Oh No, Not Again!

Why Democrats move to the center after midterms, and Republicans don't.

Comments (14)
Thursday, November 04, 2010

After the 1994 midterm, when Dems lost the House and Senate, Bill Clinton was told to "move to the center." He obliged by hiring the pollster Dick Morris, declaring the "era of big government is over," abandoning much of his original agenda, and making the 1996 general election about nothing more than V-chips in televisions and school uniforms.

It happened in the 1978 midterm when Dems lost ground and Jimmy Carter was instructed to "move to the center." He obliged by firing his entire cabinet, apologizing for the errors of his ways, and making the 1980 general election about absolutely nothing.

Oddly, though, after Republicans suffer losses in the first midterms they pay no attention to voices telling them to move to the center. If anything, Ronald Reagan and the two Bushes moved further right.

Could it be that Republican presidents understand a few things Democrats don't? For example:

1. There is no "center" to American politics. The "center" is merely what most people tell pollsters they think or want at any given time. Trying to move to the center by following polls means giving up on leadership because you can't lead people to where they already are.

2. By the first midterm the public is almost always grouchy because the president wasn't a messiah and didn't change the world. No single president has that kind of power. The higher the expectations for change at the start of an administration, the greater the disillusionment.

3. Presidents' parties always lose the first midterm elections because the President isn't on the ticket, and the opposing party has had time to regroup and refuel. It's always easier for the party on the outs to attack—and to mass troops for the assault—than for the party inside to defend.

4. The economy trumps everything else, even though presidents aren't really responsible for it. So when it's bad — as it was during the first midterms of Carter, Reagan and Clinton — voters penalize the president's party even more than usual. When it's very bad, the electoral penalty is likely to be that much larger.


Why are Democratic presidents so much more easily intimidated by the "move to the center" rhetoric after midterm losses than Republican presidents?

Because Democrats think in terms of programs, policies and particular pieces of legislation. It's easy to reverse course by compromising more and giving up on legislative goals. Bill Clinton never mentioned the words "health care reform" after the 1994 midterms.

Republicans think in terms of simple ideas, themes and movements. It's far harder to reverse course on these (look what happened to the first George Bush when he raised taxes), and easier to keep them alive: Republican presidents just continue looking for opportunities to implement them.

Republicans are also more disciplined (ask yourself which party attracts authoritarian personalities and which attracts anti-authoritarians). This makes it easier for them to stay the course. Their base continues to organize and fulminate even after midterm defeats. Democrats, on the other hand, are less organized. Electoral defeats tend to fracture and dissipate whatever organization they have.

Republicans are cynical about politics from the jump. Political cynicism fuels them. Democrats are idealistic about politics. When they become cynical they tend to drop out.

Message to Obama: Whatever happened November 2 (the outcome being still unknown at press time), don't move to the center. Push even harder for what you believe in. Message to Democrats: Whatever happened, keep the courage of your convictions and get even more active.

If Republicans succeeded in taking over the House and came even close to gaining a majority in the Senate, expect calls for the President to "move to the center." These will come not only from Republicans but also from conservative Democrats, other prominent Dems who have been defeated, Fox Republican News, mainstream pundits and White House political advisers.

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Robert Reich and EVERY politician who does not listen to both sides of EVERY issue is doing a disservice to America. A true politician can bring together each side Democrat, Republican, Tea Party, Green Party, etc. so that any government action has the interests and desires of ALL Americans. Thus being "center" WILL benefit all Americans. Remember Democrats DO NOT have all the answers. Republicans DO NOT have all the answers. Tea Party and Green party followers DO NOT have all the answers. Only when you bring everyone working together will our country move forward. Otherwise we will continue to have elitists (such as Reich and Obama) running the show and little will get accomplished that will benefit the majority.

Remember, President Obama won with only 52.9% which clearly shows a lot of people, (47.1%) disagreed with Obamas views. Thus, to force any issue onto the American public for which nearly half disagree is NOT in the best interest of ALL AMERICANS. Our elected officials are supposed to represent those American Citizens living in their district, NOT HALF of their district, but ALL of their district. Clearly we have many politicians, Mr. Reich included, who forgot those other Americans and don't care about those who disagree with them because mr. Reich and many politicians are elitists with their heads in the clouds.

Posted by Jerry65 on 11.2.10 at 16:53

The "center" is kitchen table common sense: 1) You can't spend more than you make for long; 2) If you give someone a free ride for a long time...they expect it forever; 3) Internationally: If you appear weak you invite an matter how big you are; 4) If you encourage a certain behavior get more of it.

SOLUTIONS: 1) cut spending;2) "Workfare"; 3)Hit the enemy ruthlessly...actions not geography sets the course of action; 4) Lowewr taxes ( beacuse of lower spending ) attracts businesses = jobs. More freebies attracts more freeloaders.

This is not an enlightened "world" view. It is an American view of what the government should do and more importantly NOT do.

Not exactly Jeffersonian in style...but the substance is his.

Posted by Tea Party Jay on 11.3.10 at 8:33

Um, if you cut spending and lower taxes, how exactly does that result in a net gain? If I get paid less and start spending less, it would seem to me that all I'd be is broke. And if you're "kitchen table common sense" dictates that a good government is a destitute one, then how do we "hit the enemy ruthlessly" or pay for "Workfare" programs? [Other small point: who exactly is this enemy we're going to hit ruthlessly--last I checked, the U.S. has spent nearly a decade in two sovereign nations that didn't attack us, and Al Queda's ranks have only grown.]

Perhaps you weren't aware, but currently Americans are "enjoying" the second lowest tax rate in history, and yet we teeter on the edge of a second great Depression. You might want to check your history books, 'cause the last time this happened, increased government spending and "socialist-style" work programs are what got us out of it. The efforts to stop spending made the problem a whole lot worse.

If the "center" means embracing the non-logic shown by the comments above, I'd take the far-right or the far-left anyday. In my book, politicians who hover in the center have one thing in mind: job security and the personal perks that come with it.

Posted by CP on 11.3.10 at 9:40

Jerry65--interesting take on democracy and the electoral process. Please clarify, though: everyone should listen to everyone else, but no one should listen to elitists (even if they were elected) because they have their heads in the clouds, and only Democrats are elitist? Please name for us one of these "true" politician who has appealed to all sides and thus governed all-Americans equally.

Posted by F.Witcha on 11.3.10 at 10:22

The Dumbocrats are just like the Repukes.... oh and now, there is the Twit Party... The entire governement is a joke... All these people do kis act like spoiled rotten children, who did not get to go to the toy store and get thier favorite toy, again....

We need to completelyl tear the Constitution up and rewrite the damn thing... It was written by slaveowners, who were white and did not give a shit about women or any minoritiesd whatsoever... This document is like used toilet paper... and quite frankyl, most of the members of the government are big pieces of snhit

Posted by nonconforming on 11.3.10 at 10:46

The masses forget quickly. It is our especial national doom.

Posted by anarchy 99 on 11.3.10 at 11:09

You all speak like morons. Read and learn before you shoot your mouths off in a public forum. When I read these blogs, I can only conclude the American electorate is ignorant and opinionated, can't see the forest for the trees and buys into the "rhetoric du jour". We're screwed, because we're too stupid make an intelligent decision and too lazy to educate ourselves. Turn off the TV, get off the computer, and read a book!

Posted by an educated man on 11.3.10 at 11:12

Witcha there are elitists on all sides and often they do not or will not pay attention to anyone who has a differing opinion. A true politician, in my opinion, is similar to a mediator and will listen to all sides of an issue before formulating their final opinion. Further, my true politician will often never please either side 100% and never disappoint either side 100%. Thus, my true politician can see the forest for the trees and will not buy into the "rhetoric du jour" which the educated man speaks of above. It is an ignorant and opinionated electorate that sends ignorant and opinionated people as their politicians, rather then sending individuals who will educate themselves on the various parts of an issue prior to making their "intelligent decision".

Posted by Jerry65 on 11.3.10 at 11:37

This article points out a few very real and important pieces of the nation's political illogic. Jerry and teabagger friend are trying to revive their dying propaganda.

Problem is, people are fighting in the dark over a myth. Rightwingers think they are in the same crowd with Big Money, but they are not. Liberals think they are in league with champions of righteousness, but they are not. Meanwhile, the nation, its separate branches of government, and the Constitution that helped secure what rights we have -- they are all falling apart.

It won't be long before a rightwing dictatorship takes over. Did that Nevada hatriot say 'Final Solution?' -- oops, I misquoted; I mean 'Second Amendment Solution.' Proves Americans wouldn't know a NAZI if it ran for office.

Posted by 10thGenerationAmerican on 11.3.10 at 17:08

The founders of this nation was able to come to a common ground in creating our constitution and then governing the nation,then surely we can do the same. I agree extremes on both sides cannot expect to have 100% of their proposals passed,but they can hammer out a compromise so ALL sides can be satisfied and thus we, the people, can finally feel that our Government cares about our future. The partisan politics should and must be shelved for the greater good of this country. I truly hope that the men and women we have elected with exception of a few who have been a disruption in all this, will be REPRESENTING US ,finally ! I am dissappointed that Reid, Boxer,Kerry and a few others survived because I feel they will continue with their tactics of disruption and partisanship. But let this election speak loud and clear...YOU PERFORM THE JOB ELECTED AND DROP THE REVENGE MENTALITY OR YOU WILL BE REPLACED !

Posted by kathy on 11.3.10 at 19:28

Thank you Kathy!

Posted by Jerry65 on 11.4.10 at 10:06

I'll echo what other people are getting at: Our political vocabulary is impoverished. Political debate and analysis in the media and everyday conversation invokes the same anecdotes, catch phrases, straw men, sound bites, and broad and vague categories like "freedom", "political center", "government", and "free market".

There is no precision, no concreteness, no background or foreground, no context, no sense of history...

"Political conversation" is more akin to a dialogue where one person talks about how their day at work went while the other person describes the physics of a bouncing ball, and both believe they hear the other correctly and are actually comunicating substantively with one another.

Having said that, I think Reich is making sense, even if you disagree with his politics or prescriptions. The Christian Right, business groups and PACs, conservative politicians, etc, their rhetoric and political positioning hasn't changed all that drastically since the 80s, whereas Democrats have gone through a series of political repositionings and policy changes over the same period (and their base of voters and support organizations have as well).

Compare the Jesse Jackson's policy advocacy in his 80's runs for President, which were serious to be reckoned with at the time, to what Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton were talking about or advocating in terms of policy in 2008. Its a wide gap! (I know the constitutionalist or libertarian would say that the government is still too involved in their policy prescriptions, but the differences of substance and approach are significant nonetheless).

Posted by PatB on 11.4.10 at 12:33

Our understanding of our government is laced with words such as "Democracy" and "Republic" and our economic system described as "free market Capitalism". Democracy suggests that a majority rules and a Republic is a representative form of Democracy. In any market, there are more consumers than vendors; more employees than employers. Why then do we tolerate the notion, "Buyer beware" and rail against workers' rights as threats to our economic health? Why does our government represent the minority elite more than the lower majority?

Our population, the electorate, has irrefutably demonstrated its ability to be swayed by creative arguments that benefit one side over others. How many people believe that a minimum wage hurts businesses and therefore contributes to unemployment despite working minimum wage jobs or those paying slightly above? Doing so relegates them to the lower class, yet they passionately defend these oppressing conditions so long as there is "hope" that they too can some day become rich. My point is that people will absolutely cut off their nose to spite their face--they will believe in and support policy that actually hurts them or provides no benefit today, while believing that they may benefit at some point in the future. Such policies, and their supporting rhetoric, are only successful because of an uneducated electorate.

Interestingly, our population has the ability to learn and understand complex ideas. However, it choses to apply that ability on things such as celebrity gossip, consumer technology, and sports statistics and strategy. If our population, the electorate, alocated as much energy and effort into learning and understanding the human impact of policies, programs, and economic systems, we truly could have a society that is not only civilized and humane, but prosperous for all.

With the exception of the "New Deal", this nation has never demonstrated a real and unwaivering interest in taking care of the majority of its people. Ever since the end of WWII, policy has drifted away from FDR's awareness that "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." In the sixty-five years since his death, the "free market" has flourished, the progress of the labor movement has been turned back, we still don't have a living wage law, social security hs been depleated to fund military spending, corporations have been allowed to send their manufacturing processes overseas to exploit cheap labor, credit and industrial regulation has been relaxed to benefit corporate profits, and the gulf between the elites and the rest of us is at its largest in history. Still, how many of us continue to believe that we must continue to do whatever benefits businesses and corporate elites for the sake of protecting jobs? Is it really worth surrendering our human rights, our dignity and integrity, for the sake of maintaining jobs that can't adequately provide for our basic needs in order to maximize corporate profits? Is it really acceptable to cut social programs that provide for the welfare of human beings while maintianing or increasing military spending that ultimately directly contributes to the death of hundreds of thousands and the denial of human rights for millions?

Our political rhetoric is rife with arrogance, fear, and selfishness. We beleive the US to be the best at everything, yet we're not. We are afraid that we'll lose everything if we give to the less fortunate. We believe that we have more right to resources and a comfortable lifestyle than any other country. And so, we sit back silently as our corporations extract the resources from developing nations--all the while destroying their local environments and local economies--and balk at their audacity for resisting such operations and even call them "terrorists" when they fight for their survival.

Until our populatin is willing and able to let go of its superiority complex and plethora of defining labels, upon which we base our discrimination, accept ourselves and all others as members of the human race, and truly embrace the notion of equality that previous generations have struggled to attain, we will continue to be divided by party-politics, motivated by greed and arrogance, and manipulated by fear.

Posted by Contrary Humanitarian on 11.5.10 at 11:42

I consider the "center of the country" not by votes, districts, Senators, Representatives, Governors, or even Presidents.

I look at the polls that go by a policy-by-policy basis, with NO mention of political "sides," BEFORE an issue is brought up in ads and media.

You come out with some interesting as hell results. When you don't mention "sides", it might seem as though you're tricking a lot of Republicans. Psyching them out, if you will. Because without a side to pick, they actually side with some pretty liberal positions.

For instance, many, MANY Republicans wanted Health Care Reform before they were TOLD that part of their party's indentity was to be against it, and the polls suddenly flipped. This is true about many things that greatly seperate Republican LEADERS from Republicans VOTERS.

One of the most fascinating was what they regular, voting Republicans believed the wealth gap should be. They thought it should be waaay lower. Like, socialism-lower. This makes sense. I mean, what working man in their right mind would agree that people should be absurdly more rich, that make their entire year's salary in a day.

That is, until Fox News convinces their viewers that it's in their best interests to extend tax cuts for the rich. My friend's father watches Fox and is absolutely terrified by the estate tax. Yes, the one that only effects people leaving estates over 3.5 million dollars. No, he does not have over 3.5 million dollars.

Fox is good at what they do. The best way to see the center of the country is to ask people what they really think, or what they really want, before they are told what they want.

Posted by Dradeeus on 11.5.10 at 21:44



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