THE DIALECTICS OF DEFEAT: A LOOK AT THE AMERICAN ELECTIONS
"Conservatives are divided, acrimoniously so, over three schools of explaining The Defeat. 1. The Near Fatalists. Some are terrified that we are witnessing the final establishment of the long-feared dependency majority, where half the country is not paying federal income taxes and are on the receiving end of government largess and expect “them” to pay their fair share to pay for it; 2. The Should’ve, Could’ve, Would’ve What If-ers. The disappointed tacticians believe that should/would/could Romney have run differently (e.g., hit harder on Benghazi, mixed it up in the second and third debates, organized a Contract with America as a broad-based conservative crusade, etc.) he could have gotten the necessary 1 to 2 million extra votes in the swing states. Similarly, had the storm not arisen, or had Christie just been civil rather than going gaga over Obama/Springsteen, Romney’s momentum would not have been lost the last week; 3. The Big Tenters. The strategic centrists will now call for compromising on social issues, abortion, illegal immigration, fiscal policies, etc., to widen the tent in order to bring in young women, blacks, Latinos, gays, etc. and build “a new conservative majority....” Instead, I fear exegesis (1) is, with each year, more telling. We have never quite had the present perfect storm of nearly half not paying federal income taxes, nearly 50 million on food stamps, and almost half the population on some sort of federal largess — and a sophistic elite that promotes it and at the same time finds ways to be exempt from its social and cultural consequences. For an Obama, Biden, Kerry, Pelosi, or Feinstein, the psychological cost for living like 18th-century French royalty is the promotion of the welfare state for millions of others who for now will be kept far away, in places like Bakersfield or Mendota.... In Michigan in September I had a talk with a retired auto worker who did not care that the bailout cost $25 billion, was not sustainable, shorted the legal first-in-line creditors, shorted politically incorrect managerial pensioners, or ensured the Volt debacle. He simply said to me, “Obama saved my son’s job and I don’t care about much else.” That’s the rub in the short term that seems to the norm in at least the past and future few years. It means that the Republicans, without a once-in-a-lifetime Reagan-like perfect candidate — or some sort of national crisis in the manner that Iran once derailed Jimmy Carter, or Ross Perot once caused incumbent George H. W. Bush to implode — can’t quite get that extra 2 to 3 percentage points they need on the national scene to succeed".Victor Davis Hanson, "Three Ways of Explaining Defeat." The National Review. 7 November 2012, in www.nationalreview.com.
"Those growing tired of Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker’s shop-worn aphorism about managing post-crisis economies – “We all know what to do: we just don’t know how to get re-elected after we’ve done it” – might think it definitively refuted this week by Barack Obama’s US election win. As it happens, several leaders of big advanced economies have survived elections since the global financial crisis hit in 2008. Yet an (admittedly brief and unscientific) scan of the evidence suggests victory depends not just on their own or their economies’ performance but on arriving in office at the right time to escape the initial blame. Within the Anglosphere, the electoral outlier is not the victorious Mr Obama but the defeated Gordon Brown, crushed in the UK election of 2010. The same year Julia Gillard, who became Australia’s prime minister after dumping Kevin Rudd in an internal Labor Party coup, survived an election, and in 2011 Stephen Harper in Canada and John Key in New Zealand were re-elected with increased seat tallies.... In reality, economics and elections have an imprecise relationship. As the newly world-famous statistician Nate Silver of the New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog has pointed out, models that forecast US presidential elections based on economic fundamentals – as opposed to his own method of aggregating opinion polls, or a mixture of economic data and approval ratings – have a pretty poor record. The best-known fundamentals model, developed by Ray Fair, of Yale University, predicted a narrow win for Mitt Romney, although the actual outcome was just within the model’s margin of error. Since 2008, an equally strong indicator of re-electability seems to be timing one’s arrival in office to ensure one’s predecessor gets the blame. A financial crisis with deep roots has evidently inflicted lasting damage on the credibility of the political parties that held power during the years it was growing.... By this token, along with Mr Obama’s valiant efforts to keep growth going with fiscal easing, he was fortunate to be elected in 2008 just late enough to escape much of the censure for the recession. According to a regular Gallup poll, since mid-2010 around 70 per cent of Americans have consistently blamed George W. Bush for the US’s economic problems, with only about 50 per cent inculpating Mr Obama. Exit polls from Tuesday’s election suggested the same. This is not entirely fair. The financial deregulation that facilitated the crisis started under Bill Clinton, while Mr Bush’s irresponsible spending sprees and tax cuts, though reducing the US’s fiscal space to respond to the recession, did not directly cause it. Few of the leaders elected just as the crisis hit had spent their time in opposition warning that a debt bubble was about to pop. But the far-reaching shadow of blame for a crisis a long time in the making continues to fall over elections held several years later". Alan Beattie. "Obama evaded the shadow of crisis to win poll." The Financial Times. 8 November 2012, in www.ft.com. There has been endless recriminations in the American 'Conservative' (read: right-wing nationalists of 19th century style neo-liberal bent) movement over the 'meaning' or 'meanings' of what occurred on Tuesday in the American Presidential and other elections. From what one reads (and the Hanson essay is not the most escapist or extreme of the lot), one is almost transported back to 428 Anno Domini in Carthage with Saint Augustine as the Visigoths were at the gates. Thankfully none of that is true. For whatever one makes of him (and personally I do very little myself), the American President is by a combination of choice and circumstance, fundamentally a moderate. He is not the 'European Socialist' of Right-wing fantasy. He is not set to bankrupt the country. Nor is he a McGovern-style (or should I say George F. Kennan-style?) isolationist. As the New York Times reporter David Sanger has shown in his new book, in many ways, the incumbent has followed policies derived or inherited from Bush the Younger. In a good number of circumstances he has followed polices which have long tradition in American diplomacy 1. In retrospect, his 'leading from behind', is a policy that I for one can well imagine Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles following (and in the case of the former did follow in the Indochina Crisis of 1954) 2. His widespread employment of drones, shows an intelligent application of an imaginative and cost-effective tactic on the so-called 'war on terror'. This is not to say that I myself have the highest opinion of American diplomacy of the last four years. Merely that in comparison to American diplomacy of the Bush the Younger years, I find the diplomatic record of the incumbent American President to be a 'gentleman C' (even if he is not one...). Similarly on the economic front, notwithstanding the exaggerated claims by the American Right, the incumbent's record, is as the ever-wise Martin Wolf has shown, nothing to sneeze at, given both the historical and international counter-examples 3. It is not to argue that the record is perfect, far from it, merely that given the fact that the American economy is climbing out of a massive, financial cum recessionary crisis, the record could have been worse. As per the 'surprise' of the elections results: in point of fact there should be no such 'surprise'. Like almost every American President seeking re-election since the Great War, whose's first-year in office featured an economic down-turn, the incumbent was almost automatically ensured re-election. Every American President who has had a recession in their first year in office has been re-elected. Bar none. Whereas all but one, repeat one, American President who has not had a recession in their first-year in office has failed to be re-elected. And that one exception was former President Clinton....Similarly, in the four greatest Congressional mid-term landslides in the past Seventy-years of American history, each one was followed by a defeat for the Presidential candidate of the party who won said mid-term election. Nota bene: all four elections (1938 / 1946 / 1994 / 2010) were won by Republicans. Indeed, Tuesday's election results reminds me ever so much of the 1948 elections, where the Republican candidate (also by the bye originally from Michigan) was sideswiped by the incumbent in a surprise upset. To conclude: I do not care to indulge in the histrionic readings of what occurred on Tuesday, nor do I think of it as the end of the road for the White Race in America....4 I do believe that a victory for Governor Romney, who is indeed a true-blue gentleman, as opposed to his opponent, would have ushered in a more sane political atmosphere in Washington, DC. Something which is ever so needed at this time both in terms of economic and foreign policy. The pity of the matter is that au fond, the GOP is still the 'natural party of government', what our Marxist friends like to refer to as the 'historical bloc'. It is supported strongly (but not strongly enough unfortunately) by the largest & by far most important in every sense, population group in the country. What the GOP needs to do is to get a sense of proportion. As George Kennan once noted precisely about the mind-set of the more wide-eyed supporters of the Conservative Movement in American:
"It seems that this country doesn't want government....It will suffer unlimited injustices and infrigments on liberty from irresponsible private groups, but none from a responsible governing agency. Its people rather go down individually, with quixotic courage, before the destructive agencies of uncontrolled industrialism---like Ethopian tribesmen before Italian gas attacks---than submit to the discipline necessary for any effective resistance 5."Regardless, I am sure that within either two or four years time, the GOP will regain its dominance once again. Why? As the late and splendid Harold Macmillan once put it: 'events my dear boy, events'. 1. See on this vital point, the following review article: Timothy J. Lynch. "Obama and the Third Bush Term". International Affairs. (September 2012), pp. 1101-1111. 2. On the standard scholarly treatment of the Indochina Crisis of 1954, see: Richard Immerman & George Herring, "Eisenhower, Dulles and Dienbienphu: 'the day we didn't go to war' revisited." In Dienbienphu and the Crisis of Franco-American relations. Edited by Denise Artaud, et. al. (1990). 3. For this see: Martin Wolf, "A slow convalescence under Obama." The Financial Times. 3 October 2012, in www.ft.com. 4. See on this bizarre point, John L. Sullivan, "Barak Obama's new ethnic majority." The Spectator (London). 7 November 2012, in www.spectator.co.uk. The flaws in the argument are many but the chief one is pointed out by Victor Hanson: it does not tell us why the incumbent won in states (like New Hampshire) which are overwhelmingly White and with overwhelmingly married couples. 5. Quote comes from John Lewis Gaddis's splendid biography of Kennan, see: George F. Kennan: An American Life. (2011), p. 100. I should point out, that like Kennan, my conservatism is of the Burkean rather American Nationalist variety.