Watergate and Today: How the Voters Swing Back to Normal
A quotation in the September 19, 1926 edition of the Chicago Tribune included the following observation on the electorate of the day:
No one in this world, so far as I know - and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me - has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.
Its author was H.L. Mencken, a noted journalist. Could it be that President Obama, another Chicagoan, took his inspiration from Mencken as well as Alinsky? A bit of political history, starting with 1974, may provide an answer to this question.
In that year, voters sent the Republicans packing because they refused to confront Nixon early on about his obvious defalcations, choosing instead a strategy of defending the indefensible. The Democrats saw this as a golden opportunity to cloak their passion for European-style social and economic policy inside a Trojan horse they called "clean" government. A few Democratic candidates in 1974 and the years immediately thereafter were honest enough to unabashedly proclaim their true ideological colors, but within a few election cycles, they were yesterday's news. Iowa presents a good case study on this point.
In 1974, H.R. Gross, a Republican gadfly who served in the House from 1949 to January 1975, decided to retire. His claim to fame was that he voted "no" on virtually anything that involved spending taxpayer funds. He was safely ensconced in his long-held congressional seat until his retirement. In fact, most of Iowa's congressional delegation in 1974 was Republican. After that year's election, however, the party's ranks consisted of just one: Chuck Grassley. For his part, Grassley stuck by Gross's stewardship of his constituents' tax dollars, and because of this, he has been reelected just last year to a sixth term.
On the other hand, Tom Harkin, one of the House's most liberal members, was also elected for the first time in 1974. He was a product of Watergate, not some sudden embrace by the voters of his ideological bent. Along with Harkin, other liberal Democrats succeeded to historically Republican seats, such that a traditionally conservative Midwestern state was represented by individuals who expressed, at best, the ideological viewpoint of at most 20% of the state's electorate.
By 1980, however, times had changed. The country had had its fill of Jimmy Carter and most of the other beneficiaries of the Watergate mess, and Iowa, like other states that had followed the same course in 1974, decided that some ersatz notion of cleanliness was a nonstarter. The voters' change of heart, not surprisingly, was one of the key byproducts of Ronald Reagan's emergence as the Republican standard-bearer, and until 2006, it remained the rule rather than the exception. It was in 1980 that Grassley was first elected to the Senate, and he has continued to be elected by wide margins ever since. Sincerity and a genuine concern for how Congress spends other peoples' money, it appears, have a perpetual attraction the Democrats have never been able to come to grips with or overcome.
Unlike Grassley, whose genes are hardwired with a strong dose of conservative DNA, Harkin has always been solidly in the "progressive" camp -- i.e., the camp that to this day tries to further centralize power in Washington in order to advance the "grand illusion" of a Western European "utopia." But to survive, Harkin early on had to don the mask of a centrist fighting for the needs of his "plain" constituents. From the outset, he has used this charade to hide his ultimate goal: to steer the country leftward with his liberal compatriots in Congress.
When Pelosi and Reid took charge of Congress in 2006, it never occurred to them to reassemble the party's Watergate-era Trojan horse. They were imbued with the same arrogance as were their precursors in 1974, and Obama's election in 2008 blinded them to what would ultimately become payback time. They ramped up what liberals do best -- i.e. spend other people's money without the least regard for the impact of their policies. Had he been alive in November 2008, Mencken might have read Obama's election as confirmation of his disdain for the "plain people," yet had he hung around just a little bit longer, he might also have been befuddled, as the Democrats have been of late, by the "plain people" realizing that they were had in 2006 and 2008.
The 2010 election and the recent election in New York's 9th Congressional District are signposts along the path to November 2012. Come next year's elections, the remaining detritus of the Democrats' left-wing ideology will be on life support, awaiting some modern-day Diogenes to timidly tiptoe into the party's ICU and put it out of our misery.
A singular curiosity remains, however, for which there is no ready answer. Why in the world would so many Democrats who were never as far to the left as Pelosi, Reid, and Obama throw their lot and livelihoods in with this calamitous troika rather than stand up for their own constituents? While, at heart, the terms "Democrat" and "unthinking liberal" may be synonymous, in years past the instinct for self-preservation trumped all. Could it be that these hangers-on have all along been the clueless "plain people" Mencken took the hoi polloi to be? After all, in November 2010, just as in November 1980, more than a few Democrats lost their seats because they grossly underestimated the intelligence of their constituents and the American people at large, choosing instead to follow the dictates of their party leadership.
No matter the explanation for such political myopia, it is now indisputable that Obama has become his party's Captain Ahab, ready, willing, and able to sacrifice what little legitimacy the party has left to pursue his obsession with cutting America down to size. For the rest of us, this is actually good news, because the ingrained duplicity that has been central to the Democrats' game plan since 1974 has at long last come home to roost...and laid a big fat goose egg on their upcoming electoral prospects.
Democrats at large, urged on by their increasingly detached leadership, have displayed a cold indifference to, and disdain for, ordinary peoples' hopes and dreams. They have never recovered from the 2000 election, when voters chose Bush over Gore. This was, to them, incontrovertible proof that the citizenry is simply incapable of discerning what is in its own best interest. The 2006 election deluded the party leadership and many of its rank and file into believing that voters had finally come to their senses and were at long last cognizant that the nation should be governed by a small band of leftist philosopher-kings. In 2008, there were cheers that Obama had become the band's king of kings. But of late, Democrats, to their horror, have come to realize that Obama is simply a false prophet behind whose mask lurks a Jimmy Carter redux on steroids.
The rest of us have known all along that, in the real world we are consigned to live in each day, Americans want to live their lives as best they can, provide for their families, and experience those blessings that naturally fall upon a free people with an elected government of limited reach. If there is a lesson to be learned from the Democrats' implosion, it is that Americans of all stripes and from all walks of life will, despite an occasional deviation from the norm, sooner or later return to the government the Founding Fathers had in mind -- i.e. a government in chains, firmly secured by a tamper-proof lock to which only we, the people hold the key.