One fun thing about watching electoral politics is that it soon becomes clear who has won and who has lost. Elections are completely binary; one party enjoys the thrill of victory, the other suffers the agony of defeat. You’re either 1-0, or 0-1. No ties, and there’s none of that everyone-gets-a-prize stuff.
And for spectators, politics gets doubly fun when both sides think they’re winning–because someone is dead wrong. Someone is going to look really overconfident, if not downright dumb.
So with that in mind, let’s consider the current Battle of the Shutdown. On October 2, one well-known Republican legislator, Rep. Michele Bachmann, described the mood of her GOP colleagues to Fox News: “This is about the happiest I’ve seen Members in a long time. We see we are starting to win this dialogue on a national level.”
Yet interestingly, the next day, October 3, speaking for the Democrats, “a senior administration official” told The Wall Street Journal, “We are winning.” The official added, “It doesn’t really matter to us” how long the shutdown lasts, “because what matters is the end result.”
So there you have it: Both sides say they are winning, and somebody is in for a big shock. But who?
Virgil, old soul that he is, counts himself as skeptical that Bachmann & Co. can succeed. Here’s the power relationship in DC right now: On one side, supporting the shutdown as a way to try to kill Obamacare, we see Bachmann and the House Republicans (most of them), plus Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). And of course, Bachmann, Cruz, & Co. are joined by most of the activists–in the grassroots, in the conservative media, in the class of Club for Growth-type donors.
Meanwhile, on the other side, opposing the shutdown, we see most of the Republican Establishment–including House Speaker John Boehner, who has quietly wanted a budget compromise all along–and some leading engines of conservative media, such as The Wall Street Journal editorial page.
And of course, these anti-shutdown Republicans are joined by the entirety of the Democratic Party–you know, the folks who control the Senate, the White House, and the Main Stream Media.
In other words, it’s a lopsided fight, and the majoritarian anti-shutdown forces seem to be carrying public opinion with them. A CNBC poll, for example, found that by a 59:19 margin Americans oppose trying to defund Obamacare through a shutdown. And the latest Quinnipiac poll finds the same verdict, only this time by a 72:22 margin. Forty points? Fifty points? Those are daunting opinion deficits for even the happiest Republican warrior to overcome.
We might ask: Could those polls be biased somehow? Maybe. But a new Fox News poll shows that Barack Obama’s approval rating is up by five points in the last month. That’s right: The shutdown has been good for the President; it’s as if the Syria fiasco never happened. Meanwhile, the same Fox poll shows that the public disapproves of the Democrats by a net of minus five points, which is not so good. Yet at the same time, it disapproves of the Republicans by a net of minus 24 points, which is decidedly bad.
Some doughty GOPers will say, “Keep hope alive!” And of course, the fight ain’t over till it’s over. (Even as the House just voted, unanimously, 407-0, to give back pay to furloughed federal employees. In other words, this shutdown will be remembered as a paid vacation for the bureaucrats–more nice work if you can get it!)
It’s possible, for example, that Obama, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), and the Democrats will overplay their hand. As we all know, the administration, in its effort to turn the screws as tightly as possible on the shutdowners, has also put the screws on the American people; it has gratuitously closed national parks that don’t need closing, thus putting itself into inconfrontation with irate World War Two veterans. In addition, we see reports that the Obamans are even going after those who wish to visit private facilities in the parks. Meanwhile, the administration is further targeting active-duty military personnel, even military chaplains.
Will these sorts of thuggish Alinskyite tactics boomerang on the Obamans? Will the word get out about such spiteful overreach? And how ’bout the fact that Congressional Democrats are now in the position of opposing so-called “mini-CRs”? That is, Republican bills to reopen popular parts of the government, such as cancer research. Yes, indeed, the public would feel a lot better about the Republicans, if we had a better overall media. Alas, we don’t–we have this media, the MSM.
So we shall have to wait and see what happens as the shutdown edges closer to a possible financial default.
Yet in the meantime, while we’re waiting, let’s examine three actual electoral successes, elsewhere in the world, for the parties of the right. Yup, a trio of definitive, and instructive, 1-0 victories for the good guys.
First, we can look to Australia, where, on September 7, Tony Abbott defeated a leftist incumbent to win the prime ministership. Abbott wielded a simple four-part message like a ball-peen hammer against the left: anti-tax, anti-immigration, pro-jobs, pro-infrastructure.
As one conservative writer, Tim Montgomerie of the Times of London, summed up Abbott’s campaign quartet:
His four-fold message has focused on immigration, tax, infrastructure and above all, the carbon tax: Most politicians get bored with repeating the same message. Pundits needing to fill their pages or broadcast slots with ‘new news’ certainly do. Abbott doesn’t get bored. . . . Knowing that voters only start to hear a message when politicians are sick to death of hearing themselves repeat it for the squillionth time he has stuck relentlessly to four big themes: Scrap the carbon tax; Stop the boats (via which illegal immigrants enter Australia); Cut taxes; and, more recently, Build new roads.
Montgomerie added of Abbott, “He’s not a shrink-the-state libertarian… He has said that market liberalism is not the only conservative value.” That’s a point, we might note, that sometimes seems lost on today’s Republican Party. But Abbott meant it, ran on it, and won on it.
Indeed, Abbott went hard in favor of infrastructure; that’s another issue American Republicans don’t talk about much anymore. According to one account:
Abbott is promising $11bn for city roads in a pitch to suburban commuters angry about traffic jams. Abbott says he aims “to be an infrastructure prime minister who puts bulldozers on the ground and cranes into our skies.”
We might note that Australia has 1/11th the population of the US. So that’s a pretty good dollop of infrastructure spending, down under.
Writing in National Review, the conservative ex-media mogul Conrad Black, himself a Canadian, compared and contrasted the right in Australia and in America:
Abbott opposes gay marriage but has a lesbian sister who campaigned for him. He has shown the American Republicans the way forward: conservative values and positions in fiscal, welfare, and other social issues and foreign policy, but avoidance or at least de-emphasis of these hopeless and demeaning cul-de-sacs over abortion, gay marriage, and other areas that historically have not been partisan issues.
And casting a further askance eye on the American right, Black added:
Republicans could learn from the new Australian leader the difference between principle (which, when rational and held consistently and not turned inside out at each whistle stop as it was by Mitt Romney, wins) and dogmatism, which is compulsively attached to any cause that arises at a tea-party session, and usually loses. Other countries’ voters are behaving intelligently; so can Americans.
Whether the American right will accept such a suggestion remains to be seen. In the meantime, the Australian right is 1-0.
Second, we can look to Norway, where on September 9, Erna Solberg also defeated a left-wing incumbent to win the prime ministership. Here again, the Norwegian conservatives won the election in their own way, although some obvious lessons could cross the ocean to America.
Norway, of course, has a huge welfare state. And under Solberg’s leadership, it might become less huge, although it will still be big. In Norway, an ethnically homogenous country until recently, the welfare state meant a strong social safety net; you worked hard, and when something bad happened to you, you were taken care of. To Norwegians, the state system is more akin to our Social Security than to our welfare. And there’s a huge difference, of course, in the public evaluation of something-for-something Social Security as opposed to something-for-nothing welfare.
Solberg ran on a form of populism, which can be defined as rallying for the people, not on libertarianism, which can be defined as rallying for an ideology.
In particular, Solberg focused on immigration. She argued that unlimited immigration–mostly from Muslim countries–would, in fact, destroy the welfare state and destroy Norway. In other words, she made essentially the opposite argument from American libertarians–they want to destroy the American welfare state and have unlimited immigration.
As an aside, we might note that here in the US, we sit next to Mexico, with a population of 115 million, and then all of Central and Latin America, with an additional population of 450 million. And then there are another 6.2 billion people in the rest of the world, including a billion or more Muslims. What small percentage of those aggregate totals needs to come here before America is changed forever?
Van Hipp, a former Reagan Defense Department official and frequent guest on Fox News, had more to say about Solberg:
She also reached out to blue collar voters. Her book, “People not Billions,” broadened her appeal to Norway’s working class. In fact, the phrase “People not Billions,” became the Conservative Party’s slogan–emphasizing that the people and their needs are as important as fiscal issues.
So unlike the right in America, the right in Norway has just won a national victory. On election night, Solberg proclaimed an “historic election victory for the right-wing parties.” In other words, a 1-0, not an 0-1. To Virgil, winning sounds better than losing.
Third, we come to Germany, where, on September 22, Chancellor Angela Merkel, leading the right-of-center Christian Democrats, won a third term. And she won by 16-point margin–double her re-election margin of four years ago. Another 1-0, and a big one.
Merkel is no liberal. During the election, she mocked the German Green Party for demanding a national policy on a “meatless” day of the week. Yes, the Greens have embraced the sort of nattering nanny-statism associated here in American with the likes of Michael Bloomberg–the kind of lecturing and hectoring that soon enough metastasizes into outright coercion. And Merkel was blunt in her rebuke of these nanny-coercers, telling them to buzz off: “People who need to be told when they are allowed and not allowed to eat meat shouldn’t vote for the Christian Democratic Union.”
The German Christian Democrats are on the right, but they are a different kind of Christian right than, say, Michele Bachmann or Rick Santorum here in the US. The German conservatives are defined by the traditional German love of order and stability–and, from the horrors of the mid-20th century, a hard-earned aversion to any sort of radicalism.
So the Christian Democrats prize social stability, including big, stable government that works closely with big, stable business. Americans can argue the merits of these “corporatist” German policies, but what can’t be argued is that Germany is the second-largest exporter in the world, behind only China. Or to put it another way, Germany, with a population one-quarter that of the United States, exports more to the world than does America. Meanwhile, at home, the German unemployment rate is two points lower than the US unemployment rate. Indeed, over the last decade, per capita income growth in Germany has been nearly double that of the US.
Thus we come to the German formula for conservative political victories: a rising standard of living for working people. There’s no need for political radicalism, it would seem, if you have a steady job and good benefit, not to mention enough money for a nice long vacation every year.
“Merkel the Great”; That was the headline atop a recent column by Roger Cohen, a mostly centrist writer for The New York Times. Cohen explained, “This Germany does not indulge in experiments. It is stable and rich, with its 5.3 percent unemployment rate, balanced budget and steady growth.” Cohen continues that the German people are saying, in effect, “After the big debates, after the agonizing, let’s just get on with being prosperous.”
Meanwhile, American libertarians, as well as leftists, might despise the German consensus model, but one thing is undeniable: It works to keep the conservative party in power.
Indeed, since the restoration of free elections in Germany in 1949, the Christian Democrats have held the chancellorship for 44 of those 64 years, and the latest chancellor in that line, Merkel, has just been re-elected to another four-year term.
One further point is worth noting. Cohen adds about Merkel’s Germany: It is “against militarism and interventionism, for a more balanced world order where America leads but accepts its limits.” In other words, Germany looks up to America, but will not follow it into foreign wars and nation-building.
And in the same vein, we might note that the conservative leaders of Australia, Norway, and Germany have all kept their distance from the latest kind American-style interventionism–the liberal “responsibility to protect” now pronounced by the Obama administration, although cheered on by leaders in both parties.
Indeed, we might add that the previous right-of-center prime minister of Australia, John Howard, was defeated in 2007 in part because he was overly supportive of George W. Bush’s Iraq war. And today, Abbot wants nothing to do with intervening in Syria, a view shared by both Solberg and Merkel.
Okay, so that’s three victories for the conservatives, based on platforms of non-radical, non-interventionist, pro-business, pro-middle-class policies. Three instances of 1-0 for the right team.
Now, let’s get back to what’s happening here in the US, where the score looks iffy, at best.
Next: Lessons of the Shutdown.