From John Wayne to Ronald Reagan, from the Ford Mustang to Coca-Cola, Americans seek and appreciate authentic and "real." While authenticity is rarely spoken of regarding our politicians -- in much the same way that unicorns and jackalopes are rarely spoken of in zoos -- it is nevertheless an important undercurrent in American electoral politics. In 2012, the American appreciation for authenticity will spell disaster for Democratic electoral hopes.
Because of the horror that is the Obama Administration and because so many Americans have short memories, most political reminiscing over the water cooler doesn't go back before the 2008 elections in which Republicans were swept from power in the political equivalent of what happened at Fukushima, Japan, earlier this year.
But it's not 2008 that Republicans should be thinking about, even as we go into a presidential election year. Instead, the focus should be 2006. That was the real tsunami. In the 2006 elections,
• Democrats picked up 31 seats in the House of Representatives, turning a 232-202 Republican majority from 2004 into a 233-202 Democrat majority. (Socialist U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (VT), a registered independent, left the House in 2006 and Democrats picked up that seat as well.)
• Democrats picked up six seats in the U.S. Senate, turning a 55-45 Republican majority into a 51-49 Democrat majority (counting Sanders and Joe Lieberman (CT) as Democrats.)
• Democrats won governorships in six states which had an open seat following a Republican administration or had an incumbent Republican governor, while losing no governorships where a Democrat was the incumbent or prior office holder, flipping the balance of governorships from 28-22 Republican to 28-22 Democrat.
• Democrats gained more than 300 state legislative seats, with a 21-19 Republican lead in controlling state legislatures (the rest split or non-partisan) flipping to a 23-17 Democrat advantage.
• In addition to holding every already-Democratic governorship, Democrats won every seat the party already held in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, the first time either party has done that in our nation's history.
Yes, there were particular issues which focused peoples' minds in 2006, including the war in Iraq and the terrible performance of the federal government following Hurricane Katrina. But I suggest to you that there were two over-riding factors: Corruption and authenticity, not necessarily in that order.
In 2006, the Democrats ran on a message of a Republican "culture of corruption," after a series of scandals surrounding people like Congressmen Duke Cunningham, Mark Foley, and Bob Ney put an even greater than usual taint on politicians, especially GOP politicians.
In the last two years, we've seen scandal after scandal on the Democrat side of the aisle: Anthony Weiner, David Wu, and Eric Massa all had sex-related scandals. Charlie Rangel, who would have gone to jail were he not Charlie Rangel, was censured by the House of Representatives for failure to disclose and for tax evasion while Maxine Waters' ethics charges, related to getting favorable treatment for a bank that her husband was involved with, has been "punted to outside counsel."
It's not that the Republicans have been paragons of virtue. But with the scorecard since Obama's election decidedly against Democrats on issues of ethics in Congress, corruption will be the proverbial double-edged sword, cutting Nancy Pelosi's remaining troops in 2012 after she so spectacularly failed to "drain the swamp," if I may mix Nancy's metaphor with my own.
The bigger problem for Democrats, one that is wholly outside their area of comprehension despite its being the primary lesson of 2006, is authenticity.
Earlier in the 2000s, Republicans ran -- as they always do -- on a platform of conservatism, including a desire to limit the size and cost of government. Their behavior however, belied those statements of principle, with government spending increasing rapidly during most of the Bush years due to a Republican legislature and a Republican executive unwilling to discipline each other. Some have said that comparing Republican spending to that of a drunken sailor is insulting to the drunken sailor, so instead let's say that the Republicans spent like Democrats.
And therein lies the authenticity issue: In 2006, the voters decided that if they're going to support a government that is going to increase spending and involve itself in every aspect of our lives, they might as well go with the pros. Given a choice between a real Democrat and a Democrat-lite member of the GOP, voters will follow Coca-Cola's marketing lead, choosing "the real thing."
Think about this for a minute: There are few companies with a more iconic brand and more expertise in marketing than Coca-Cola. Since 1969, Coke usually has a new marketing slogan every one to three years. In 1969, we got the legendary "It's the real thing." In 1974, "Look for the real things." In 1985, "America's Real Choice." In 2003, "Real." And in 2005, "Make it Real." There is a lesson here, one that politicians never learn, or at least never remember once in office: Americans crave "real," with the best marketer in the world betting billions that Americans will buy their product based on its real-ness.
In 2006, and to a lesser extent in 2008, Republicans were no longer real. They were Republicans in Name Only (RINOs). They were unworthy of the support of voters, particularly of independent voters and those "Reagan Democrats" whose somewhat conservative views might occasionally allow them to vote for a Republican despite generations-long affiliation with the Democratic Party and industrial unions.
The motto of 2006: If we're going to vote for a big spender, give me a real big spender.
But quoting the wisdom of Ted Striker, "the foot's on the other hand now."
It's not big spenders the people want; it is spending-cutters. It is not bureaucratic "green" regulators people want; it is deregulators, or at least regulators who understand cost-benefit analysis and the human impact of their actions. We do not want politicians who think that government is the answer; we want politicians who know that government is much or most of the problem.
A Gallup poll released Monday substantiates of what those who are paying attention already know: "A record-high 81% of Americans are dissatisfied with the way the country is being governed, adding to negativity that has been building over the past 10 years." The chart is dramatic and instructive.
Key findings of the poll include that "57% have little or no confidence in the federal government to solve domestic problems, exceeding the previous high of 53% recorded in 2010" and "53% have little or no confidence in the men and women who seek or hold elected office."
And here is my favorite: "49% of Americans believe the federal government has become so large and powerful that it poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens. In 2003, less than a third (30%) believed this."
I hereby anticipate, accept, and stipulate to the many objections that will be made regarding how little Republicans have done in recent years to protect our fundamental rights and freedoms. Nevertheless, at least the GOP suggests an interest -- and seems to be backing up that suggestion in the past two years -- in thinking about the Constitution and the proper role and authority of government. This is in stark contrast to then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (whose gavel possession was perhaps the most painful outcome of the 2006 Democrat tidal wave) responding to a question about the constitutionality of the health insurance mandate in Obamacare by asking "Are you serious?" A Pelosi spokesman later reiterated their view that "that's not a serious question."
Yes, Nancy, we're serious. And when half of the American public believes that government cannot solve our problems and poses a threat to our rights, the public will look for the authentic believers in limited government to put our out-of-control federal government back in its cage. We won't look to Democrats who are magically newly respectful of the 10th Amendment (or any other Amendment), no matter how pretty their words. We won't believe that someone of the party of the real big spenders can have an 11th hour conversion to faith in the limited government prescribed by the Founders.
All of this applies particularly to President Obama. It takes a special kind of spender to make George W. Bush and the last Republican Congress appear frugal. It takes a special kind of liar to say with a straight face, after performing that particular feat, that he now cares about deficit and debt reduction. And it takes a special kind of gullibility to believe that President Obama has, or even could have, a plan to work in that direction. Given the existence of Berkeley and Boulder, Manhattan and San Francisco, I can't say that Barack Obama isn't fooling anybody. He surely is fooling plenty of people. But the vast majority of American voters are fed up with ersatz politicians of all stripes. We're ready for authentic, real budget cutters, people who have actually read (and hopefully carry) a copy of the U.S. Constitution. In 2012, and despite all their past and future failings, this means Republicans.
Americans seek and appreciate authenticity. The political mood of the nation is for real restraint of government, its cost and intrusiveness. So while they may have been the flavor of the month for some time, in 2012 the Democrats will find that they are Pepsi in a nation of voters thirsting for "the real thing."
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