Five surprise developments in 2009 point to a great reversal this fall.
Election day, November 2, 2010, will either confirm the Democratic triumphs of 2006 and 2008, ushering in a renewed period of Democratic dominance and jerking America left as happened in the 1930s and 1960s, or it will echo the 1994 rejection of the leftward drift of united Democratic government under Clinton.
When Herbert Hoover was elected in 1928, there were Republican majorities in both the Senate (48-46) and the House of Representatives (238-194). Hoover endorsed protectionism, increased the top tax rate from 25 percent to 75 percent, expanded state spending, and responded to the collapse of the stock market on October 29, 1929, with subsidies, bailouts, wage and price controls, and tax and spending hikes.
When he left office in 1933 the Democrats held a 59 to 36 majority in the Senate and a 313 to 117 majority in the House. Democrats would use their supermajorities that reached a high of 76 senators and 334 congressmen in 1936 to change labor law, bringing the number of workers forced to pay union dues from 3.4 million in 1930 (11.6 percent of the workforce) to 14.3 million in 1950 (31.5 percent of the workforce), create the unfunded Social Security system, expand federal government employment to 2.6 million, and increase federal spending from 6.9 percent of the economy to 19.4 percent by 1952.
When Eisenhower was elected in 1952 Democrats held the House (235-199) and Senate (49-47). With Eisenhower’s victory the Republicans won a majority in the House (221-213) and Senate (49-47). Ike vetoed the tax cut passed by the newly minted Republican Congress, maintained the top tax rate at 90 percent, and left office in 1961 with Democrats controlling the Senate (64-36) and the House (263-174). The 1964 LBJ election provided the supermajorities that created Medicare, Medicaid, and HUD and saw Congress come within a whisker of repealing state right-to-work laws. Federal spending on domestic programs grew from 11.3 percent of GDP in 1970 to 16.8 percent in 1980.
On the day George W. Bush was elected, Republicans commanded a 55-45 majority in the Senate and a majority of 228-206 in the House. Bush saw federal spending increase from 18.4 percent of GDP to 21 percent, raised the unfunded liability of Medicare from $7.0 to $13.5 trillion, took on the task of occupying Iraq and Afghanistan, and passed only temporary tax cuts that all expire on or before January 2011. When Bush left office, he bequeathed America a President Barack Obama with 70 percent approval ratings and a Senate with 59 Democrats and a House with a 257-178 Democratic majority.
Obama, Reid, and Pelosi moved quickly to use their majorities to ratchet up the size and scope of the state with a $787 billion “stimulus” and a second tranche of TARP spending of $350 billion. They tried to enact a cap and trade energy bill that would put all energy under federal control, “health care reform” legislation that would put 16 percent of GDP under federal control, and change labor laws to take away the silly requirement that workers vote before being forced into paying union dues.
Exactly one year after Obama, Reid, and Pelosi came together in power, they had increased the publicly held federal debt from $5.8 trillion to $7.6 trillion and increased the projected spending for the next 10 years by $1 trillion. The unfunded liability of Social Security and Medicare now stands at $22.3 trillion and rising. This deliberate explosion of debt and spending is designed to force permanent tax increases. Their ultimate goal is to impose a Value Added Tax (VAT) on top of higher income taxes. But Congress has failed to enact the three changes in law that would permanently alter the balance of power: rewriting labor law, nationalizing energy, and nationalizing health care.
How, why, did the Democrats fail to capitalize on their supermajorities in 2009? What did the Republicans do correctly, and will 2010, both in Congress and on Election Day, stop Democratic plans in their tracks or confirm a continued but perhaps slower march to statism?
IT WASN’T SUPPOSED to turn out this way. Obama began his presidency as one of the few presidents who could inspire fear in political Washington and the business community. He had power. He and Pelosi’s and Reid’s majorities could tax anything. He told bondholders with legal claims on General Motors to abandon them. He told the pharmaceutical industry to give him tens of millions of dollars to pay for propaganda for his heath care bill in return for his looting “only” $22.2 billion from the industry over the next 10 years — it could, the godfather said, have been worse. The “powerful” Chamber of Commerce played multi-million-dollar weathervane, endorsing the TARP bailout extension and the stimulus package and bragging how open it was to “working with” the administration that viewed it as the class enemy. In early 2009 political observers believed the Democrats would add three seats to their Senate majority in 2010 by taking the open seats of New Hampshire, Ohio, and Missouri. Democrats in the House (all but two) cheerfully voted for the radical labor union power grab of Card Check, secure in the belief that union money would reelect them.
As 2010 began, polling showed that on the generic ballot likely voters said they intend to vote Republican over Democratic by 45 to 37 percent — enough to guarantee a Republican House of Representatives. According to the Cook Political Report, Republicans will capture between two and nine Senate seats. That partisan advantage for Republicans has existed since June 2009 and contrasts with the Democratic advantage of 47 to 40 on Election Day 2008. To figure out if the Republican trend can continue into November it is necessary to understand what happened in 2009 to create what they call in wrestling a reversal.
There were five fortuitous surprises.
First, spending per se became a vote-moving issue. In the past, conservative activists and elected officials would argue against increased government spending, saying it would lead to a tax increase and/or inflation and slow economic growth. But voters had a strong tendency to wait until the tax hikes were enacted to create a political backlash: 1978 with Proposition 13, 1980 with the Reagan landslide, and 1994’s Gingrich revolution.
The Democratic high command learned this lesson and organized all its tax and spending efforts to front-load the spending and leave the tax hikes for post-2010 and even post-2012. It was Obama’s good luck that Bush’s major tax cuts, the 15 percent rate for capital gains and dividends and the 35 percent top rate and the zero percent death tax rate, all expire in January 2011 — two months after the 2010 election.
The politician most surprised that America reacted so strongly and so negatively to higher spending was Arlen Specter, then the Republican senior senator from Pennsylvania. He had planned to oppose the unions’ push for Card Check and endear himself to conservatives by opposing Obama’s health care — as he had Clinton’s — and vote against tax hikes and whack liberal judges. When Obama offered him a deal — vote for my stimulus spending and I will not engage in turn- out-the-vote efforts in Philadelphia-Specter had every reason to believe he had just ensured his reelection, dodging the Scylla of conservative opposition in the primary and the Charybdis of Philadelphia’s ability to increase real and imagined voter turnout in the general.
Except…except that Specter’s support collapsed overnight in reaction to his vote for stimulus spending. He decided he could never win a Republican primary and switched to the Democratic Party. This unexpected revulsion to overspending also expressed itself in the Tea Party rallies following Rick Santelli’s rant on CNBC against government spending and bailouts. At least 600,000 and perhaps more than a million Americans rallied in more than 640 Tea Parties just before and after April 15. Those rallies were repeated on July 4.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?