The Voters' Rational Intuitions

So the midterms went big against the GOP, even though the Dems didn't have a clear message of their own. Most voters probably couldn't articulate exactly why they voted the way they did. Human beings work by intuition, not usually by some explicit list of reasons.  Just try riding a bicycle without using your intuitive sense of gravity and momentum. You may not know why you wobble left rather than right at a certain moment, but you sense that it's the right thing to do. A lot of the time, those intuitions serve us well.

So what reasonable feelings were the voters expressing?

Here's my guess.

Internationally, the Bush Administration is painting a tough picture about terrorism, proliferation, and new Islamic tyrannies. I happen to believe that this will be their enduring contribution, just as Harry Truman's willingness to face the Cold War was an historic achievement. But hard realities aren't easy to sell.  Truman lost a lot of popularity, and so did George W. For a lot of voters it makes sense to wonder, 

"OK, the country has weathered a frightening terrorist attack on 9/11; now let's gamble on a more passive strategy. If we are attacked again, either the Dems will have to grow up or the GOP will be there to take over."

That's a rational gamble, though I believe it exposes us to danger. But it makes at least some sense. After all, we don't really know why we have not been attacked again since 9/11. The drive—by media miserably failed to publicize the recent Heathrow plot to seize nine passenger jets and crash them over American cities. Are we just lucky? Has the preemptive strategy worked? Is it good intelligence? Are the terrorists waiting until we let our guard down? All of the above?

Democracies are notoriously reluctant to mobilize, even in the face of visible danger. The voters are hoping to avoid further risk.

The GOP needs to maintain its own visible preparedness to face real dangers. This administration is likely to stay strong on terror and Iraq, until it leaves office. By 2008, Iraq's elected government must sink or swim. Two years is enough time for the new Iraq army to prove itself.

In domestic affairs, the GOP has failed to project a positive, coherent vision. The obvious contrast is to Newt  Gingrich's Contract with America in 1994, which was hopeful, new, and attractive —— the kind of vision Americans like. The Dems stand for tax and tax, spend and spend, elect and elect. That message is pretty much out there. But what do Republicans stand for?

Merely shrinking government has limited appeal. It implies that we need to be more self—reliant, work harder and take our responsibilities more seriously. It's a Spartan message. It's a good, adult message, but it doesn't sound inspirational. Americans want hope, we want to transcend the routines of daily life. Spartanism is not enough.

Successful political parties need to project a hopeful, future—oriented vision. Market—oriented reform of the health system could be made very attractive. African—American parents already like education vouchers. The greatest gap in the Bush record is a failure to campaign effectively for turning Social Security into an individualized retirement plan. It let itself be out—propagandized last time. The "Ownership Society" is a good, hopeful message, and the transition costs might be manageable.

It seems that Bush and Cheney were simply overwhelmed by the awesome responsibilities of sending soldiers to war. President Bush has been meeting regularly with families of wounded or dead soldiers; but the sheer emotional burden of doing that must be enormous. Human beings can only do so much in a single day. Bush—Cheney have bought Congressional support by allowing the pork to flow. As old—fashioned patriots they might see no other choice.

Over the next two years conservatives must have a vigorous debate about a  positive vision. Liberals are still stuck with Karl Marx and Bismarck's universal retirement plan from the 19th century. Conservatives understand about markets; that gives us an intellectual advantage. While no firm consensus can crystallize before a candidate is nominated in 2007, the groundwork can be laid starting today.

By 2008, the reality of foreign dangers should be obvious to most Americans. The Bush position may then seem strong and wise in retrospect. Domestically we should campaign on ways to transcend the welfare state. That doesn't mean abolishing the goodies people have come to count on: That's like trying to make water flow uphill. It does mean solid proposals for privatizing social security accounts, creating education vouchers (especially for the poor), and reestablishing the connection between individual actions and their consequences. A decent compromise can be crafted on immigration; even the massive number of abortions can be gradually driven down.

There's plenty of creativity among conservatives. It just needs to be rediscovered and publicized, as it was during the Gingrich Revolution of 1994. It can be done again. 

James Lewis is a frequent contributor to American Thinker.

So the midterms went big against the GOP, even though the Dems didn't have a clear message of their own. Most voters probably couldn't articulate exactly why they voted the way they did. Human beings work by intuition, not usually by some explicit list of reasons.  Just try riding a bicycle without using your intuitive sense of gravity and momentum. You may not know why you wobble left rather than right at a certain moment, but you sense that it's the right thing to do. A lot of the time, those intuitions serve us well.

So what reasonable feelings were the voters expressing?

Here's my guess.

Internationally, the Bush Administration is painting a tough picture about terrorism, proliferation, and new Islamic tyrannies. I happen to believe that this will be their enduring contribution, just as Harry Truman's willingness to face the Cold War was an historic achievement. But hard realities aren't easy to sell.  Truman lost a lot of popularity, and so did George W. For a lot of voters it makes sense to wonder, 

"OK, the country has weathered a frightening terrorist attack on 9/11; now let's gamble on a more passive strategy. If we are attacked again, either the Dems will have to grow up or the GOP will be there to take over."

That's a rational gamble, though I believe it exposes us to danger. But it makes at least some sense. After all, we don't really know why we have not been attacked again since 9/11. The drive—by media miserably failed to publicize the recent Heathrow plot to seize nine passenger jets and crash them over American cities. Are we just lucky? Has the preemptive strategy worked? Is it good intelligence? Are the terrorists waiting until we let our guard down? All of the above?

Democracies are notoriously reluctant to mobilize, even in the face of visible danger. The voters are hoping to avoid further risk.

The GOP needs to maintain its own visible preparedness to face real dangers. This administration is likely to stay strong on terror and Iraq, until it leaves office. By 2008, Iraq's elected government must sink or swim. Two years is enough time for the new Iraq army to prove itself.

In domestic affairs, the GOP has failed to project a positive, coherent vision. The obvious contrast is to Newt  Gingrich's Contract with America in 1994, which was hopeful, new, and attractive —— the kind of vision Americans like. The Dems stand for tax and tax, spend and spend, elect and elect. That message is pretty much out there. But what do Republicans stand for?

Merely shrinking government has limited appeal. It implies that we need to be more self—reliant, work harder and take our responsibilities more seriously. It's a Spartan message. It's a good, adult message, but it doesn't sound inspirational. Americans want hope, we want to transcend the routines of daily life. Spartanism is not enough.

Successful political parties need to project a hopeful, future—oriented vision. Market—oriented reform of the health system could be made very attractive. African—American parents already like education vouchers. The greatest gap in the Bush record is a failure to campaign effectively for turning Social Security into an individualized retirement plan. It let itself be out—propagandized last time. The "Ownership Society" is a good, hopeful message, and the transition costs might be manageable.

It seems that Bush and Cheney were simply overwhelmed by the awesome responsibilities of sending soldiers to war. President Bush has been meeting regularly with families of wounded or dead soldiers; but the sheer emotional burden of doing that must be enormous. Human beings can only do so much in a single day. Bush—Cheney have bought Congressional support by allowing the pork to flow. As old—fashioned patriots they might see no other choice.

Over the next two years conservatives must have a vigorous debate about a  positive vision. Liberals are still stuck with Karl Marx and Bismarck's universal retirement plan from the 19th century. Conservatives understand about markets; that gives us an intellectual advantage. While no firm consensus can crystallize before a candidate is nominated in 2007, the groundwork can be laid starting today.

By 2008, the reality of foreign dangers should be obvious to most Americans. The Bush position may then seem strong and wise in retrospect. Domestically we should campaign on ways to transcend the welfare state. That doesn't mean abolishing the goodies people have come to count on: That's like trying to make water flow uphill. It does mean solid proposals for privatizing social security accounts, creating education vouchers (especially for the poor), and reestablishing the connection between individual actions and their consequences. A decent compromise can be crafted on immigration; even the massive number of abortions can be gradually driven down.

There's plenty of creativity among conservatives. It just needs to be rediscovered and publicized, as it was during the Gingrich Revolution of 1994. It can be done again. 

James Lewis is a frequent contributor to American Thinker.