Saturday, November 11, 2006

Populism and Not Moderation won out

From David Brooks's column "The Middle Muscles In" (which I think you'll be able to get to during TimesSelect free access week):

"On Tuesday, 47 percent of the voters were self-described moderates, according to exit polls, and they asserted their power by voting for the Democrats in landslide proportions....Their disaffection with the G.O.P. was not philosophical. It was about competence and accountability....So voters kicked out Republicans but did not swing to the left. For the most part they exchanged moderate Republicans for conservative Democrats. It was a great day for the centrist Joe Lieberman, who defeated the scion of the Daily Kos net roots, Ned Lamont. It was a great day for anti-abortion Democrats like Bob Casey and probably for pro-gun Democrats like Jim Webb. It was a great day for conservative Democrats like Heath Shuler in North Carolina and Brad Ellsworth in Indiana....Realignments are achieved by parties that define big new approaches to problems (see F.D.R.’s Commonwealth Club speech), and neither party has done that yet.
In the meantime, if I were a Democrat I’d be like Lee Hamilton, the former Indiana congressman and serial commission member. The country is hungering for leaders like him: open-minded, unassuming centrists who are interested in government more than politics."

This is a topic that I have kind of beaten to death but the more I keep reading about how, "moderates won" I feel the need to blog about it. Unfortunately, David Brooks as per usual is given to broad generalizations and his evidence leaves much to be desired. Sorry to keep on picking on Brooks who sometimes writing interesting columns but I don't think he displays a good grasp of domestic politics in some of his columns either because he actually doesn't know or alternatively he is disregarding the facts to spin certain results.

(1) "47 percent of the voters were self-described moderates." The key words are self-described. Lot of people describe their positions as moderate but are not when you compare them to the average American voter. At top law schools, moderate means you don't think everything Bush does is evil just most things. Better data would have broken down these voters by their positions on a variety of issues and past voting record to see if the way they self-described themselves matches with reality.
(2) Populism won, not moderation. When Republican politicians are pro-life, they are called social conservatives and unfairly they are usually labeled extremists in blue-states. Being pro-life and favoring the overturn of Roe v. Wade is a respectable position but a minority one (although sizable), so classifying a candidate who is pro-life as moderate is not entirely accurate.
Furthermore, most of the candidates mentioned in his story like Heath Schuler did not run as third-way Democrats but as populists. They ceded ground on social issues as they completely blurred the difference between their and their opponent's positions on abortion and guns and instead campaigned on pocket-book issues like health care, minimum wage, and in Schuler's case protectionism.
(3) There is a a discernable difference between populism and moderation even though the two are often confused although I would expect a little better from an op-ed columnist at a major newspaper. This is the reason why liberal bloggers are enthusiastic about politicians like Brian Schweitzer, Jon Tester, and Jim Webb and unenthusiastic about politicians like Rahm Emanuel, Hilary Clinton, and Joe Lieberman. The latter are at least in theory moderates, the former who are more conservative on social issues are populists. They are not one in the same. (4) Brooks can spin it anyway he likes but in actuality voters rejected his positions (especially his foreign policy) as they chose populism. Brooks is a social liberal, free trader, and foreign policy hawk and the swing voters in this election (the Reagan Democrats) rejected his platform. (Yes I realize he was not running for office but he does have a core set of his beliefs that were rejected at the polls).
(5) From Weekly Standard
"On Election Day, Democrats had their largest gains in districts where a moderate-to-liberal Republican was replaced
by a liberal Democrat.
Political scientist Thomas F. Schaller, author of Whistling Past Dixie, points out that 10 of the 28 most liberal House Republicans lost to Democrats and that a third of Republican-held seats in the Northeast switched parties." So in essence in these districts, moderate-to-liberal Republicans lost out and party-line Democrats won, which depicts more evidence that Brooks' conclusion is incorrect.


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