FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
Running against the System
The latest bad-news poll for Democrats is a Politico poll of battleground states that shows Republicans leading by a historically wide margin on the generic ballot:
In the congressional districts and states where the 2014 elections will actually be decided, likely voters said they would prefer to vote for a Republican over a Democrat by 7 points, 41 percent to 34 percent. A quarter of voters said they were unsure of their preference.
Among these critical voters, Obama’s job approval is a perilous 40 percent, and nearly half say they favor outright repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Sixty percent say they believe the debate over the law is not over, compared with 39 percent who echo the president’s position and say the ACA debate has effectively concluded.
Both Obama’s job approval and the partisan ballot matchup are markedly more negative for Democrats in this poll than other national surveys — a reflection of the political reality that the midterm campaign is being fought on turf that is more challenging for Democrats than the nation as a whole.
More bad news: the issues where votes in these states seem most sympathetic to Democrats are “soft” issues with low voter intensity, such as “comprehensive immigration reform,” the hoary old gun-control standard of background checks, or gobbledygook about “pay equity for men and women.” (Show of hands: who’s in favor of pay inequity?)
We might conclude from this poll, and consistently poor approval ratings for President Obama, that the media narrative about a big post-April-Fool’s “comeback” for the Democrats didn’t sell with the public. There’s no rebound in popularity for ObamaCare, no signs of an economy “poised for recovery,” no respite from the public’s growing conviction that Big Government is a disaster.
But what could easily sandbag that Republican landslide in 2014, or deal even more terrible damage to their presidential hopes in 2016, would be despair. If voters think Republicans will merely deliver Democrat-style governance at a modest discount, the enthusiasm driving this Politico poll will rapidly dissipate. The American people want to escape from a broken system. If all they get from the midterm elections is a sense of modest revenge against the Democrat Party, they won’t stampede to the polls in 2016. This has to be about more than just bouncing a couple of particularly smug Democrats out of their seats. In fact, that sort of midterm loss would be considered a very acceptable price for Democrats to pay, if the transformation of the American people continues apace. At this point, either we transform Washington, or they’re going to finish the job of transforming us.
Partisan revenge without systemic change will bleed off the anger of voters, and replace it with despair. Nothing could be worse for the cause of reform than a 2016 electorate that concludes Democrats were taught an adequate “lesson” two years ago, and the big exciting Republican sweep didn’t really make much difference in the long run. On a mass-media battlefield that will always be tilted against them, small-government crusaders need enthusiasm to get their voters to the polls. In the absence of such enthusiasm, elections will always default to the media culture’s chosen candidates – the people it’s easy to vote for, because disaffected voters are constantly told voting for anyone else is immoral.
Fortunately, recent events have created a powerful narrative for Republicans to use, if they have the wit and courage to take it up. The top-down centralized system they should run against has proven itself incompetent, immoral, and dishonest on a titanic scale, time and again. A common narrative thread links every scandal of the Obama years – from Operation Fast and Furious, to the waste of “stimulus” money, the IRS, Benghazi, the VA, ObamaCare, you name it. In each case, government power and taxpayer money were abused, the public was misled, and accountability was virtually non-existent. Every control mechanism, from the Constitutional separation of powers to oversight by a nominally skeptical media, failed utterly.
There is no reason for Americans to trust the system of government they labor under, and that’s a big problem. It should be an existential crisis for the Democrat Party, which is the ardent creator and defender of that system. Their entire philosophy is based on the superior morality, wisdom, and accountability of government officials over predatory private-sector interests, and every aspect of that Big Government philosophy has been revealed as a cruel joke over the past six years. This government can’t do anything right, it wastes stupendous amounts of money on its blundering efforts, corruption is rampant, and those who profit from the system – most definitely including Washington and New York-based Big Media – have assembled into a conspiracy against those who pay for it. We live in an era of government of, by, and for the government, with a rich and pampered bureaucracy looking down its noses at the hapless, outvoted tax serfs who bear the cost of taxation, the burden of regulation, and the contempt of elites who need them to remain subdued and fearful.
Our assault on the system could be boiled down to a single, universally appealing concept, the tip of our ideological spear: accountability. Everyone wants that from both the public and private sector, don’t they? Nobody thinks merchants should be able to rip off their customers… so why should they tolerate government ripping off its subjects? What value do the promises of any politician hold, if the government cannot be held responsible for keeping them?
One of President Obama’s shopworn talking points is to profess his solidarity with “people who work hard and play by the rules.” In practice, he is the dedicated enemy of such people. If praise for the hard-working, rule-following people of flyover country means anything beyond an infantile promise of redistributed prosperity for everyone, it means that everyone is to be held accountable for their actions, from high-rolling CEOs to blue-collar working Joes. Promises must be kept, commitments must be honored, and information must flow freely, so that free people can make informed choices. We understand all of this when we endorse regulatory protection against fraudulent business deals and anti-competitive market-rigging monopolies. Why should we accept any of it from Obama-style corporatist government – the most fraudulent, anti-competitive force in America?
We can easily see how our trust has been betrayed in practice. The nation’s capital is a ring of government palaces surrounded by the mansions of lobbyists. It got that way because the commodity of power bought and sold in Washington is fantastically powerful. The actual results of heavy-handed government programs have been almost universally disastrous. Far from dazzling achievements engineered by the brightest and most compassionate among us, we’re surrounded by absurd failures hidden by a shroud of lies. And we’re told none of it can ever change – no mistake can ever be halted – because the government never goes bankrupt. The Ruling Class never has to stop doing what it wants to do, unless we band together in vast numbers and make it stop – a process that usually requires huge victories in a series of elections stretching over years.
Why is anyone surprised that such a system produces almost none of the accountability we almost universally demand? Why is anyone shocked to find corruption at every level of government, when arrangements our forefathers would have regarded as corrupt are now matters of everyday policy? What power do you, the individual reader, think you can exercise against a titanic State armed with a vast array of legal punishments and loyal constituencies to defend itself? In a test of wills between concerned citizens and such a massive machine, the smart money says it will be the former that breaks, the citizens who change. We are surrounded by daily examples of the system using its power to reshape the electorate that might otherwise hold it accountable.
We are enveloped by so much raw power that our individual rights are melting away. The system can grow no larger without consuming every element of our individuality; its massive ears have grown hyper-sensitive to the painful sounds of dissent. If you think all that power should be in the hands of the people, then you must insist on stripping it from the State, rather than voting for a better crew of overseers. You can hold the people you voluntarily cooperate with accountable, and you will find properly-managed government to be an ally in that endeavor. You really can’t hold people with supreme power accountable, in any meaningful sense. You can’t even insist on honesty from them, and you can’t trust their media sycophants to dig the truth out for you. Power crushes information – the powerful are deeply intolerant of knowledge that casts doubt upon their judgment.
Let us abandon the foolish quest for big, transparent, clean government once and for all, because there is no such thing, and there never will be. If Republicans want to win, and effect meaningful change, that is the message they should convey in the next few elections. A great deal of evidence to buttress the argument is readily available. But of course, there are plenty of Republicans who don’t want to run against the system, either because they fear its wrath, or they want their turn at running it. That’s a problem their voters can solve, with sufficient determination.