It’s obvious to anyone paying attention that the trend away from party affiliation is gaining steam. In January a Gallup poll showed no less than 42 percent of respondents identified themselves as independent voters, with both Democrats (31 percent) and Republicans (25 percent) operating at 25-year lows of party affiliation.
And it’s not difficult to understand why voters are giving up on the parties. Put simply, American politics as practiced by the two parties is stale, dishonest, and mind-numbingly stupid, and with a country in decline on the world stage, an economy coughing and wheezing amid an epidemic of bad policy from both parties, and a culture that glorifies all the wrong things and ignores the right ones the public is throwing up its hands.
One need look no further than the debacle in Ferguson, Missouri to see the failure of the Democrat Party. After teenage thug Michael Brown was shot to death by a police officer amid a violent confrontation, our illustrious president dispatched his attorney general to foment a maximum of racial and class conflict in order to gin up the Democrat base in advance of what looks like a hopeless election cycle this fall. Virtually every emergence of new facts in the Brown case disrupted the Obama/Holder/Sharpton/Jackson/Benjamin Crump narrative of an innocent black teenager shot in the back as he tried to surrender to the police, and when one by one the local and state political officials proved themselves just as venal and incompetent as Obama many in the public began to notice that virtually all involved — the protesters, the rioters, the supposed victim and the government officials for so long incapable of diffusing the situation — are Democrats.
And at Monday’s funeral the Obama White House was represented by no less than three officials — three more than were sent to Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, and three more than were sent to the funeral of Maj. Gen. Harold Greene, slain in a green-on-blue attack in Afghanistan.
Surely, this will backfire on Obama — a recent CBS/New York Times poll showed him with just a 60 percent approval rating on Ferguson among blacks, which is a stark number considering his 85 percent approval rating overall with that community. If there was a political strategy — and certainly there was — to use Ferguson to drum up Democrat base support for the midterms, the payoff hasn’t materialized.
Ferguson is a microcosm for the Left’s governance. In Ferguson, there is a thug culture that takes government largesse as a substitute for work and family, boils in a cauldron of racial animosity and identity politics, and explodes into vituperation and violence against property and life when the wages of entitlement and indolence are paid to a Michael Brown. The public as a whole looks upon Ferguson with a mix of prurient fascination, disinterest, and exasperation with the constant race-mongering; there will be no grand bargains or game-changing results from yet another attempted race war in our streets.
But the conflict among tribes personified, Bonfire of the Vanities-style in Ferguson, is our politics. The Progressive Left invented the game some 100-plus years ago and it insists we play. Rich against poor, business against labor, energy against environment, black against white, man against woman. Carve society up into interest groups, play one against the other while growing the regulatory state and the welfare state in order to put Washington in charge of who gets the spoils after each election cycle.
Want to start a lengthy social media thread? Wait until spring and find a story about a graduating senior at some public high school who dares give thanks to God in a valedictory address. Start that discussion and watch a veritable war break out over prayer in public schools. What you’ll see is old-school 20th century Industrial Age politics at work, as a community tears itself apart over which coercive policy is best. Of course, the easiest resolution for such a conflict in the 21st century is to have some schools in which a valedictory prayer is encouraged and others where it is not, and let individual consumers choose which they like.
That kind of solution, of course, doesn’t work for the Left. Such a solution redefines education, something the Left has categorized for 150 years as a public good, as the private good it should be. The Left doesn’t like private goods. Its primary project since FDR has been to drain the concept of as much blood as possible, and in industries like education, health care, and retirement it has succeeded. The quality and affordability of the product is atrocious, however, which is why the Left is spent as a political force. The Left will have no more forced legislative achievements like Obamacare, for example, and in future years perhaps the largest fight on the political scene will be how best to roll back that foray into socialized medicine before it breaks the health care system and the public fisc.
But while the Left, as personified by Obama and the Democrats, is out of intellectual gas, the Right, as personified by the Republican Party, is in no better condition. Because before the failure of Obama there was the failure of George W. Bush, who rode into office on the promise to make 20th century Industrial Age politics work for the benefit of conservatives. Bush offered an expansion of Medicare, though tweaked to include some choice and competition, he offered federalization of education through No Child Left Behind, and he attempted nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan. And along the way he ran up increases in the national debt which before Obama came along were considered scandalous, he allowed congressional earmarks to amass a mountain of pork, he attempted to give amnesty to illegal immigrants (though at the time there was nearly full employment, and as such some possible justification for it as a matter of policy), and he assisted in the never-ending construction of the regulatory state.
Bush’s progenitors still hold sway within the party, but with the public their credibility is exhausted. That’s why even when they’re correct — about ISIS, for example — they find only grudging agreement. And as a matter of domestic policy it’s difficult to achieve consensus for Republican ideas even on the Right. That’s a party that is a spent political force, just as the Progressive Left controlling the Democrat Party is spent.
Moreover, there is little difference, for that 42 percent of the public considering themselves independent, between Bush and Obama. That 42 percent sees little difference between Democrats in Chicago who refuse to let Chick-fil-A open stores or their own citizens carry firearms and Republicans in Virginia who bring legislation to force women to submit to invasive sonograms before having abortions or fight to preserve anti-sodomy laws that can’t be enforced. The independents might have a preference for one team or another on these issues, but what’s important to them is they recognize the game.
And not only don’t they like the game, they hate the players as well. They’re begging for something different. They’re begging for someone who understands Thomas Jefferson’s statement that “he who governs best, governs least.” That’s what polls mean when they show public faith in government lower than ever, it’s what they mean when they show “Big Government” as the single most pressing issue in the country and it’s what they mean when they show the public thinks that government usually does more harm than good.
The party that ultimately emerges from the current political malaise is the one that recognizes that 20th century politics leads nowhere and begins to transform and break down the regulatory and welfare states to allow technology and innovation to change the equation. The public wants new ideas and different approaches. It was willing to be fooled by Obama because his team falsely made such a promise.
The opportunity is there. Who will take it?