2015: The Year Politics Breaks

Reuters Photo
File Photo: Reuters
Washington, DC

The viral photo of NYPD officers turning their backs on Mayor Bill de Blasio is an iconic image of a specific tragedy. It could also be a foreshadowing of 2015, when the chasm between the nation’s elected officials and the public reaches historic proportions. Rarely have the interests and priorities of the political class been so tone-deaf.

As 2014 comes to a close, police around the country live with the not insignificant fear of being gunned down by nihilistic criminals. Politicians, especially those like de Blasio who were raised on leftist grievance theory, try to balance the real public anger at the shootings with the political demands of hucksters including Al Sharpton. All voices are not equal in these situations and pretending otherwise has alienated de Blasio from those whose trust he most needs to govern.

Meanwhile, only 15% of military personnel approve of President Obama’s job performance. A strong majority, 55%, actively disapprove of Obama, who has sent the military confusing orders as his foreign policy lurches from crisis to crisis. The breakdown in trust, however, is bipartisan. Almost half of service members, 44%, think both Democrats and Republicans have become less supportive of the military.

When the servants and enforcers of state power distrust those in power, the nation is in uncharted territory. The American system of government is built on an implicit trust in those holding power. The fabric of civil society frays when this legitimacy is undermined. What we don’t know, though, is how this unraveling will manifest itself.

In one sense, de Blasio and Obama are simply reaping a bitter harvest they sowed. America is not fertile ground for leftist identity politics. De Blasio and Obama are stuck debating ideas that dominated the academic lounges of the 1970s, while the rest of the public has moved on. Even Obama’s supposedly bold move to normalize relations with Cuba reads like a patchouli-scented, coffee-stained syllabus from a 1975 college course. Their talk of “living wages” and the need for  “frank” discussions on race looks like a Norman Lear sitcom’s “very special event.” Archie Bunker doesn’t live here anymore.

Republicans, though, are barreling toward their own break with the public. Their party won an historic victory in November, mostly because they weren’t Democrats and could say truthfully that they voted against Obama. The two issues most salient in voters’ minds, opposing executive amnesty and repealing ObamaCare, are also the two issues the GOP seems most likely to ignore.

National Republicans are determined to pass some kind of amnesty along with immigration reform. The party’s corporate backers demand it and party strategists are convinced it must act to remain politically viable in the future. The immigration system is in desperate need of reform, but the Republican party is so politically driven on the issue that it will acquiesce to whatever the US Chamber and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) agree is “reform.”

ObamaCare, for all its abundant flaws, is already exerting a tremendous gravitational pull on the entire health care system. With each passing quarter, more businesses become “invested” in the current system and will favor tweaks and reforms, rather than outright repeal. The insurance and pharmaceutical companies have already built their business models around the Affordable Care Act and major corporations are still eager to unload their health benefits onto another party. As a result, Republicans will tinker at the edges of the law.

Failing to heed the two loudest messages sent by voters in November would push the party into its own “de Blasio moment.” It won’t be as visually dramatic as hundreds of uniformed police officers turning their backs on a politician, but the effects would be just as real. A new conservative movement could emerge to push out the Republican party, but it must evolve beyond flitting from outrage to outrage. Nihilism eventually has to give way to governance.

The Democrat party faces a real existential crisis. It was become an unstable coalition of minorities, a very wealthy liberal gentry, distracted youth and academics. Given the party’s singular focus on identity politics, this is a feature, rather than a bug of its platform.

Recently, the leftist think tank Center for American Progress tried to launch the “Bobby Kennedy” initiative to win back support of white, working class voters. The effort was abandoned, in large part because many of the Democrats’ current policy priorities would have to be moderated.

Since the earliest days of Greek democracy, politics has always had a “grievance faction.” It can impact politics, but it rarely can sustain governing. The modern Democrat party, once a proud institution, is simply a political bully, agitating against enemy classes around every corner. It too is nihilistic.

A healthy and secure society can easily survive dysfunctional political parties. Our system of government has its own built in policy “governors,” limiting the damage that untethered politicians can inflict. The President, though, is relishing his own release from politics.

“He doesn’t feel constrained anymore,” Steve Elmendorf, a prominent Democratic lobbyist said, according to The Hill. “I think he felt constrained before the election, a little too constrained, to protect vulnerable senators. Now he has a little more breathing room.”

Having to never again face voters, Obama has as much breathing room as the Republican Congress grants him. If history is any guide, Congress will cede Obama greater authority and simply adopt new talking points about a runaway Executive branch. It has done this repeatedly with Presidents of both parties. The campaign trail is easier than the halls of government.

So, the new year will likely bring a quickening of the public’s disengagement from politics. Unlike past episodes, however, this disengagement isn’t going to be healthy. The economy is not healthy. Americans feel increasingly less secure. A mountain of challenges are building beyond our shores. There doesn’t yet seem to be any leaders on the horizon equipped to handle the growing challenges.

Indeed, there is a fairly decent chance that the next Presidential election could be another contest between members of the Bush and Clinton families. That unbelievable fact is a testament to how broken our politics are. May God bless us in the New Year.