be no rush of new EU members. Countries on the fence about joining the common currency will see from Greece’s plight that it is much more difficult to unwind from the euro than it is to never join it in the first place. And Europe has seen that it better be careful about whom it lets into its club. Croatia, the Czech Republic, and Poland may soon become strong enough to become full fledged members of the Eurozone, but will Europe want them? Britain and Sweden already are strong enough, but neither is silly enough to want it. Bosnia, Bulgaria, Kosovo, and Montenegro are in even worse shape than Greece. And Hungary and Romania, in addition to having economic difficulties, are beset with internal political problems–which goes without saying since internal political problems always have an adverse economic effect. In other words, the EU is about as big as it is ever going to get.
6. Relations between Germany and Greece aren’t nearly as bad now as they are going to get. Starved for hard currency, Greeks, who already hate Germany, now will have to get used to being subservient to individual German tourists who are drawn there for cheap vacations while they feast inexpensively on delights that the Greeks themselves no longer can afford. Meanwhile, the Germans are about to have even more reason to be mad at the Greeks when Athens refuses to reimburse Germany for its 2010 and 2012 bailouts that most rank-and-file German never supported in the first place. Ironically, relations between the two countries would have been much better had Germans never bailed them out five years ago.
In the current hysteria to purge all things Confederate from modern America, historian Jamie Malanowski opines that the next logical step is that, “President Obama and the Congress should rename military bases that honor rebels and terrorists.” Malanowski claims that since “about a sixth of our armed forces are people of African-American origin . . . when we dispatch them to fight for freedom from camps named after slaveholders, racists, and terrorists, the irony reaches an offensive level.”
The dictionary defines irony as “the use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning.” And that is exactly what the United States did when it chose which Confederate leaders to “honor” when it named new Army bases in the South in the early part of the 20th century.
Consider the wartime records of those eponymous Confederates. Louisiana’s Fort Polk, as Malanowski pointed out, is named for the very “mediocre” Leonidas Polk. North Carolina’s Fort Bragg “honors” Braxton Bragg who, again according to Malanowski, was “vain”, “irascible”, and “indecisive”. John Bell Hood, for whom Fort Hood, Texas is named, was so reckless and foolhardy in his decisions that his subordinate, Nathan Bedford Forrest, reportedly said to his face at the Battle of Franklin, “If you were a whole man [by then Hood had lost an arm and a leg in separate battles], I’d whip you to within an inch of your life.”
Foolhardy was the mark common to most of the Confederate leaders “honored” with names on Army posts across the South. Henry Benning lost half his brigade attacking uphill against snipers hidden in the unforgiving terrain of Gettysburg’s Devil’s Den. (In another ironic twist, Benning, who was a delegate from Muscogee County–home of Fort Benning–addressed the Virginia secession convention saying that he would rather Georgia face “pestilence and famine” than remain in the Union. Thanks to Sherman’s “March to the Sea”, Georgia got both.) With Benning at Gettysburg was John Brown Gordon (Fort Gordon, Georgia). Injured at Malvern Hill, again at Shepherdstown, and four times at Antietam, Gordon too was a foolhardy man more adept at getting shot than he was at winning battles. Virginia’s George Pickett infamously marched his division across a mile-and-a-quarter of open ground against dug in cannon occupying the high ground of Cemetery Ridge.
The one rational Confederate general at Gettybsurg, General James Longstreet, argued to Robert E Lee that Pickett’s Charge was impossible. But the senile and strategically clueless Lee ordered it anyway. Lee, by the way, is “honored” at Fort Lee, Virginia. As for Robert E Lee’s wartime reputation, it is undeservedly earned early in the war, as it came mainly as a result of repeatedly besting George B. McClellan, who perhaps is the worst wartime general in the history of the United States. (Yet another irony is that one of the few Southern posts named for a Union general is Fort McClellan, Alabama.)
Absent among the names of Southern military bases are the Confederacy’s greatest leaders. James Longstreet, who a half-century before World War I understood that modern rifles made Napoleonic tactics obsolete, observed that the South both tactically and strategically benefited from defensive battles in a war of attrition. And when Lee wasn’t around and Longstreet could fight the way he wanted, he usually won. There is no Fort Longstreet. Nathan Bedford Forrest, who understood better than any American cavalrymen prior to Patton how to use mounted forces to overwhelm the enemy with speed and surprise, has no Camp Forrest named for him.* Fort Stewart is named for a Revolutionary War general Daniel Stewart and not for another successful Confederate cavalryman, “Jeb” Stuart. Fort Jackson isn’t in honor of “Stonewall” Jackson, but America’s seventh president, Andrew Jackson.
Taken as a whole, the names of modern Southern military bases is a list of those Confederate leaders most responsible for the Confederacy’s defeat. So when black Americans today train at Forts Benning, Hood, Polk, and the like, they can console themselves with the knowledge that they are “honoring” those Confederate generals whose greatest contribution to America was that they were in charge, thus ensuring that the Confederacy would lose the Civil War. That’s what irony really looks like.
* There was a Camp Forrest, Tennessee but it was so named only from 1941 to 1946. Incidentally, Maj Gen George S. Patton was among those who trained there.
** These opinions are my own and are not necessarily those of the Department of Defense.
Imagine this scenario: The United States, in an effort to spur exports and boost domestic producers, institutes a tax on foreign imports, some of the proceeds of which go indirectly to exporters to make their goods more affordable in international markets. Most of Europe then retaliates with tariffs on American exports that raises the cost of American exports in Europe. Japan does the same, erecting some of the highest tariffs in the world. Most of China follows suit. Britain tried to stay aloof of the customs war, but eventually caves, building its own economic borders.
Of course, I’m talking about the interwar period, when in the aftermath of the Great War, the world’s major economies played a game of tariff-one-upsmanship until global trade collapsed and the world entered the Great Depression.
But I’m also talking about today. Let’s consider what actually happens when a country devalues its currency. Switzerland, as we discussed last week, by pegging the franc to the dwindling euro, essentially devalued Swiss money 20%. Swiss consumers and Swiss businesses paid 20% more on imported goods and raw materials. Swiss exporters weren’t subject to that tax, effectively receiving a 20% subsidy for Swiss items sold domestically and being able to export at a lower cost. In other words, Switzerland’s attempt at currency devaluation yielded the exact effect of a 20% protective tariff on imports.
Switzerland wasn’t the only major economy doing this. In fact, the Swiss are the only major economy to have stopped devaluing its currency–to have stopped building a de facto protective tariff around its borders. The United States has gone through three rounds of quantitative easing, and there are increasing calls for a fourth. All signs point to Europe doing the same as early as next week. Japan has been devaluing its currency for twenty years with the same predictable result.
This is what doesn’t make sense: virtually every economist agrees that protective tariffs are almost always bad. Virtually every politician knows that protective tariffs beget even more protective tariffs in retaliation. In fact, the World Trade Organization was created to discourage trade protectionism after the mess of the Great Depression made this painfully obvious to all. Currency devaluations and protective tariffs are exactly the same in effect. And yet, there are still economists of all stripes who argue that currency devaluation is a means to lifting an economy out of its depths.
Actually, they are not exactly the same in one significant aspect. When a country devalues its currency it devalues itself. It devalues the worth of its labor. It devalues the strength of its reserves. It removes incentives for savings and investments, and encourages the export of capital. Currency devaluation creates a worse outcome even than a protective tariff.
So where does today’s spiral currency devaluation end? If the 1920s rush to protective tariffs is any indication, the answer is: not well.
Then, deflation was the result. Years of forcibly escalating prices to prop up exports and subsidize domestic producers ultimately resulted in a collapse causing prices to fall to where they really should have been all along. The price of agricultural goods was the most obvious indicator of this effect. Advances in mechanization, refrigeration, transportation, hybridization, and chemistry resulted in a surplus of agricultural goods worldwide. Too many people were engaged in direct and indirect agricultural work around the world as a result of the worldwide subsidy effect of protective tariffs. When it collapsed, so too did prices. All that the years of protective tariffs did was to take what should have been a gradual de-agriculturalization of the world’s economy and delay it long enough that it became a catastrophic global shock. In other words: deflation wasn’t the cause of the Great Depression; deflation was the logical effect of years of misbegotten economic policies practiced by every major economy in the world. To blame the Depression on deflation, therefore, is as ludicrous as blaming the mercury in a thermometer for causing a heatwave.
Central bankers today fear deflation unnecessarily. So much so that the world’s bankers are doing exactly what they know the world’s politicians did 90 years ago that led to the last Great Depression. This won’t end well.
Ron Fournier doesn’t like being lied to:
Appearing on an academic panel a year ago, [Jonathan Gruber] argued that the law never would have passed if the administration had been honest about the fact that the so-called penalty for noncompliance with the mandate was actually a tax.
“And, basically, call it ‘the stupidity of the American voter,’ or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical to getting the thing to pass,” Gruber said.
He called you stupid. He admitted that the White House lied to you. Its officials lied to all of us—Republicans, Democrats, and independents; rich and poor; white and brown; men and women.
Liberals should be the angriest. Not only were they personally deceived, but the administration’s dishonest approach to health care reform has helped make Obamacare unpopular while undermining the public’s faith in an activist government. A double blow to progressives.
Right up to the last sentence I made the same point in March of this year:
Progressives believe that they know better than others how others should live their lives. That makes Progressivism inherently anti-democratic and requires that its adherents subvert truths and manipulate rules to advance their ends.
Democratic governments follow where their people lead. Progressive governments—those led by people who see popular opinion as wrong—lead their people in a direction that they do not want to go. When the subterfuge is discovered, or when the unpopular project spectacularly fails, popular opinion turns viciously against the Progressive.
What Fournier gets wrong is that he de-links the lying from progressivism. They can’t be separated. That is because progressivism cannot survive without the lies–at least not in a democratic society.
Definitionally, progressivism is the belief that an enlightened elite knows better how people should live their lives than the people know themselves. The progressive views government as a tool for leading the populace toward change, whereas the democrat (small “d”) views government as responsive to what the people want. In other words: a democratic government does what the people want it to do, while the progressive government demands that the people do what it wants them to do, whether they want it or not.
When a minority wants the government to do what a majority does not wish to do, the minority has a choice: it can make the case to persuade, or it can lie. Since progressivism requires that the majority subvert its will to what its leaders want, its only option, if progressivism is to succeed, is to lie.
Even as he supported the intent of the law, Fournier finally admits “Obamacare was built and sold on a foundation of lies.” If he takes a step back, he will have to see that it is not just Obamacare that is built on a foundation of lies; it is progressivism itself.
So, contra Fournier’s assertion, the progressive will not be bothered at all by Gruber’s lying–except for his having been caught. The question facing Ron Fournier going into the future, is that now that he has found himself duped by the Administration and its allies’ lies, will he allow himself to play the part of the useful idiot the next time?
Here’s another “Kinsley Gaffe” from Herr Gruber:
Obamacare was “a very clever, you know, basically [sic] exploitation of the lack of economic understanding of the American voter.”
In no particular order, here are some thoughts 12 hours after the first polls started closing:
1. Harry Reid is a HUGE loser. He and his party paid dearly for failing to do what every Senate Majority Leader before him did: Protect the dignity of the Senate.
It used to be said that the Senate contained 99 members who looked in the mirror every morning and saw the next president looking back at him, and 1 member who didn’t want to be president because, as the Senate Majority Leader, he already thought that he was more powerful. Let’s be blunt: Harry Reid spent the last six years being President Obama’s water boy.
Popular House bills died in the Senate because the White House told Harry Reid to not let them get to the President’s desk. Harry Reid rammed unpopular bills (Obamacare) through without any Republican input, because the President refused to negotiate. When the President couldn’t get his controversial nominees through confirmation, Harry Reid scrapped the filibuster (which I bet the Senate Minority Leader now wishes was a power he still had). Harry Reid never gave Senate Dems the power to distance themselves from the President on bills like Keystone Pipeline approval or approval of popular amendments to Obamacare because the White House said no. Instead, Obama flagrantly usurped Congress’ Constitutional legislative authority via executive orders, and Harry Reid let him get away with it. Harry Reid was not the Senate Majority Leader; he was the Senate Liaison Officer to the White House. He protected the President’s ego instead of the dignity of the Senate and his own Senate majority. For being a ball-less sack without the ability to tell a President from his own party to screw himself, Harry Reid deserves the axe.
2. Harry Reid will not be the Senate Minority Leader. For one thing, see point #1 above. For another, he is a Democratic Senator from a purplish state. After yesterday there are a lot fewer of those than there were before. ”Moderate” Dems took a beating last night. That means that the remaining Democrats will be both fewer and bluer on average than they were before. Prediction: Chuck Schumer will be the Senate Minority Leader. Say what you want about him, I don’t think that anyone doubts that if confronted with a situation that threatens Chuck Schumer, that Schumer will tell Obama to twist himself into an anatomically impossible sexual position. If Nevada had a Democratic governor, Harry Reid would likely resign within the month. Even with Republican Brian Sandoval appointing a successor, Reid still might resign just to spite the President and his colleagues. But he has only himself to blame.
3. Democrats have a serious problem with the kind of industrial union and rural white voters they once had in their camp. I looked in great detail at Kentucky before the race and during the release of the results. Compared with 2010, Mitch McConnell did slightly worse than did Rand Paul in Jefferson County (Louisville), in Fayette County (Lexington), and in the three ring Cincinnati suburban counties (Boone, Campbell, and Kenton). Looking at just those three areas which contain the states largest urban black population, its student population, and its middle and upper middle class populations, the results looked exactly like the polls indicated: a McConnell win of about eight points, and a GOP performance that would fall short of 2010 levels. Instead, Mitch McConnell won by double the expected amount. And exactly as I predicted, Kentucky would tell us all that we need to know about how the rest of the night was going to unfold.
We’ll need to look at more exit polls and additional states to have a better idea, but here’s what I think happened. The Democratic message is an exclusionary one: It says to America that if you’re not black, a single female, or a government worker, you’re part of the American problem. I think that when the analysis is done we’ll learn that the overt appeals to racism turned off more white voters than it brought blacks to the polls. And if this is true, it’s good news. That’s because it might finally be the beginning of the end of the cynical Democrat-driven racial division in this country. That said, I fully expect Democrats to try it one more time in 2016. For one thing, I don’t see the President changing (see below), and for another, they really don’t have anything else to fall back on. (For example: not the “war on women”.)
You’ll hear Democrats justify last night’s abysmal loss by saying that it was typical of a mid-term result. But what they might not realize is that with absolutely no upside left in the black vote, it only takes a little bit of a change in a white electorate seven times as large to completely overwhelm a black electoral advantage. In other words, from a strictly numerical perspective, the party that has a problem with 12% of the electorate has a much smaller problem than does the party that is falling behind with 70% of the electorate.
4. Democrats also have a serious problem with other minorities. They won Asians by only one point. Four years before, Democrats took the Asian vote 58-40. They also lost support among “other”. In 2010, Democrats took that electorate 53-44. Yesterday the margin was down to 50-46. Asians and “other” are a each only 2% of the vote, but the 5-point and 18-point slippage among Dems with those groups, is not insignificant.
Message to Democrats: Just as it should be obvious to you by now that not all women think and vote alike, not all minorities think and vote alike either. Duh.
But here’s where the exit polls disagree with each other. The white percentage of the electorate this year was 2% smaller and virtually unchanged in its outcome (60-37 in 2010 and 60-38 in 2014). This should have translated to a smaller GOP lead. The black percentage of the electorate also was virtually unchanged (89-9 in 2010 and 89-10 in 2014) and the black electorate climbed to 12% versus 11% in 2010. Dems also gained with Latinos, going from 60-38 to 63-35, while the Latino portion of the electorate stayed stable at 8%.
In other words, the exit polls actually indicate a slight Democratic improvement over the 2010 result. This is consistent with what happened in the key counties I analyzed in Kentucky. And it is consistent with pre-election polls. But is not consistent with the actual result.
Theory: Pollsters don’t weight for urbanicity, and as a result, completely missed the disdain that rural Americans have for the Democratic Party. A county by county look at the results might bear this out. Either that, or the exit polls were completely wrong. (These are not necessarily mutually exclusive results.)
5. Don’t fuck with football. Ed Gillespie ran one spot during MNF the night before election day. It belittled Harry Reid for diminishing the Senate by taking up a bill to force the NFL to change the name of the Redskins. Red or Blue, everybody in the Washington area unites about the Redskins. The two biggest earth-shattering results last night occurred in the Virginia Senate race where nobody had Ed Gillespie within 9 points of Mark Warner, and in the Maryland Governor race where no public poll released in 2014 had the Republican candidate in the lead. Maryland and Virginia is Redskin fan base.
But let’s take this beyond football. This ad and the controversy around it was emblematic of the Democrat’s problems. Americans want their leaders to be serious and to offer serious solutions about serious problems. Re-naming a football team is not serious. Voters in those two areas rebuked Democrats for their frivolity. Oh, and don’t fuck with football.
6. The donkey in the room. (Actually the saying is about an elephant, but you know what I mean.) The donkey in the room is Barack Obama. The American people have judged him to be a failure. He is now the lamest of lame ducks. Before the 2006 midterms, President Bush went into his final two years with 55 seats in the Senate and 232 in the House. After the the opposing party holding 51 senate seats and 233 seats. Barack Obama watched the opposition party gain even greater control than happened eight years before. Republicans will likely control 54 senate seats and about 248 House seats.
More succinctly: Barack Obama took a bigger beating in 2014 than George W. Bush did in 2006.
After the defeat he took in 2010, Barack Obama didn’t change course as Bill Clinton had done when the electorate pronounced a midterm decision about him. Barack Obama has yet to show humility or responsibility about anything. Perhaps this time will be different. But probably not.
Now might be a good time for Democrats to re-look Dan McLaughlin’s primer for what to expect in 2016 that so many of them scoffed at before. His look at history said that the party with the presidency for two elections, will see a drop-off in support the third time around. Let me add to the foreboding news for Democrats: After taking sharp losses in the sixth year election, the President’s party usually loses even more two years later.
In the sixth year of the Bush administration, the President’s party lost 30 seats in the House. The following election, they lost another 21 seats and the Presidency
In the sixth year of Nixon’s administration (yes, technically Ford was president), Republicans lost 48 seats. Two years later they lost another seat and the presidency.
In 1966 LBJ’s party lost 47 seats. Two years later they lost five more and the Presidency.
We have to go back to 1958 to see a counter-example. Ike’s party lost 48 seats in the House in his second midterm, but managed to win back 22 of them in 1960. But he still lost the presidency.
The recent historical record suggests that as bad as things are for Democrats today, they are likely to be even worse after the election two years hence.
And that brings us back to Obama. He is an anchor on the Democratic Party. The damning evidence for this comes not from the Senate, where Democrats lost only red and purple states. Nor does it come from the House, where with a few exceptions the same thing occurred. No, it comes from the gubernatorial races where Republicans held purple seats in the face of overwhelming media opposition (Florida, Michigan, and Wisconsin) and picked up cobalt blue state seats in Illinois, Maryland, and Massachusetts. There is no rational way to shrug off this result other than to say that Barack Obama was a weight on the entire Democratic Party.
And here’s what should alarm Democrats up for election in two Novembers. President Obama has been intimating to his supporters that he’s going to take all kinds of executive actions when he has more “flexibility” after this election. If those unspecified actions were popular with the American public, don’t you think he would have taken them before the election? If we are to take him at his word, the President’s apparent intent is take his favorability down even further. Here are some Democrats who might be particularly alarmed by this prospect: Colorado’s Michael Bennet, Oregon’s Ron Wyden, Washington’s Patty Murray, and whomever is going to be the Democratic nominee to try and succeed the retiring Harry Reid. All of them will have to face voters in 24 months, and the lesson of last night is to not face those voters with an overwhelmingly unpopular incumbent from the same party sitting in the White House.
7. One final winner this night is Sean Trende who replaces Nate Silver as this election’s geek par excellence. As early as January, Trende nailed this election. His hypothesis was that Presidential popularity and the partisan tilt of a state would play an enormous role in the closing days of the race. Ten months ago, he predicted nine seats using this methodology and it looks like this is exactly where it is going to end up.
The Bluegrass State is your guide for what to look for tonight so that you can go to bed early and then wake up tomorrow refreshed for the first day of the 734-day long 2016 election season.
Polls close at 6:00 pm in Kentucky. But because half of the state is in the Central time zone, that means that it won’t be until 7:00 pm Eastern that the networks will begin to call the race. That gives analysts an hour to analyze most of the state’s results before they announce any conclusions.
Most of the Democratic-leaning voters live in the Eastern half of the state, which means that for Ms. Grimes to have any chance of unseating Sen. McConnell, she has to roll up a two or three point margin in the Eastern time zone in order to withstand the GOP’s advantage in the western part of the state. In 2010 the networks immediately called Kentucky for Rand Paul because it was obvious that in the eastern part of the state, he already had won and the west was just going to add to his advantage. Look for the same to happen again tonight. If it doesn’t–ie, if Grimes has a narrow lead in the eastern half of the state that delays the call for a GOP win, it portends a hugely disappointing night for Republicans overall.
On election day in 2010 Rand Paul had an 11-point lead in the RCP average. This year, Mitch McConnell’s lead is only 7.2 points. Interestingly, while the spread between the candidates is different, the shape of the race this year is almost identical to what it was in 2010. In the last week of polling, the GOP candidate both times saw a sharp uptick, while the Democratic candidate was down narrowly.
The RCP average had Paul up 51.8 to 40.8. But if you assume that the remaining 7.4% of the electorate that was undecided did not in fact vote, that means that in a two-way race, the RCP average was 55.9% for Paul to 44.1% for Conway. In fact, that was within a tenth of a point of the final results: 55.8 to 44.2. In other words, the RCP average was dead on accurate in Kentucky four years ago. (UPDATE: If the RCP Average this year is correct, McConnell’s 49.0 to 41.8 lead over Grimes translates to 54.0 to 46.0 win in a two-way contest.)
Here’s what to look for in Kentucky to see if RCP is right again, and if they are off, where is the difference and what it might portend for other states.
Jefferson County (Louisville). Conway won 55.4% to Paul’s 44.2% and came out of the county containing Kentucky’s largest city and largest black population with only a 29,000 vote lead. If McConnell either keeps Grimes below 55% or if turnout is significantly below the 258,000 who voted there four years ago, it tells us that the Democrat’s overt racial appeals did not work. If turnout in Jefferson County is up and the margin is much larger, Dems probably are going to do better that expected in states with large urban black populations like Georgia, Louisiana, and North Carolina.
Franklin County (Frankfort). Conway won the state capitol 57.3% to 42.6% and accumulated a lead of 2,742 votes out of 18,566. If McConnell reduces that lead, it means that Obama is dragging down the party even in areas where one of its core member groups (government workers) live. That result should make Mark Warner nervous. If Grimes significantly exceeds Conway’s margin of victory in Franklin County, it may indicate that Dems will exceed their turnout expectations the rest of the night in places like Raleigh, North Carolina.
Fayette County (Lexington). Jack Conway beat Rand Paul by a little over 1,200 votes out of nearly 90,000 in the state’s second-largest city and home to the University of Kentucky. Two years later turnout was up almost 35%, but the margin was still almost the same 1,200 votes between Obama and Romney. If McConnell actually wins Fayette County, it means that either young turnout and/or young voter support for Democrats is way down. If McConnell loses by a bigger margin, it may mean that he will do worse elsewhere with young voters. On the other hand, it may also mean that young turnout for Rand Paul was the motivator four years ago, which would mean that Lexington offers little national implications for 2014, but could portend great things for Rand Paul in 2016.
The last area where Grimes has to do well is in coal country. Kentucky has two areas where coal mining is big: in the southeastern part of the state and in the west near Paducah. In 2010 those areas still had some Democratic holdouts that by 2012 had shifted Republican. If that shift sticks again in a mid-term election, it is bad for Democrats in areas where traditional labor unions are dominant. While the UMW is a special target of modern Democrats, if they lose that traditional blue base, it may mean that unions in the construction and transportation fields are likewise susceptible to a Republican message. One place to watch is Elliott County on the edge of Kentucky’s eastern coal region. It was one of only four counties to vote for Obama in 2012, and is the last Democratic holdout in the state outside of the Democrats’ new demographic of blacks, students, and government workers. Elliott County Kentucky has the distinction of having the longest continuous streak of voting for the Democratic presidential candidate of any county in the country. (You’ll notice below the change from 2010 (left) to 2012 right.) Elliott County is worth only 2,500 votes in a presidential election, and not even 1,500 in a midterm. But if it tilts to the Republican column, it shows that the old New Deal Democratic pull over labor is dead. That tilt won’t happen this year. In 2010 Elliott went exactly 2:1 for Conway over Paul. If McConnell eats into that 2:1 margin in Elliott County, that would be bad for Democrats. If Mitch McConnell manages to hold the majority of the Kentucky counties that Rand Paul lost, but that Mitt Romney won, that is very bad news for candidates at all levels in labor states like Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, and West Virginia.
Mitch McConnell has to do well in the three northernmost Kentucky counties. These Cincinnati suburbs happen to be “Ohio’s” fastest growing communities. What happens there may be indicative of what is to come in other suburban ring counties nationwide. Here are their 2010 and 2012 results:
2010 Sen: R over D, 24,332 (74.4%) to 8,364 (25.6%)
2012 Pres: R over D, 35,922 (68.4%) to 15,629 (29.8%)
2010 Sen: R over D, 18,386 (64.9%) to 9,948 (35.1%)
2012 Pres: R over D, 24,240 (60.3%) to 15,080 (37.5%)
2010 Sen: R over D, 29,372 (66.8%) to 14,582 (33.2%)
2012 Pres: R over D, 41,389 (61.1%) to 24,920 (36.8%)
You’ll notice that in all three counties, turnout in 2012 was up about one-third, and Republican support dropped about 4-6 points. These are counties where Ohioans went to escape higher taxes beginning about the time Dick Celeste was the Buckeye State governor. But they are not so monolithically Republican that Democrats can’t make inroads–especially with suburban women. These three counties will give us our first real indicators of how well the “war on women” worked for Democrats, or how much it backfired. Expect to see slightly lower turnout than in 2010 and slightly better percentages for the Democrat Grimes. But don’t expect those results to get as high a Obama’s 2012 numbers. If Grimes comes close to matching Obama’s 2012 percentages in Boone, Campbell, and Kenton Counties, the war on women worked. If Grimes only matches Conway’s percentages (or worse, if she falls short), it likely indicates that Democrats are losing married women at a precipitous rate and/or that they are losing what remains of their already low level of male support. The results in these three counties may be precursors to what happens in southern New Hampshire with its influx of Bay State expats as well as in Colorado and North Carolina.
Okay, if you want to stay up later and confirm Kentucky’s early prognostications, here’s what else to look for tonight:
1900 Eastern. Virginia’s polls close. If the race is not immediately called for Mark Warner, that’s a bad sign for Democrats. It’s hard to imagine the polls being that wrong in the Old Dominion, but this is one of two states where a Republican shocker could occur. It’s a very small chance, but it’s not zero. If it does happen, this election is on par with a 1980, 1994, or 2006 tectonic shift.
1900 Eastern. Georgia’s polls close. If the polls are accurate, Perdue will be leading Nunn and should be flirting with 50% of the vote. If he is easily clearing 50%, that’s a bad sign for North Carolina. If he is having trouble beating Nunn, that’s a good sign for Democrats in North Carolina, and bad sign for Republicans in January when the runoff would occur.
1930 Eastern. North Carolina’s polls close. Expect it to stay close for hours. If it isn’t close, that’s a good sign for the winning party nationwide. If Democrats lose North Carolina, they almost certainly lose the Senate. In fact, it’s almost certain that if they lose North Carolina, they lose Georgia too and have a chance at picking off only one state: Kansas.
1930 Eastern. West Virginia’s polls close. The Mountain State’s 2nd and 3rd Congressional districts are too close to call. But if it is a good Republican night, they should win both.
2000 Eastern. The big prize is New Hampshire. Like North Carolina, expect it to stay close for hours. If Shaheen wins handily, this is a potential good sign for Democrats in Alaska and Colorado, two other tossup states with libertarian streaks. If Shaheen loses, it’s inconceivable that there is a path that allows Democrats to retain the Senate. In fact, if they lose the Granite State, it’s almost inconceivable that Democrats could hold more than 46 seats by the time the runoffs are over.
2030 Eastern. Arkansas closes. The calls should go almost immediately to Tom Cotton and Asa Hutchinson. If a half hour passes without a declared winner, Republicans are in for a long night. Republicans should also see the retention of two House seats in Arkansas. If they do, then not only are they cementing their control of a once very blue state, they will remove two of only ten realistic pickup opportunities for the Democrats and will stand a better chance of double-digit gains in the House.
2100 Eastern. Colorado and Kansas are the big prizes this hour. They are also two of the hardest to predict. Colorado has given pollsters fits before. And in the Sunflower State, the big question is whether on election day Kansans will return to their Republican roots. Since Colorado has mail-in voting, vote-counting could take hours (even days, if it’s close). So Kansas will probably be the first known result of the two. If Pat Roberts holds on to win, Democrats have to win too many states they are currently expected to lose. If Roberts and Brownback win, Democrats will get a double punch to the gut.
2100 Eastern. Louisiana’s polls close. We won’t know the outcome, but if Mary Landrieu exceeds 46% or if she falls short of 41%, we’ll have a pretty good clue about what the eventual December result will be.
2100 Eastern. Michigan’s polls close in the western part of the Upper Peninsula one hour after they close in the vastly more populated rest of the state. Gov. Rick Snyder is ahead–even in most of the Democratic-leaning polls. But he’s not ahead by much. Still, with an hour to count ballots in the Lower Peninsula, we should have a call soon after the Yoopers are done voting. A win by Snyder is good news for Detroit, but don’t expect Detroiters to take it that way. Additionally, Dan Benishek is fighting to retain his seat in the UP. If he holds on, it’s another seat Democrats can’t pick up. If Snyder loses, that indicates that blacks turned out at higher than expected amounts and that Obama still has coattails with at least one demographic.
2100 Eastern. Wisconsin is hosting what probably is the most closely watched gubernatorial election tonight. Scott Walker looks to be opening up a lead over Mary Burke. If he wins handily in the face of the shit-storm that’s been thrown at him, it is very bad news for progressives and public employee unions nationwide. If he beats the RCP spread of just over 2 points, it’s a good sign for GOP candidates in two neighboring congressional districts in Iowa and Minnesota that share media markets with the Badger State. It’s also a good sign for him in 2016.
2100 Eastern. The shocker of the night would be a GOP senate win in New Mexico. If it does happen, it will be a result of the coattails of Gov. Susana Martinez, who immediately will become a top-level presidential prospect.
2200 Eastern. Iowa. If Republicans are having a good night, when the Hawkeye State is called, it may be their 51st seat. Watch the House seats here too. With a dismal gubernatorial nominee, and a lacklustre Bruce Braley pulling down the ticket, Republicans will win three seats here if it is a good night. A Braley win and the retention of only the 4th Congressional district probably means that Republicans won’t take the senate and will gain only a disappointing three to six seats in the House.
2200 Eastern. Nevada. Watch the 4th district. It wasn’t even on anyone’s radar as recently as two weeks ago. However, early voting looks to be so dismal for Democrats in the Silver State, that a solid blue seat might be in play. I expect Democrat Steven Horsford to hold on. But if he does not, then neither will Harry Reid hold on to his leadership of the Democratic Party in the Senate.
0100 Eastern. Alaska. We won’t know the results there until muchlater. So hopefully, Republicans will already have won 51 seats by then and we can all go to bed.
When I was a planner at U.S. European Command I was part of a group that looked at counter-terrorism planning. One of the concerns we were addressing was the “lone wolf” attacker. That was what we called an inspired individual who took it upon himself to, on his own, stage a terrorist attack. I took the counter-intuitive position that the lone-wolf attacker was not a problem; instead he was an indicator of success.
Terrorism is not how the strong attack their enemies. Coordinated terrorist attacks originating in the Middle East are themselves a counter-intuitive indicator of success. That is because the American military (and its Western Allies) are far too strong to attack symetrically. Al Qaeda never could hope to attack the United States militarily. They never have had the resources to directly confront America with missiles and tanks. So they have had to resort to organized terrorist attacks.
Lone wolf attacks like the ones perpetrated against Canada twice in the last two days are indicators that now even organized terrorist attacks often are beyond the abilities of al Qaeda and affiliated groups. Since al Qaeda’s losses suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan, they rarely have been able even to conduct organized terrorist attacks. As horrible as these lone wolf types of attacks are, they amount to little more than murders, not wholesale attacks against the West.
And that was my point to the other planners at EUCOM: lone wolf attacks don’t need a military solution. When the enemy’s attacks amount to a few (obviously very tragic) murders that the police can handle, a military response unnecessarily expends more of our resources while it gives our enemies more credit than they deserve.
President Obama’s admission that he lacks a strategy for dealing with the Islamic State was a foolish thing for a President to admit out loud. But it is not surprising. That is because for most of our nation’s history, America has lacked an explicit foreign policy and a supporting strategy.
When we have approximated a guiding principle, we usually have done so only as far as to define what we were against: against European intervention in the Western Hemisphere under the Monroe Doctrine, against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in World War II, and against Soviet expansion during the Cold War.
The eight years of the second Bush presidency at least had the virtue of America and the world clearly understanding what the United States stood against. We stood against the use of terrorism, be it deployed in Baghdad or Britain. Of course, fabricating a strategy from opposition to a tactic is a form of reverse-engineering that was bound to be a less than successful exercise.
The last six years haven’t even possessed that murky level of clarity: withdrawal at any cost in Iraq, withdrawal on a fixed timeline from Afghanistan, intervention without aims in Libya, and a stutter-step approach to a Syrian civil war that now has America on the precipice of being on the de facto side of Bashar Al Assad, about whom the President said, “must go”. What exactly is the point?
The jumbled mess that seems to be American Middle Eastern foreign policy was pithily encapsulated by one online commenter:
“We’re supporting Shia in Iraq near Baghdad, mostly Sunni Kurds in the North, and never Kurdish independence anywhere. We support vetted moderate Sunnis in Syria who only sometimes give that support to their more radical Sunni Salafist brothers in the IS to kill the Alawite Shia Assad government they both oppose, and of course destroy the Shia we support in Iraq. We support the ultra-Sunni Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia, but not their tribal affiliated Al Khalifa Sunni brothers in Bahrain. There we seem to support democracy which would lead to Shia government. We don’t support the Shia aytollahs in Iran, nor their more secular opposition which protested and was crushed a few years ago.”
Again, what exactly is the point?
In addition to lacking a strategy, President Obama’s confused rhetoric demonstrates that there also is no tactical point to our military endeavors in the region. White House correspondent Alexis Simeldinger’s recent report may look like a semantic exercise. However, “destroy” and “degrade” are very different military objectives. From such terms necessarily flow military plans to support the attainment of the President’s specified objectives. When the President himself postulates that the goal is to “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State, he has contradicted himself in the space of three words.
This is not the first time. American intentions in Libya were doomed from the start because those intentions themselves were never clear to military leaders in US Africa Command (AFRICOM) who quite literally didn’t know what the President wanted them to accomplish. You cannot have a coherent strategy if you don’t have a clear objective.
After the fact, the Bush Administration recognized this glaring deficiency when it attempted to construct a goal for the war in Iraq. Defeat Saddam Hussein, which was the original 2003 goal, is not an objective. It is a means to an objective. What Iraq was supposed to look and act like should have been the objective.
To his credit, Bush developed the objective of a self-sustaining, stable, and responsible Iraq was marginally achieved, at least by 2010. To his detriment, for at least the first three years of the war, Bush and the country muddled through the Iraq War because the Administration couldn’t even define what victory should look like so that America would know when to send its troops home. To Obama’s credit, he continued in Iraq and made great strides toward Bush’s goal during the first two years of his presidency. To his detriment, he, like his predecessor, failed to understand that after the conflict portion of war is over, peace is more of a rheostat than a switch. You can’t flip it off suddenly and expect that stability would remain.
There seems to be one cause more than any other that makes America stumble into its foreign policy mistakes. That cause is the feeling that “We need to do something”. Whether we need to do something because we feel that people around the world are being wronged or because we feel that someone has wronged us, the urge to “do something” is a natural human emotion. It arises out of sympathy for a victim or anger at an affront. But sympathy and anger are emotions. They are not logical reasons for entering a conflict.
Unfortunately, most of America’s “bad” wars seem to have begun this way. Two-hundred years ago, the fledgling nation tired of diminutive treatment from Great Britain, and so feeling that it had to do something to show Britain that it could not be pushed around, America launched a war against its former occupier at a time when it was itself then occupied by the much greater task of defeating Napoleon. The war ended exactly as it began: confusedly, and earning no concessions for America from the British. In fact, the Treaty of Ghent is one of the few treaties in history that explicitly enshrines the status quo ante bellum. Well, except for the 15,000 Americans who died as a result of the War of 1812.
A century later the president, against the wishes of the country, provided quasi-support to Allied Powers engaged in a far-off war, and then cried foul when the Central Powers attacked that support. “We have to do something” became his rallying cry and so America entered a regrettable war in which it never had any business being. When mercifully World War I came to a close, voters so abhorred President Wilson for the pointless conflict that less than a week from victory, they jettisoned 25 members of his party from the House and turned over control of the Senate to the opposition.
Wars in Vietnam, Kosovo, and Afghanistan, have likewise left America in no better position than before the commencement of hostilities. And all of these conflicts began over an American feeling that it had to do something. By acting on the basis of emotion instead of thought, America invited the probability that the unintended consequences of “something” would be worse than if it had done nothing. Like medieval doctors treating ailments with leeches and bloodletting, the “cure” always leaves the patient no better off than before the treatment, and often is worse than the disease itself.
Today you have everyone from National Review’s Rich Lowry to progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren saying that destroying the Islamic State should be the nation’s “Number one priority”. Left-leaning columnist Jonathan Alter says that “There’s not much disagreement on how to handle ISIS. U.S. warplanes have already flown more than 100 sorties to degrade ISIS ground forces, and many more bombs are on the way.”
Alter is probably right about what will be done, but never addressed is why America would do it. What does it expect to accomplish? How, as a result of aerial strikes, does America expect that the situation will be better?
Unfortunately, the entire debate is backwards. Instead of asking what military action we should take, we need first ask ourselves what do we want the post-military situation to look like? Then and only then can the Department of Defense propose a military plan to achieve that end result. And sometimes that plan, means no plan, because sometimes, any military solution only makes the situation worse. In other words, the first question is not “What?” but “Why?” Taking any action without a goal and the thoughtful analysis of whether or not the goal is attainable, is foolish, costly, and dangerous.
I submit that while destroying IS may end up being the right course of action, before we decide to do that, our number one foreign policy priority ought to be figuring out as our objective what we want the world to look like, and then formulating a feasible strategy to get us there.
Otherwise, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, is just going to join a long list of Middle Eastern public-enemy-number-ones over the last quarter-century including: Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, Mullah Omar, Saddam Hussein (again), Abu Musab al Zarqawi, Muqtada al Sadr, Muammar Khadafy, and Bashar al Assad. Without first understanding the objective of American intervention, the only certainty is that after the Islamic State, we simply will find ourselves confronted by yet another “great” threat with a hard-to-pronounce name.
Further complicating the question of what to do about the Islamic State is the fact that the Middle East really is a tertiary problem for the United States. What we choose to do there puts in peril American prestige and power in theaters more important and potentially more dangerous. Both Europe, with an economically injured but still militarily dangerous Russia, and Asia, with an emerging China and a declining Japan, are much bigger concerns than a terrorist organization whose reach is limited and whose only direct attack on America has been a couple murders.
Perhaps that’s a little too crassly stated. After all, televised beheadings are incomparably gruesome. However, let us attempt to maintain some proportionality: do we really think that the best answer is to launch thousands of forces and spend hundreds of millions of dollars in an attempt to end a murder rate that falls short of a Chicago weekend?
Finally, let us attempt to maintain some perspective as well. The development of IS was a wholly predictable event. The destabilization of Bashar al Assad guaranteed the emergence of IS or someone else like it. In that region of the world, the only surety was that any resultant opposition wasn’t going to be moderate and democratic. So if non-intervention in the Syrian Civil War was the right choice—and it probably was—then we should have known that this was going to happen. If the decision to leave Iraq was the right choice—and it probably was (although it certainly could have been a more measured withdrawal)—then the rise of a brutal opposition was a predictable consequence. But if this was a foreseeable outcome, what was a better alternative? It’s very likely that there wasn’t one, and that there still isn’t one.
Perhaps this indicates that the most important principle to keep in mind when it comes to deciding a strategy is best encapsulated in Reinhold Niebuhr’s prayer for serenity. God grant me the courage to change the things I can change, the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, and the wisdom to know the difference.
In other words, having no strategy, might not be the worst thing. (But still, you don’t say that.)
In Part II: How to create an American strategy
If you like wonky political analysis, Dan “Baseball Crank” McLaughlin has an excruciatingly detailed look at what the historical record portends for the 2016 political landscape.
McLaughlin’s conclusion based on evaluating every presidential election since the American Civil War is that a party that enjoys presidential incumbency for eight straight years almost always sees a drop-off in support in the following election. While this isn’t an earth-shattering result–almost all political analysts recognize that after two successful elections, it is very hard to win a third–McLaughlin shows that the mathematics behind this phenomenon are nearly unanimous. Even when parties do win third elections (FDR in 1940, and George H W Bush in 1988, for example), there is a pronounced drop-off in the amount of support that the incumbent party gets compared to the previous election’s results.
While I urge you to read the article, that’s not what this post is about. Instead, I saw something in one of McLaughlin’s charts that has caused me to question a bit of conventional wisdom that I have always before accepted.
Conventional wisdom holds that higher voter turnout favors Democrats over Republicans. So take a look at this chart from McLaughlin’s analysis. What this shows is the total presidential vote count for each party as well as the total number of voting eligible age non-voters from 1980 to 2012.Look at the blue line for Democrats. Aside from 2008 it is remarkably steady. So steady, in fact, that with an R-squared of .978, a Democratic candidate for president can expect to receive 3.87 million more votes than the Democratic nominee did four years before. Again, aside from 2008, in the last ten presidential elections, the Democratic nominee never over or underperformed this projection by more than 2.2 million votes. I’ve reproduced just the Republican and Democratic data below and added the linear trend that is fitted to 1980-2012 Democratic vote totals except for the outlier year of 2008.
In 2008 Barack Obama overperformed the trend line by an astounding 8.5 million votes as he turned out an anomalously large number of youth, minorities, and independents. Four years later, Obama overperformed the Democratic trend by a mere 1.1 million votes, a much more historically normal result.
Now look at the red line for the number of Republican votes. It is all over the place. In 1984 and 1988, when Democratic performance was almost exactly in line with the historical trend, Republicans outdistanced them by 17 million and 7 million votes. In 1992 and 1996, when Democrats only slightly underperformed their trend, Republicans fell woefully short by 6 million and 8 million votes.
Wondering how far back the trend line goes, I plotted the same data for all post-war presidential elections. Prior to 1980 there is more Democratic variability than in subsequent years, but the extreme linearity of the trend disappears at least before 1972. (If we consider, back to 1972, the 1976 election joins the 2008 election as an outlier. These two elections, Carter’s post-Watergate election and the first election with a black man on the ballot, might indicate that modern Democrats have very little independent or cross-over appeal, and that when it does occur, it happens only as a result of an uncommon circumstance.)
What’s interesting about the period between 1972 and 1980 when this pattern appears to have established itself is that this was the time when the Democratic Party completed its realignment. Previously it had been a coalition of geographies: white Southerners and urban Northern Catholics. Bouncing in and out of the Democratic coalition before then were Midwestern farmers, Northern Protestants, and blacks.
What has changed since is that the Democratic coalition is now almost entirely demographically based and includes nearly all black voters, a solid majority of Hispanics, and a steady percentage of women. Aside from these groups, there is very little bouncing in and out of the Democratic coalition since the 1970s. Again, with the exception of 2008 when Barack Obama greatly expanded his party’s vote before it collapsed back to its normal self four years later, the only growth Democrats have seen over the last four decades looks to be entirely dependent on the population growth of its constituencies.
Of course, many Democratic pundits and strategists would take comfort from such a conclusion. After all, at least one portion of the Democratic triad (Hispanics) is growing faster than the general rate of population growth. (McLaughlin addresses this point in another post here.)
On the other hand, the record of the last ten elections indicates that Republicans have far more upside potential, having bested the Democratic trend line by five million or more votes on four occasions. Democrats have never beaten that same trend by even half that amount except for once.
Of course, Republicans have also far underperformed the Democratic trendline. In 1992 and then again in 1996 voters who might have voted Republican either didn’t vote or voted for H. Ross Perot, and in 2012 a milquetoast Mitt Romney couldn’t even manage the Republican vote total amassed eight years before when the country’s population was nearly 20 million people fewer.
Sean Trende has made this point before:
” . . . census data and exit polls reveal that some 6 million white voters opted to sit out [the 2012] election. The data show these non-voters were not primarily Southerners or evangelicals, but were located in Northeast, Midwest and Southwest. Mainly, they fit the profile of “Reagan Democrats” or, more recently, a Ross Perot supporter. For these no-shows, Mitt Romney was not a natural fit.”
Less hitched to demography, Republicans are a coalition of ideas that in some years have more or less overlap and appeal than in other years and are more or less represented by a particular nominee.
In other words, the electorate includes really only two types of people: reliable Democrats who always vote no matter the nominee, and potential voters who will almost never vote Democrat but might vote Republican if their nominee can persuade them. Furthermore the number of the latter vastly exceeds the former. While in most years Democrats achieve a very predictable result based almost entirely on the mechanics of population growth, this raw political landscape allows Republicans the opportunity to enjoy earth-shattering landslides when it chooses well, or to suffer soul-crushing defeats when it does not.
And that brings us back to the question of turnout. The conventional wisdom is that because the Democrat’s voter base includes groups with historically lower turnout rates, they are the ones to benefit from higher turnout. However, the record of the last forty years places nearly the entire burden for victory on the ability of the GOP presidential nominee to excite that portion of the electorate that was never going to show up to vote for the Democrat anyway.
Two days ago I picked up the theme of a Jim Geraghty piece and said that Progressives are so fixated on ends that they have no allegiance to means and have no consideration for the negative consequences of their utopian dreams. On a related note yesterday, Daniel Henninger wondered “Why can’t the Left govern?”
Henninger focused on President Obama, whose only major legislative accomplishment has worsened American health care, and on Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose attacks on New York’s charter schools spiraled out of control and sunk his high approval ratings to below 50%, and on France’s François Hollande, whose draconian taxes have pushed his popularity to the lowest ever recorded of a French President in the modern era.
Since in my earlier writing I made the analogy between modern Progressives and the era of the original Progressives, let me throw into the mix President Woodrow Wilson as an example of the failure of their ilk to govern. Wilson was so unpopular at the end of his second term that Warren Harding’s 26-point margin of victory still holds the record for the largest landslide of any President elected in the last hundred years. None of FDR’s elections were bigger wins. Nor was LBJ’s. William McGovern and Walter Mondale both cruised to respectable finishes compared to James Cox, 1920’s loser. Four years after he left, Wilson’s Democrats were still so unpopular that they didn’t receive even 30% of the popular vote, a pitifully low level that the losing party has never since failed to achieve.
What is it about ideologue Leftists that makes them so unpopular after their failed attempts at governing?
As I said the other day, Progressives believe that they know better than others how others should live their lives. That makes Progressivism inherently anti-democratic and requires that its adherents subvert truths and manipulate rules to advance their ends.
Democratic governments follow where their people lead. Progressive governments—those led by people who see popular opinion as wrong—lead their people in a direction that they do not want to go. When the subterfuge is discovered, or when the unpopular project spectacularly fails, popular opinion turns viciously against the Progressive.
By Executive Order (and not, it is important to note, by an act of Congress) President Wilson created the Committee on Public Information in 1917. The CPI was known by the New York Times as the “Committee on Public Misinformation” and by harsher critics was called the ominous sounding, “House of Truth”. This was America’s World War One propaganda ministry. It fabricated German atrocities, as well as American strengths. Anticipating by nearly a century the notoriously faked photo of an Iranian missile launch, one early CPI story announced that “the first American-built battle planes are today en route to the front in France”. The false “news” was accompanied by doctored pictures that were in fact of a single plane that was still in testing. (If you have ever wondered why the horrors of the Holocaust took so long to gain traction in the American press, in part, it was because Americans were still skeptical after having been lied to by their own government about imaginary German horrors from the last war.)
The CPI’s tactics came straight from its allies in the Anti-Saloon League, which employed a similar propaganda machine and a similar virulently nativist message to advance the cause of Prohibition.
Democracies don’t like being lied to. As soon as the war was over, the magnitude and frequency of the lies became apparent. Americans quickly recognized that their entry into the war was a catastrophic mistake. The result was that by the end of the 1920s, the label “progressive” largely had disappeared from the American political lexicon, not to be resurrected for another eighty years.
Democracies also don’t like failure.
To the Progressive, ideology trumps results. Most arenas outside of government don’t work that way. A product that isn’t popular loses money. It matters not how noble the cause or its producer.
In government failure is so easy to achieve because success is so difficult to ascertain. Ironically, it is the very nature of popular forms of government that makes this possible. Democracies, because they lag popular opinion—and especially constitutional republics, that purposefully employ procedures to dampen the excesses of democracy—are necessarily lethargic beings. Results arrive at a glacial pace. It is often years after one has advanced a program that it can objectively be determined to be a success. By then it is too late for its advocates to be held accountable if it had failed.
In 2002 I was part of an efficiency project initiated at the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command. The idea was that TRADOC should measure both the resources put into its programs and its programs’ results. For each program the objectively measurable input was money. I had no objection to this. However, since most of those programs were years-long projects, there was the need for intermediate objectives. It turned out that in almost every case, the measurable “output” was also money. If a project was expected to cost $100 million, the faster it could acquire that hundred-million was the measure of the success of the project. Each program was its own self-licking ice cream cone and no one was ever going to be judged on whether or not the program actually worked. The programs themselves became the goal. Left far behind were the goals of the original programs.
If this attitude exists within the military, a branch of government which occasionally gets called upon to deliver demonstrable results (ie, win a war), imagine how detached other branches of government are from having to account for their successes and failures. This is the perfect camouflage for a Progressive as he never has to face judgment for his results. All that matters is that he tried.
Returning to Henninger’s column, he likens Obamacare to the international anti-global warming movement and concludes that their “activity is increasingly disconnected from the issue of mitigating climate change.” It’s no wonder; Progressives steeped in a lifetime of bureaucratic myopia rarely have to achieve a measurable outcome. And on those few occasions, as in the case of Obamacare, that they are successful in shepherding a program through to fruition, they are unprepared by their upbringing as to how to create a program that actually demonstrates a successful result. So when Nancy Pelosi unfacetiously said that Congress had to pass the 2,000 page bill so that they could find out what was in it, she was confessing to being not unlike the automobile-chasing dog: “Now that I’ve caught the car, what do I do with it?”
Today’s New York Times makes this point. The White House announced yesterday that six-million people had signed up for Obamacare, a figure that “the law’s backers hail as a success.” But not so fast. Drew Altman, President of the Kaiser Family Foundation (an organization which has long been supportive of Obamacare) attempted to redirect the issue as to whether or not the program itself is successful.
“The whole narrative about Obamacare — ‘Will they get to six million? What is the percentage of young adults going to be?’ — has almost nothing to do with whether the law is working or not, whether the premiums are affordable or not, whether people think they are getting a good deal or not.”
Altman is right to point out that the goal of Obamacare is not that people sign up for it, but that it work. That’s something that the Progressive is unprepared for.
Progressivism exists outside the arena of accountability. Its practitioners have never been judged on ultimate outcomes. While it is in the pursuit of their programs that they often can claim a noble rhetorical advantage, It is only after their program is law that it is on full display. Then the autopsy of its failure exposes their lies and the anti-democratic subversions employed to bring about a program the population never wanted. And that is why when Progressivism fails, it fails spectacularly, and why the Progressive is so often ultimately judged to be a governing failure.