The End of Partisan America
The outcomes of the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial campaigns were determined by the withdrawal of the young and other new voters who turned out for Barack Obama and – in a related development – the switch of independent voters from Obama and the Democrats to Republican candidates Chris Christie and Robert McDonnell.
What is more important than why they shifted their votes is the ease and rapidity with which independents did so. Calling the shift a “transfer of allegiance” would be mislabeling the phenomenon. Independents demonstrated, as their registration denotes, that they have no allegiance. And that is why the 2009 elections mark the official end of partisan electoral politics – if not the partisan bickering in Congress and between Congress and the Executive Branch.
In 1952, when modern political polling began, 22% of Americans considered themselves independents. In a mid-October Gallup poll querying Americans’ political affiliation, 41% said they were independents – compared with 32% who said they were Democrats and 25% who were Republicans.
The emergence of this new era revises the assumptions of our democratic system as these existed since the founding fathers devolved into the Federalist and Democratic parties. Congress is organized according to members’ party affiliations. But when majorities switch back and forth like the global climate, then we will embark on a see-saw of policy changes. No national plan will have a chance to unfold and succeed. And the lack of quick success will feed the rapid alternating ascension of each end of the see-saw – more like an oscillation.
Many have noted that the Reagan era, then the Newt Gingrich Contract-with- America Congress, signified the permanent dominance of the Republican Party. Of course, the 2006 and 2008 elections were thought to signify the creation of a new and permanent Democratic majority. Now many wonder whether the electorate’s replacing two Democratic governors with two Republicans previews another upheaval in the 2010 Congressional elections.
And, why wouldn’t that happen? We have reached the end of an era of economic growth, vast consumerism, easy money, a rising stock market, and American world dominance. If people look up every two or four years and are dissatisfied with their economic situations and the position America occupies in the world, then they – primed by independents – will readily vote incumbents out, or at least enough of them to shift the balance in Congress and the President’s party.
Consider that George H. W. Bush begat Bill Clinton begat George W. Bush begat Barack Obama. Remember that a House of Representatives dominated by Democrats since the off-year elections following Eisenhower’s election as President in 1952 was replaced by a massive Republican Congressional victory in 1994, a span of 42 years. That Republican majority lasted a mere 12 years – beginning with two years after Clinton became President and ending two years before G.W. Bush left the presidency.
What if this Democratic Congress lasts only four years – from two years before Obama took office until two years after his election? This won’t indicate Obama’s failures. It will prove that our political system is now predicated on a quicksand basis that no sooner rises to support one party, as it recedes and buoys the other, ad infinitum.