Friday, November 10, 2006

Thoughts from the Wee Hours of Election Night

The conservative interval: What did it accomplish?
This is a complimentary piece to my post-mortem on the election posted yesterday. The sections posted here are backward looking, to the record of Congress since 94; forward looking, to 2008, and a look at the record of populism as an issue. Very interesting. This author has a long record of meticulous election forecasting and analysis, and I have yet to see him get it wrong, including this time (ok I should have listened!). There is much more to the full article, and I urge that you all check it out...T
There are many more issues to address, but it is 3:40 a.m. and I am not going to address them all tonight. Let's look at it this way: The Republicans controlled the House for 12 years--the third longest period of Republican control in history (after 1895-1911 and 1861-75). Democrats of course had a majority in the House (though their leaders often didn't have control) for a far longer period of 40 years (1955-95) and also for a 16-year period (1931-47). But let's look back on the Republican period recently. What did they accomplish?

To answer that question, I think you have to look beyond Capitol Hill and consider the whole country. The big public-policy successes of the 1990s were welfare reform and crime control. Welfare dependency and violent crime were cut by more than 50 percent--more than anyone in 1990 thought possible. Key initiatives were taken not in Congress, but in the states and cities--on welfare reform by governors like Tommy Thompson, on crime control by mayors like Rudy Giuliani in New York City. Most of them were Republicans, but may were Democrats. Also, education reforms were undertaken, again more by Republicans (like George Bush and Jeb Bush in Texas and Florida) but also by some Democrats (like Jim Hunt in North Carolina). In all this, Congress and the Clinton and Bush administrations were interested and occasionally helpful bystanders. The Republican Congress passed welfare reform three times and, after Dick Morris told Clinton he had to sign it, he did so. Bush got a bipartisan majority to pass a federal education accountability bill that built on the successful actions of many states. Gun control, a federal initiative which had no realistic possibility of really reducing crime, was passed by a Democratic Congress in 1994. But the more realistic proposals, allowing law-abiding citizens to carry concealed weapons and therefore to deter violent criminals from attacking decent bystanders, have been making steady progress in the states to the point that they now hold sway in states with more than two thirds the nation's population.

The Republican Congress deserves great credit for resisting proposals to create the sort of government-run healthcare systems that are bankrupting Western Europe. The 1997 budget deal between Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton cut the increases in healthcare expenses sharply; when that inspired protests against HMOs, the Republican Congress averted provisions that would have subjected them to regulation by government and predation by trial lawyers. Instead, employees exercised the option of exit (people who didn't like HMOs got out from under them). The Medicare prescription drug bill of 2003, a vast expansion of government entitlements, created a field of competition that dragged premium costs below expected levels, allowed grievants the option of exit and opened up the field of expanded options to high-deductible health savings accounts. The Democratic House will try to turn the clock back on these advances, but will probably not succeed during the next two years. The Democrats would like us to go slouching toward Scandinavia, even while Sweden and the Netherlands move in our direction to more healthcare options.

2008? The 2006 cycle has had some obvious implications for 2008. George Allen and John Kerry, for obvious reasons, have been swept from the field. That presumably helps Mitt Romney and Hillary Rodham Clinton. But Clinton's turnout efforts in New York didn't produce the upstate sweep she must have hoped for: John Sweeney lost for scandal-related issues, and the Democrats did pick up the Oneida County-centered open seat. But evidently nothing else. Barack Obama remains a threat to the obvious Clinton primary strategy: sweep the South, where blacks are a majority or near-majority in Democratic primaries. On the Republican side, John McCain appeared on Fox (and presumably other channels as well) lamenting that Republicans had lost their way by deserting conservative principles. Giuliani, who campaigned gamely and in an intellectually interesting way, for Republican candidates, was not to be seen.

A final note on populism. In cycle after cycle, we hear that certain forms of populism--full-throated opposition to immigration and free trade--will sweep all before them. The 2006 results, at least as I see them now, provide less than full-throated support for this proposition. Two of the loudest critics of illegal immigration--incumbent J. D. Hayworth and open seat primary winner Randy Graf, both in Arizona, where illegals have been famously streaming through the border--both evidently lost. And in upstate New York, where National Republican Campaign Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds was in terrible trouble after the Mark Foley scandal broke, his Republican-turned-Democratic opponent Jack Davis also lost, in a region where there had been a huge loss of manufacturing jobs. Nativism and protectionism are political weapons that in a certain light look very strong, which seem to be gleaming swords that will slay all before them. But, again and again, they crack like glass in your hand. If nativism can't work on the Arizona border, and protectionism can't work in upstate New York, where can they work?
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