The election was many things, but a mandate for liberalism was not one of them

America’s 2008 election was many things: Historic, exciting, dramatic, and convincing on the presidential level. But one thing it was not was a referendum against traditional American values or a mandate for Barack Obama’s far left policy agenda. Everything was on the side of the Democrats in this election: An extremely unpopular President, a recession, the largest rapid stock-market sell-off since our grandparents were young, two wars (of which at least one is quite unpopular, though not at its nadir in public opinion), recent convictions of Republicans for corruption, most notably Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, hundreds of thousands of apparently very motivated young and first-time voters, and the desire by many Americans of all creeds and colors to elect a black man to the presidency just because they could. Just a month ago, Democrats were predicting an utter landslide, including an “increasingly plausible” target of knocking off Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) to get them a filibuster-proof 60 Senate seats. Just before the election, bettors gave more than a 90% chance that Democrats would have at least 56 Senate seats, excluding Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders. At this point, it appears the number will be 56, though there may yet be a surprise Democratic victory in Georgia or Minnesota. Yes, it’s a big Democratic majority, but basically the very low end of what bettors expected. Bettors gave a 60% chance that Democrats would have 261 seats or more in the House of Representatives (compared to 235 in this Congress.) The final number hasn’t been determined yet with as many as 8 races still undecided, but it appears to be in the area of 259 seats for the Democrats. Again, a big majority, but at the low end of “market” expectations. There was also a mixed bag in other races: Democrats couldn’t turn Wyoming or Georgia blue, but they did win control of the NY State Senate for the first time since 1965. In the presidential race, despite the incredibly favorable environment for Democrats in general and Barack Obama in particular, Obama only managed to get 1 million more votes than George Bush received in 2004. He did do very well in the popular vote, as a percentage, with only Ronald Reagan (in 1984) and George H.W. Bush (in 1988) getting a higher percentage among elections going back to 1976. But Obama won just 28 states, fewer than Bill Clinton did in 1992 or 1996. Indeed, during my lifetime, only one president won election by winning fewer states than Obama did, and that was Jimmy Carter with 23+DC in 1976. (JFK won with only 22 states, but before that you have to go back to the election if 1896 to find someone who won with fewer than 28 states.) This is not to say that Obama’s win wasn’t overwhelming. It was. But it was less overwhelming than it could have been, given the circumstances. And the rest of the evening showed (in the view of this non-liberal who’s trying to look on the bright side) anything but a broad and utter repudiation of conservative values or Republican politicians. On a wide range of issues on state ballots, the outcomes were decidedly mixed, with some clearly “conservative” outcomes and some “liberal” outcomes. The state ballot measure that’s gotten the most national attention was California’s Proposition 8 which eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry. Apparently, over $70 million was spent between the opposing sides, with the measure passing by a fairly substantial 5% in a state as socially liberal as California. (Post-election analysis suggests that the large Black turnout for Obama contributed to the passage of Prop. 8 as African-Americans largely oppose same-sex marriage.) Similar bans on same-sex marriage were passed by wider margins in Arizona and Florida. Arkansas passed a ban on adoptions by unmarried couples (presumably actually aimed at gays), making that state and Utah the only two with such bans. On other social issues, conservatives didn’t fare so well: An initiative in South Dakota to ban abortion except where the mother’s life is at stake or in cases of rape or incest failed by 10 points. A proposition to require parental notification before an abortion is performed on a minor lost in California. A measure to define “personhood” at the moment of conception failed by a 3 to 1 margin in Colorado. Medical marijuana and stem cell research were approved in Michigan. And a measure in Arizona that would have substantially penalized employers for hiring illegal aliens was defeated by an almost 20% margin. On the issue of taxes, liberals point to the failure of Massachusetts voters to repeal their state income tax as some sort of major victory, but it’s ridiculous to think that such a measure would have a chance in Taxachusetts. In California, state-wide tax increases were defeated, but almost all proposed bond issuances passed (maybe voters don’t realize that they’ll be taxed later to pay off the bonds) and Los Angeles passed a 0.5% sales tax increase to fund transportation projects (something they’ll probably come to regret if they waste the money on “light rail” as Denver is doing.) Here in Colorado, there were a few very interesting outcomes on votes for amendments to the state constitution. An amendment to bar government from discriminating or offering preferences based on race or gender, identical to a measure which passed in Michigan two years ago and in Nebraska this year, appears to have failed by less than 1%. That was the only surprise win for the liberals in Colorado. Unions spent millions to defeat three ballot measures, and I thought the unions would succeed on all three. (Right to work, paycheck protection, and limiting campaign contributions by organizations with no-bid contracts with the government.) The last of those three actually passed, effectively saying that certain unions like public school teachers and firefighters can’t contribute to political campaigns. It’s actually my least favorite of the three measures, since I wonder about its constitutionality. Still, I’m pleased to see some recognition by the voters that unions have too much influence over (Democratic) politicians. More importantly, Amendment 52, Governor Bill Ritter’s pet measure, which would have raised severance taxes on Colorado energy companies by over $300 million was soundly beaten, 64% to 36%. And Amendment 59, which would have forever eliminated the state income tax refunds which Coloradoans are due under our Taxpayers Bill Of Rights (TABOR) was also defeated by a wide margin of over 10% despite it having been marketed as “for the children” by one of the state’s most popular Democrats, current Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff. Speaking of the speaker, it appears that Colorado Democratic state representative Bernie Buescher, a shoe-in to be the next Speaker of the House, has lost his re-election bid. Couldn’t happen to a nicer tax-and-spend liberal. Overall, the election was obviously a big win for Democrats, but it was not as big as it could and should have been given all the headwinds the GOP faces, including a mediocre candidate for president who made a mediocre choice of running mate. Despite what "progressives" want you to believe, the election was clearly not a repudiation of all things conservative or all Republicans. It was not a mandate for Obama and Pelosi’s far-left policies. It was, however, the loudest wake-up call yet to the Republican Party to start being the party of ideas again…ideas that are really relevant to Americans…and learning to communicate why those ideas are important. Get away from crap like "compassionate conservatism". There's no way to sell both at the same time. Explain how free markets and liberty end up with the best results for everyone, how people who truly can't help themselves won't just be left to try to survive, and how the economics problems we've seen in the past have not been, despite the pandering rhetoric of McCain/Palin due to "Wall Street greed" but rather to Democratic social engineering and the corrosive influence of Big Government. And for pete's sake, get the government out of owning stock in private companies! This is not a time for Republicans to play nice with the Democrats, not a time for McCain-style “bipartisanship” which simply means getting conservatives to move to a liberal position. No, conservatives and Republicans need to show they actually stand for something or several somethings, and those things must not all revolve around social issues. We are about to head into what I believe will be the worst economic times since the 1930s. If history is any guide, Obama and the Democrats will make things worse rather than better. The Republicans primary goal must be to try to prevent bad policy from being implemented. But if, due to their minority status, they’re unable to stop bad policy, they should make damn sure that everyone knows whose fault the resulting economy is. Republicans richly deserved what just happened to them. But if there’s one message in the bigger picture of this election, it’s that the public has not fully accepted the Democratic line or the Democratic Party. While they don’t see this version of the GOP as a decent alternative, I remain convinced that with some serious soul-searching and a realization that a quest for principled leadership will lead to political gains, I hope that the Republican Party returns to being one that I and the majority of Americans can support.
  • Jess
    Comment from: Jess
    11/07/08 @ 11:32:28 am

    Just needed to comment that the proposition in AZ that I believe you are referring to being defeated (Prop 202 - Stop Illegal Hiring) was actually a win for Conservatives. Despite the name this was not aimed at preventing hiring illegals but would have gutted, or at least weakened, the current Employer Sanction laws which are probably the best in the nation for allowing the prosecution of employers who hire illegal aliens. This prop would have taken away the need for employers to use E-verify to confirm an employee's immigration status as well as created many loopholes for avoiding prosecution that do not exist under the current laws. The stated intent of the proposition is commendable but the proposition itself was rotten. I for one am happy it was defeated.

  • Abe
    Comment from: Abe
    11/07/08 @ 12:01:53 pm

    Republicans need to become the blanket party and welcome groups with different ideas. Additionally, Republicans need to do a better job of communicating policy. Why was Joe the Plumber more effective at explaining tax policy than any other Republican? Why have Republicans failed to explain to CA voters that bond proposals are a horrible idea? In CA, voters passed a bond initiative for Children's Hospitals, despite the fact that a similar bond initiative from a few years ago has only been half spent. Voters passed a bond initiative to build a bullet train from LA to SF. The very next day, our Republican Gov proposed a 1.5% increase in the state sales tax. It's insanity.

  • Bob Piccard
    Comment from: Bob Piccard
    11/08/08 @ 05:41:50 am

    Ross, I've been thinking about this. I think when you say the American people want limited government and reduced spending you are being as wistful as I am when I talk about the desire of the proletariat for class solidarity. Americans only want limited government when the government inconveniences them. Look at the way Americans and politicians of every stripe went into the tank over the Patriot Act, which is still with us. There is no opposition to a low interest loan for Detroit. (I love it that you lay this off on unions. Right, It was the UAW that decided to put all the eggs in the SUV basket.) And I keep pointing out that no one (except you) objects to federal subsidies for banks. I didn't bother to read the article but I saw a headline that said something like "New England Fuel Dealers Seek Federal Help." What the hell. GM and the banks are on the dole, why not fuel speculators? I read about a Libertarian man and wife, at the Libertarian convention, who were infuriated with Barr because he doesn't support the Americans with Disabilities Act. Libertarians. Well, their daughter has MS. I think I can explain why this is, but that's enough for today. Cordially, Bob

  • Comment from: Rossputin
    11/08/08 @ 07:04:42 am

    Bob, I believe the tendency for Americans to rarely give one party control of everything shows their (our) suspicion of government and general libertarian leaning. I disagree with you about "no opposition" to money for detroit or the bank bailout. More than half of the House Republicans voted against the bailout. The problem with the car makers is MUCH older than the SUV craze. It goes back 30 years or more, so don't just blame SUVs although clearly the car makers put too much emphasis on that, just repeating their errors of thirty years of bad decisions...including giving the unions more than the companies could afford to pay in the long run. Or course I agree with you about the horrible precedent with these bailouts. That was my whole point...who's next with their hands out?