Tuesday night was Christmas for Republicans and a funeral for the Democrats. But what are independently minded conservatives, libertarians, and progressives to make of the GOP’s sweep to power in the House — and failure to capture the Senate?
We asked a little over a dozen American Conservative writers for their off-the-cuff impressions. Below are their snap responses, delivered in a time-frame ranging from the night before the election to 3 pm the day after.
Click to jump to any of the contributors:
Doug Bandow | Jeremy Beer | Austin Bramwell | Peter Brimelow | Reid Buckley | Michael Dougherty | David Franke | Paul Gottfried | Kevin Gutzman | Jeffrey Hart | Philip Jenkins | Christopher Manion | Eric Margolis | Scott McConnell | Sheldon Richman | John Schwenkler | Kelley Vlahos | John Walsh
The good news is that a lot of Democrats lost. The bad news is that a lot of Republicans won. Washington’s ruling class remains essentially unchanged.
The electoral result delivered a stinging rebuke to President Barack Obama’s statist agenda. But there is little reason to believe that the GOP will offer principled leadership dedicated to restoring the federal government to one of limited, enumerated powers. After all, President George W. Bush and the Republican Congress used their opportunity to govern to expand government at almost every turn.
Principled leadership is especially unlikely in foreign policy, since the GOP’s leaders continue to endorse a strategy of endless intervention and permanent war. If Republicans really believe in limited government, they must challenge both aspects of today’s welfare/warfare state. Until they do so, they will remain just the second party of Big Government.
Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute
Ladies and gentlemen, the deck chairs have been rearranged.
So much for the national scene. Here in Arizona, voters manifested not only the Anger of the Red Wave but also good sense in most of their votes on the state’s ten ballot propositions. Prop 107, which would outlaw preferential treatment for minorities, won handily, 60-40, proving once again not only that the public is tired of affirmative action, but also the great usefulness of ballot initiatives. Arizona voters also opted to require a secret ballot for union elections (61-39), and they wisely preferred the status quo in rejecting a stupidly worded and unnecessary proposition that would have given Arizona a lieutenant governor rather than a secretary of state (59-41). Unfortunately, a medical marijuana initiative — Prop 203 — may go down when it was expected to pass: it’s 50.3-49.7 against, right now, but that could still change.
The Republicans won every statewide race last night, and even the ones that were supposed to be close weren’t. And it wasn’t the economy that drove voters — the Republicans have articulated virtually no ideas whatsoever as to how to reform Arizona’s unsustainable budgetary structure — but (1) anti-Obama/Pelosi backlash, and (2) backlash against the backlash against SB 1070. Whatever one thinks about that bill, which of course is mostly tied up in the courts and has yet to make a dime’s worth of difference to anyone or anything on the ground, it’s popular here in Arizona, and it’s motivating. The Democrats here were dealt a death blow when the Obama administration decided to sue the state over the law.
The Republicans find themselves uncomfortably in charge. Arizona has a balanced-budget requirement. We must take our pain now, not shift it on to future generations. There is a hole of $1.2 billion or so in this fiscal year’s budget, and another $1.4 billion coming next year, unless the housing market radically rebounds, which it won’t. Jan Brewer pushed through a temporary sales-tax increase earlier this year, and frankly, it’s why I voted for her. She was the only person with the political guts to do what needed to be done. But no more tax increases are on the way, if the Republicans can be believed — and most of them campaigned on that specific promise. Just about every budgetary trick has already been tried (voters rejected two more of them last night). The cuts to the budget this year and next will be painful. Already, state parks have been closed, rest stops shuttered. The visible cost to the public realm is about to get worse. Here in Arizona, we will see how Republicans react when they must not only talk a good austerity game, but play it.
Jeremy Beer is editor, with Bruce Frohnen and Jeffrey O. Nelson, of American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia.
I don’t really follow politics, so, in reaction to yesterday’s elections, I have only the following, utterly trivial observation: there was a huge crowd of Upper East Side Republican preppies last night where I watched the returns. Ye gad, I had no idea that so many of us were (still) Republican! To be sure, even in this exceptionally favorable year, there still aren’t enough of us left to elect a GOP congressman from New York’s 14th district. Still, for the first time in years, it feels cool to be a Republican. I didn’t believe I would ever again see an election where the GOP’s base wasn’t utterly demoralized. Well, it turns out that such an election is still possible. As for whether it can happen yet again, given what I’ve seen of GOP leadership, my guess is still no. But at least now I’m less pessimistic.
Austin Bramwell writes from New York City.
It depends how you look at it. Seen from the perspective of two years ago, the Republican rebound is extraordinary, shattering the complacent assumption (shared by some opportunistic Beltway Right courtiers) that the Democrats would be in power for a generation…or permanently, if you’re aware of the astonishing demographic shift being brought about by immigration policy.
But seen from the perspective of the last month, it’s agonizing how many races were so close—but the ball bounced the wrong way. And because so much of the political class focuses only on the baseball team aspects of politics, it will quickly forget how close these races were—and why: over 60 percent of whites voted Republican.
Democrats did even worse with whites than in 1994. This means a tectonic shift is taking place in U.S. politics: southern voting patterns are slowly being nationalized. In many southern states, the GOP starts from a far worse demographic position than in, say, California today. But the GOP wins easily, because whites vote as a bloc, and in even higher proportions than they did nationally on November 2.
In the long term, the Democrats may succeed in “electing a new people” through immigration policy. In the short-to-medium term, however, they may just be waking the sleeping white giant.
For immigration patriots, the night was particularly agonizing. Overall, a detailed analysis of House and Senate results caused NumbersUSA’s Roy Beck to say, “I’m not sure there has been a Congress since 1924 — and certainly not in the last 50 years — that had a membership more interested in reductions in overall illegal and legal immigration than will be the one that was elected yesterday.”
But the fact is that, for the first time, the patriotic immigration reform movement had reached the point of a breakthrough. A victory for Tom Tancredo in Colorado, or perhaps Sharron Angle in Nevada or Joe Miller in Alaska, would have meant national leaders, national prominence and even a presidential nominee.
As it is, the movement has grindingly advanced its siege works, but the political class will exercise its unmatched capacity for self-deception and go back to sleep…until the next crisis. The long war for patriotic immigration reform goes on.
Peter Brimelow is editor of VDARE.com.
I am no political junkie, but I tend to agree with Bill Clinton’s statement ten days ago, when he said the GOP and right-wingers are hoping that Yesterday’s America show up at the polls, not Tomorrow’s America. I am paraphrasing him, but this is the sense of his comment, and, as always, I find him astute in calling the political tune. If the elections result, as expected, in a right-wing/Tea Party protest against the highandedness of the left-wing Obama regime, this is because a fading American population–the America of yesteryear–roused itself. This should bring the GOP and conservatives moderate joy. Yet unless conservatives address the fundamental changes in demographics and conservative myopia on environmental issues, we are doomed in the long run. The conservative petit bourgeoisie of the Beltway, in their arrogance and smugness, must cease calling the tune.
Reid Buckley is the author, most recently, of The Idiocy of Assent.
Michael Brendan Dougherty
The Republican Senate caucus is suddenly interesting; Rand Paul is in it. His father, Ron Paul could cast his one vote on behalf of constitutionalism and no one would see it. Everyone will notice Rand Paul’s difficult votes. Further, Jim DeMint has successfully undermined Mitch McConnell’s leadership by getting non-establishment candidates elected. Paul’s addition will improve members like DeMint and Coburn. Competent and intelligent Tea Party candidates won and that portends interesting debates. The fact that candidates like Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle lost may be a good thing. They were obviously out of their depth and vulnerable to D.C.’s “enculturation.” Their loss is also Palin’s loss.
The GOP also recouped nearly all the House seats it lost in 2006 and 2008, then added some more. This may lead to the delusion that their short banishment from power was due to Bush alone, when in fact it was due to Bushism: big wars, big deficits, and dereliction on immigration. Traditional conservatives should be particularly pleased by the victory of Lou Barletta, the Hazleton mayor who implemented a strategy of dealing with illegal immigration through attrition, i.e. making businesses comply with law.
Though Tea Party members may be excited, this historic gain for Republicans also meant the election of many GOP moderates. Each party becomes frustrated by their centrists, but those are exactly the kind of legislators that can grant a durable majority.
Will this election mean a major change in policy? Probably not. Obama is expanding American military power in South America even as he makes an uncertain drawdown in Iraq. Rand Paul is not enough to change the bi-partisan consensus in favor of America as a global riot-cop. Bernanke moved swiftly to depreciate the dollar in hopes of diminishing unemployment. The White House and Congress will make a compromise on taxes but accomplish little else before retreating into what they most love: the political intrigue of a long campaign season. The rest of us will cling to our guns and religion.
Michael Brendan Dougherty is a 2009-10 Phillips Journalism Fellow.
There was a great party on the U.S.S. Titanic Tuesday night, in case you missed it. The deck chairs were totally rearranged in a game of Shuffle held every two years, and lots of people were thrown overboard in the revelry. The band is still playing, but it’s changed its tune from “I’m All Right, Jack” to “Nearer My God to Thee.” Uh, oh.
For the Tea Partiers and Republicans, the fun part, the easy part—the party—is over. Now they are going to have to show us exactly how they will cut expenses and put our fiscal house in order. Ending the National Endowment for the Arts won’t cut it, justifiable as that is. The three icebergs sinking the U.S. budget are Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security, and American Empire. From the evidence of this election cycle, I’d say they haven’t a clue how to right the ship.
In the realm of “practical politics,” though, there’s more fun and games to come.
The GOP establishment wants Mitt Romney to be the Republican presidential candidate in 2012, while the GOP base wants Sarah Palin, who (from the evidence so far) would lose decisively in November. But the Republican base now thinks it’s in charge, and if the establishment stops Palin, she just might start a new party. What fun—another political party and another party party on the Titanic!
My suggestion to the base: turn instead to Chris Christie for president, Marco Rubio for veep. It’s way past time we had a fat man in the White House (and I’m not running).
David Franke was one of the founders of the conservative movement in the 1950s and 1960s, when Democrats and liberals were the ones who believed in big government, fiscal recklessness, and an imperial presidency.
The strongest impression I took away from yesterday’s election does not concern the publicized races in my state for governor and U.S. Senator. Those forgettable contests, and particularly the senatorial battle between Pat Toomey and Joe Sestak, involved mudslinging and negative advertising but very little else. Tom Corbett, the Republican attorney general, won handily in the gubernatorial race, and Toomey, a congressman from Lehigh County, squeaked out a surprisingly narrow victory against a former admiral from Philadelphia and an ardent Obamaite. It was hard to learn from this campaign anything memorable about Toomey, who was at one time an outspokenly conservative Republican, except that he opposed Obamacare and was for “economic growth.” Like his opponent, he praised Israel’s democracy and our troops in Afghanistan and called for increased immigration, preferably of the legal kind.
What struck me more than these races was the clout exercised on the East and West Coasts by public-sector unions, which contributed significantly to keeping the Senate in Democratic hands. In California the unions raised and disbursed more funds than the GOP was able to generate, and in every state in which the Democrats held on (or as in Pennsylvania turned what were supposed to be blowouts into close races), one has to look for an explanation to the public-sector unions. We may soon be reaching the point that France and other European countries have already reached, where any attempt to block union whims can result in paralyzing strikes and occasionally violence.
One of the unions’ crowning achievements was to knock off Sharron Angle in the Nevada senatorial race against Harry Reid. While Reid has always played ball with the union powers, Angle (bless her heart!) spoke of making real reductions in public administration, starting with the Department of Education. For her forthrightness, the New York Post’s editors attacked this pre-New Deal Republican as a nutcase. Angle’s head may have been the most regrettable trophy won by the Axis of Evil last night.
Paul Gottfried is Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College.
There’s Tom Brokaw on NBC, playing the role of Peter Jennings, 1994, saying that voters today demonstrated unhappiness with ‘incumbents.” Next comes Haley Barbour, governor of Mississippi, to say that Republicans can cooperate with Pres. Obama on charter schools and merit pay for teachers (both, note, unconstitutional potential federal spending initiatives). Here we have Michele Bachmann, Tea Party darling, saying that the Republicans’ first priority will be — a tax cut.
Lining out programs is both fiscally essential and, in light of the Tea Party phenomenon, politically necessary to Republicans. Constitutionally, Republicans are in the best position they can be in: they have control only of the chamber of Congress in which all spending bills must originate. So, Republicans, line out programs. Kill them. Tell the people why you’re doing it. Do it now. You will be rewarded. If the program doesn’t go through, blame Obama. It will be his fault. Your constituents will understand. You have power without responsibility, so take advantage of it.
Republicans should reduce federal spending dramatically, and they should do it immediately. Americans of both parties would like to see an axe taken to foreign aid. Kill the NEH. The NEA. NPR. Come to think of it, anything with an “N” (constitutionally offensive) at the beginning of its acronym. Get rid of farm subsidies and quotas (production and import). Get rid of NASA. Get rid of various kinds of corporate welfare; the people will love you for it. Hang a lamp on it. The entire Department of Commerce could go, along with Education. Do it immediately, while the iron is hot.
The danger is that Republicans will do nothing, with the idea that they will be better positioned after winning the White House in 2012. But they may just as easily find themselves back in the minority in both houses of Congress in a second Obama administration. They should cut back spending now. Now. Good policy is good politics.
Kevin Gutzman is professor of history at Western Connecticut State University.
Obama erred in going for healthcare when people were worried about the economy and jobs. He paid the price in the recent election. But America is the only industrialized democracy without some form of universal healthcare, and the Republicans have nothing to offer.
The race for the 2012 presidential election begins now.
Strangely, I find that most people are not even interested in the Afghan War. But perhaps that will be an issue in two more years.
Jeffrey Hart is the author of The Making of the American Conservative Mind: National Review and Its Times.
Well, there was plenty of good news last night — I really thought Pat Toomey had little hope in Pennsylvania. But overall, this election had lots of disappointments. The Republicans couldn’t evict Harry Reid?
More broadly, too, look at all the horrors of the last two years — all the bailouts and megadeficits, all the insane legislation — and then think again about the startlingly high Democratic vote in so many areas. That for me is the most sobering thing about the whole election. Those numbers suggest just how many Americans really do want to live in Obamaland, and what a rock solid foundation they give for any future far-left candidate.
Then add to those the large corps of independents ready to be swept along in something like the hysterical enthusiasm that greeted the Obama campaign in 2008. The messianic mood, the millenarian passion, came not from Obama himself but from his audiences, who so desperately wanted a Great Leader to rescue them from their woes, however improbable the object of their zeal. As the saying goes, leadership is a function of followership. Even if Obama vanished tomorrow, that popular hunger for secular salvation would still be present, ready to be mobilized by some cause or faction. Who can say who the would-be messiahs will be in 2012 or 2016? Do you really believe the country that elected Obama will really be able to proclaim, “We won’t be fooled again!”
All in all, then, I’m not celebrating too merrily.
Philip Jenkins is Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Humanities at Pennsylvania State University and the author, most recently, of Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 years.
There is apparently little jubilation among conservatives, nor is there much to jubilate about. Conservatives are now increasingly willing to acknowledging that Afghanistan is a disaster. However, none has an exit strategy, while Secretary Gates wants the U.S. to be there forever. One very prominent, longtime conservative leader told me last night that, “maybe if Afghanistan becomes ‘Obama’s war,’” Republicans might be able to extricate themselves. David Broder, on the other hand, considers more war (Iran this time) a great aisle-crossing draw for Obama because Republicans would jump at the chance to support him.
I’m afraid he might be right.
On the domestic front, I am amazed (perhaps “aghast” is a better term) that no Republican leader will identify prospective budget cuts. This reticence is unworthy of a conservative party. If we cut the budget two percent a year, it will take us one hundred years to return to Jimmy Carter’s budget of 1980 – you know, the one that Ronald Reagan ran against as “Big Government is the problem.”
Meanwhile, Obama sent $630 million in taxpayer funds to my home district this year, thus salvaging (by a two percent margin) the re-election of Democrat Joe Donnelly (Indiana’s 2nd District).
Donnelly masterminded the final “pro-life” Democrat cave-in that passed Obamacare. Our $630 million will send 2,526 Humvees to Afghan forces, who will immediately sell them on the cross-border black market, give them to their friends, or use them to transport drugs in the cartels that they protect.
Yes, that’s right, those Humvees cost the taxpayer a quarter of a million dollars apiece. And Republicans don’t know where to cut?
Christopher Manion writes from the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia.
We can anticipate more militarization of U.S. foreign policy. Israel’s partisans are in an even stronger position in Congress and will intensify pressure for U.S. military action against Iran, Lebanon, and Syria. Also, expect more action against Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.
Relations with Moscow — America’s most important foreign-policy priority — will probably suffer. Right-wing Republicans will press for a more hostile and confrontational stance towards China and North Korea. No improvement of relations with Cuba. The EU is most uneasy with the Republican right.
Eric Margolis is the author of American Raj: America and the Muslim World
I’m watching MSNBC, not sure the reason. A bit taken aback at the rage of Michael Isikoff when the Kentucky race was called for Rand Paul. On and on about Karl Rove, money, etc. But really angry. Not even a whiff of curiosity over the fact that the GOP now has a senator who might, just might, not be a hawk? The son of a legendary House iconoclast, who had managed a very interesting presidential race?
9 pm. Now the third Israel ad in the last hour, Netanyahu speaking. I assume this is running only in Washington D.C. Doesn’t it ever stop?
All the biggies still too close to call. Go Sestak, go Ken Buck. Sorry Linda McMahon went down. I’d be splitting my ticket, if I could vote.
Not for D.C. statehood, but I wish they would let Washingtonians vote somewhere else—if not the state of our choice, then Maryland or Virginia.
Rand Paul is speaking. Tea Party tidal wave, send them a message. His voice rhythms sound like his father’s. Freedom, freedom. Just get government out of our way. Chris Matthews calls it Goldwater unmodified. Enslaved by debt. Lawrence O’Donnell, who understands how the government works, tells us that Rand can, all by himself, filibuster the debt ceiling increase and bring the world to a halt.
Ed Schultz is saying Rand Paul is not beholden to anyone. Then he claims Rand is a birther, or a birther ally. That’s loopy, I think.
Oh good, Manchin in West Virginia. I’m not in favor of the kind of coal mining where they slice the top off the mountain to get at the coal, and I think he opposes it too.
A guy from the Tea Partyish Freedomworks, Matt Kibbe, who seems smart and sober. The MSNBC group seemed to expect he’d be frothing at the mouth, so he disappoints.
Marco Rubio, U.S. is the greatest nation in all of human history. I think Rand said that too. I’m not sure it’s true. Great Britain has it claims.
Sestak is leading!!!! (He and Rand Paul were the two candidates I contributed to. Both invited me to their parties. But here I am by the TV).
Oooh, Christine. She says, apropos the party, they’ve “got the room all night.” Can’t help but thinking naughty thought.
Illinois, Pennsylvania, too close to call. You could tell Kirk was getting ready to move up from the House years ago, when he began making all these noises about how much he loved Israel, good for fundraising.
Feingold goes down. Always kind of liked him. Know nothing about Johnson. I remember visiting U. Wisconsin on my daughter’s college tour and pontificating on how a disproportionate number of interesting politicians came from there. Probably not true any more.
Sestak lead is about gone.
Learn from TPM that Rush Holt holds onto his House seat. He visited Gaza after Israel’s rampage. Talked about it in a House conference room. Gutsy thing to do, though it shouldn’t be.
Arianna Huffington’s breathy voice. I remember, when she came to visit me at the New York Post years ago, that I was a few years younger than her. Now I’m clearly older. Not sure how that happened.
Toomey’s leading Sestak now, pulling ahead. That’s the only close one I care about. I’ll go to bed sad.
Scott McConnell is a founding editor of The American Conservative.
Why the hubbub today? Will the bloody occupations end? Will the CIA assassinations cease? Will the empire be liquidated? Will civil liberties be respected? Will taxes and spending be repealed? Will the Fed be dismantled? Then why should I care what happened yesterday? Some new people are in power. Big deal. Power is the problem. As someone wisely said, “If voting could change things, it would be against the law.”
Sheldon Richman is editor of The Freeman.
For me, the best thing by far about the 2010 election season was the lack of TV reception in my home, which meant both a pleasing lack of campaign commercials during weekend football games and the happy inability to spend my Tuesday night watching the talking heads eagerly blather on about exit polling in North Carolina’s Fifth District. Admittedly I did keep half an eye on the results, but I refused to stay up late Tuesday and can’t honestly say I cared as much about the control of the U.S. Congress as about the results of the local election that my town of 2,000 held last month. At least in the latter case there’s the question of whether to put better crosswalks on Main Street or build a new soccer field for my sons; but when it comes to Congress, we’re faced with a choice between keeping Obamacare intact and doing away with only the inexpensive parts of it, with an eternally busted budget and the real prospect of war with Iran looming no matter what.
Anyone else for a ballot option that allows us to vote out incumbents and simply leave their seats vacant until the subsequent cycle?
John Schwenkler is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Mount St. Mary’s University.
Perhaps cynically, I saw the stroke of midnight this morning as not the dawn of a new era of conservatism on Capitol Hill, but the beginning of the 2012 presidential election. I see each of the 61 new GOP House members, their incumbent cohorts, the six new Republican senators and their colleagues, as giants-for-a-day, soon to turn back to an army of mice as the spell wears off and the time comes to do the yeoman’s work of taking back the White House in the next election.
There may be great gridlock as the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein predicts, or the Republicans may try to pass as much of their policy wish list as they can in the next two years, as the American Spectator’s Phillip Klein suggests they might do, but let’s face it: like it or not everything is quickly going to fall back into campaign mode, this one for the Big One, and everything Republicans do will be to embarrass, undermine, overshadow, and outshine Barack Obama, while Democrats will be spending the next two years in fabulously exhaustive political contortions, trying to defend what they have, including the White House. Reaching across aisles may only occur if one side wants to slap the other, though one might expect Obama to be more willing to compromise knowing he lost so much support, particularly from independents, in last night’s election.
Expect one of the first lines of attack to be war overseas, in Afghanistan and the neoconservatives’ hoped-for confrontation with Iran. Republicans may have promised to cut spending, but the defense industry won’t be on the table. Obama’s July 2011 timeline for the reduction of troops in Afghanistan will. Republicans, back in charge of the House foreign policy and armed services committees, will put that timeline on trial, calling upon their favorite general, David Petraeus, to highlight the wisdom of the “commanders on the ground” against the Obama’s oft-challenged manhood. Sadly, U.S forces overseas, tired from nearly 10 years of war, will again become the stalwart props of this shopworn political theater. Expect Republican hawks like Sarah Palin, Eric Cantor, John McCain, and any Republican who wants a shot at the nomination to be riding the familiar defeat-o-crat meme right into 2012.
If this sounds bleak, consider the last two presidential election cycles. Media coverage of the horserace began right after the midterms and then proceeded to suck the oxygen right out of any other news story for the next two years. In fact, every important issue threatening what’s left of the Republic –- whether it be endless war, energy dependence, the crumbling economy –- was framed by the election, which did nothing of lasting significance but diverted much needed outrage, focus, and grassroots energy into what has become an empty quadrennial coronation that serves only the duopoly that controls Washington.
In a press conference today, Republican leaders said yesterday’s election was a mandate against Barack Obama. You bet. Let the games begin.
Kelley Beaucar Vlahos is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer.
The overwhelming lesson of the election is that Obama lost his base. And much of the Democratic Party lost its base too. But what did Obama expect? He promised peace and gave us war. In fact he gave us more war and more military spending. He promised to bring recovery to Main Street, but he only bailed out the banksters, just like Bush before him. His base was not happy about his “health care plan”; they were single-payer devotees. So Obamacare pleased no one — with the possible exception of the insurers. Hence some Dems stayed home and others voted Republican out of anger just as happened with Scott Brown in Massachusetts not long ago. Enthusiasm among Dems for national candidates was zilch, nada.
Many Republicans were just as disgusted by their party as pwog Dems were with theirs. The difference is that the Republican side had the cojones to stage a rebellion which took the form of the Tea Party. The pwogs of the Left still wallow in timid subservience to those who abuse them. They may stay home, but they do not organize against the Dem leadership. Had they done so and forced a change in Obama’s course –- at least turning him away from his wars and the banksters –- the Dems might have done better. The pwogs have only themselves to blame.