Political Fog Finally Lifts
At long last, the decades-long attempt by both parties to blur ideological lines has come to a halt. Bill Clinton's "triangulation" and George W. Bush's "compassionate conservatism" are out, and contrasting visions are in.
With the country's future hanging in the balance, Americans are getting serious about politics, and it's all good for the political right.
The long-term confusion was a disaster for conservatives, who fare better with ideological differences clearly drawn. The left can rely on emotional appeals and has a faithful mainstream media to do its heavy lifting and damage control. The right must teach to attract voters; it depends on an informed electorate that understands nuanced arguments about how higher taxes on the rich hurt the capital formation necessary for the economy to grow. When the messages aren't clear, the vote goes to the party that promises the most goodies: the Democrats.
Yet, despite the obvious disadvantages to clouding the political picture, the Republican Party has long listened to advisers who said that the way to win elections is to fight over the middle ground. The result has been a weary procession of centrist presidential candidates: Bush, Bush, Dole, Bush, Bush, McCain.
In return, they lost winnable elections against weak Democratic candidates and squeaked out narrow victories against intellectual and political punching bags Al Gore and John Kerry.
This political obfuscation was a tremendous bonus for the left. Not only did it weaken their opponents, but those opponents frequently acted as if they were partners in expanding government's grasp. As a result, the country drifted steadily toward Euro-socialism, no matter who was in office. For instance, despite the occasional speed bump, such as the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (welfare reform), the percentage of Americans living in households who receive some type of government aid rose to 48.5 percent in 2010, from less than 30 percent in 1983.
But now Democrats are openly touting their more extreme positions. As recently as the 2008 presidential campaign, President Obama portrayed himself as a centrist who would heal the country's various divides, despite ample evidence that his real agenda was radical. Before that, he rose to national prominence because of his speech at the 2004 Democratic Party convention, in which he lauded traditional American ideals so convincingly that even Rush Limbaugh gave him kudos.
But once President Obama took office, the last vestiges of the triangulation strategy disappeared. Former Democratic national party chairman Howard Dean stated that this country "has had enough capitalism," and people started getting a better feel for what the president's pledge to "transform America" really meant. And this time around, in 2012, President Obama's campaign has focused on class warfare tactics straight out of Marx, attacking Mitt Romney for being a rich, greedy venture capitalist who takes delight in firing workers.
In part, this change in Democratic tactics makes sense. The country is becoming more polarized, and elections depend more on "turning out the base" rather than by capturing the dwindling middle. But it is also likely that liberals are misreading the popularity of their progressive policies, particularly concerning the hold that government largesse has on some segments of the population. While certainly welfare recipients vote solidly Democratic to ensure their continued benefits, many older people who are dependent on Social Security and Medicare still believe in more traditional American values and policies. Many unemployment recipients and young people who face severely diminished prospects in the Obama economy see that the status quo is failing them and are likely to either vote for Romney or stay home on election day.
The Democratic Party's liberalism has now reached the tipping point, where members can no longer contain their radical fervor behind a façade of moderation. Consider the recent actions, statements, and positions that might not have made the cut in the middle of a triangulation-era presidential campaign:
- The national Democratic Party's platform committee endorsed gay marriage for the first time.
- President Obama tipped his socialist hand with a statement that business owners owe others for their success, telling them "you didn't build that."
- President Obama issued an executive order that permits states to waive work requirements for welfare recipients.
- The president thumbed his nose at Americans who expressed concern about Muslims with family connections to terrorist organization by honoring Huma Abedin, who has strong family ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, at an "iftar" dinner for Ramadan at the White House.
- In May, President Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Dolores Huerta, a co-founder of the United Farm Workers Union, who also happens to be an honorary chair of the Democratic Socialists of America.
- In June, the president issued an executive order effectively granting amnesty to the children of illegal immigrants who were brought to this country by their parents.
Leaving their ideological closet is a strategy of defeat for the Democrats. Most of these stances are losing propositions, at least for now. Gay marriage recently faced a test in North Carolina -- a battleground state carried by President Obama in 2008 -- and a state amendment against gay marriage won handily. Polls suggest that up to 75 percent of Americans are against amnesty for illegal immigrants -- and that 75% includes most legal immigrants. With nobody in the Democratic Party urging caution, they are marching over a cliff.
And unnecessarily so. If they had maintained the discipline to continue clouding issues, nominating candidates who appeared to be centrist, and preserving the welfare state as it now stands, in only a few years, the nation's changing demographics and the creeping incrementalism of dependency would have solidified the left's permanent majority.
But that ended with the nomination of Barack Obama, whose radical tendencies could not remain hidden forever. The Tea Party arose in response to his policies to redefine American politics in bold colors. Now, Mitt Romney's selection of Paul Ryan further emphasizes the political divide. By choosing a darling of the Tea Party whose expertise is crafting cost-cutting budgets, Romney has openly positioned cross-hairs over the big-government, deficit-spending policies that have dominated for so long.
Best of all for conservatives is that the probable Romney strategy of shrinking government, reducing debt, and deregulation (that is implied by the Ryan choice) will most likely restore the economy in a big way. If so, it will provide an even clearer contrast -- not just between conservative and liberal policies, but also between the effects of those policies.
And with Ryan the vice president in a successful Romney administration, the future of the Republican Party will firmly be in conservative hands, providing a clear choice for years to come.