Off Year Election Post-mortem
Apply the following Zen-like koan to the post mortem of the very few elections of significance that were held during this off year election season: the real news about such elections is what does or doesnít change in the context rather than who won the election; who won, on the other hand, being very, very important during midterm and Presidential election years. A case in point: everybody talks about the Christie victory as making him a contender for the Republican nomination for President in 2016 and that there will be a fight between him and the Tea Party over the nomination. First off, that isnít news. The news would have been if he hadnít knocked over the little known Democratic candidate for Governor of New Jersey. The Governor is just proceeding on a course long in development and on a steady track. His defeated opponent, not recognizing inevitability, is bitter that she got no help from the national Democratic Party. Meanwhile, everybody says that Terry McAuliffe squeaked by in Virginia only because the steamroller Clintons came out for him in force and he had a lot of money from out of state. Also, there is no news in the McAuliffe victory because nothing other than that was bound to happen if there were no unforeseen eventualities. A weak Democrat with a lot of money beat, even if not by very much, a very Conservative Republican by the narrow margin that had been expected.
Tie the two gubernatorial stories together. That makes some news, or at least provides some insight into the political thinking that is going on at the moment among the heavyweights. The Clintons helped an old friend in Virginia, which is hardly a surprise. They did not try to knock off Christie, even though his victory set him up as a plausible candidate to counter Hillary in 2016 as the Conservative who does well in a Blue State. The Clintons are very astute politically. First, they donít mind running against Christie. They could go to Christieís Right because Bill can dial up the drawl any time he wants to. They could go after Christie for being the New Jersey governor out of The Sopranos because he is brash and looks the part. (Now donít tell me that it would be unseemly to accuse Christie of corruption and let implications hang. The Republicans did much worse to the Clintons. Newt was two-timing his wife when he tried to impeach Clinton, and Hillary has been accused of murder and adultery.) The Clintons could drop hints that a man of Christieís girth has health problems by praising him for how well he has managed them. (Why shouldnít a candidateís health be fair game?) The Clintons could go after Christie on the Left by allowing him to move to the Right so that he can win the nomination and then go after him as a flip-flopper. Christie is a target rich environment.
And then again, they may hit the jackpot. A primary fracas between Christie and the Tea Party might just destroy the Republican Party as it is presently constituted and allow Hillary to coast to the White House. That is what the Republican establishment fears, though I donít because I will let the Republican Party take care of its own future. If it is bent on self destruction, so be it. It has reconstituted itself a number of times in American history after originally being the Federalists: first, they were the short lived party of John Quincy Adams; then they were the Whigs; then they were the Civil War and Post Civil War Republicans; then they were Progressives; then they were the post-William Howard Taft Republican Establishment of famous names (that includes Hoover), many of these, such as Eisenhower and Nixon, quite competent in running technically sound administrations, whatever their shortsightedness about other matters; and then they became the Southern Lost Cause Party that has been around since 1980, even though that time they had as their standard bearer a California chameleon who talked human and yet tried to bludgeon the poor and the working class.
There is also something to be learned from the New York City race. It is not, however, that a Democrat can win in New York after five terms of Republican rule. That is hardly news. Guiliani got in because Dinkins was so lousy and Bloomberg got in because he had so much money. What is worth learning is that a very Left leaning Democrat can win. De Blasio supported the Sandinistas and was premature in his support of universal health care. He served in the Dinkins administration, which pushed ethnic politics to the point where, in the view of his supporters and his staff, now that we are the winners, we will take the appointments and go easy on the people who are supposed to be our allies, when the point for a newly empowered ethnic group is to hold your ex-opponents close and be wary of the hubris of your allies. Obama never made that mistake, but then he had been caught up in truly diverse politics for a very long timeólong enough to get beaten the time he ran for Congress for not being black enough. He always was Presidential material.
Bill Clinton, you remember, was criticized for taking a trip to the Soviet Union during his student days, as if that were a scandal, even then, what with student exchanges a prominent feature of Soviet-American relations since Eisenhower. Remember Van Cliburn? The New York Post, in the waning days of the campaign, tried to raise the heat when it ran a front page expose of de Blasio being easy on the Soviet Union. None of the stuff took, even though it probably had more to it than the charges against Obama. This is New York, after all, but the main point is that the Cold War is now long over and that you canít run on anti-Communism any more, at least in New York. De Blasio may not have switched principles, but it doesnít matter. He has a large city to run, and that all has to do with the details of contracts and appointments and budgets, not with ideology. His total anti-stop and frisk rhetoric may stop as he faces up to how to run a police departments. Becoming more moderate already shows signs of having set in, though I donít think it is a good idea to bank on that and support a candidate because you think he will change once he is in office. They rarely do; they already are what they are. Kennedy was reckless in foreign policy and naÔve about how bad his fatherís confreres in industry were; Johnson was sophisticated and visionary about domestic affairs and just uninformed and uncomfortable about foreign policy. Obama was a centrist before he became President and remains one, frustrated with what he has indeed learnt which is that there is no compromise with Republicans.
The real point of the New York City Mayoral campaign was that it was not about issues but about de Blasioís charming family challenging Joe Lhotaís grumpy style and look. A voter will grow tired less quickly of the good looking guy with the nice family story. Cognitive psychologists will say that this shows how irrational people are. I say it shows just how rational people are. They have to look at the face of the mayor for four years. Why not someone who is pleasant? That is what they are buying with their vote. The policy differences between the candidates were less than they appeared at first sight to be. Everybody is in favor of more affordable housing and better education and no one knows how to bring either of those about. Unlike Dinkins, who proved not to be much of a manager, De Blasio will probably not sign some gigantic giveaway to the unions. The teachers did not raise their productivity after their humongous raises the last time a contract was negotiated. So why give a lot more to them now?
Because, so the rejoinder would go, the reasons you did it last time still hold. You want labor peace. You donít want to have to manage through a teacherís strike. In general, people follow the old recipes because no new ones have come along. No one knows how to do something significant about upstate unemployment so what gets trotted out and approved in New York State this week is a proposal allowing the construction of upstate gambling casinos. It wonít bring back the Catskills unless the Asians or some other American defined ethnicity decides to follow up the Jews who were there sixty years ago, which is a long time to wane nostalgic for dollars no longer produced in one particular way. Wake up Monticello! Wake up Liberty! Find another way to make a living! It has been a long time, and only slightly longer than that since Buffalo ceased to be a transshipment point for agricultural and manufacturing goods brought east via the Great Lakes. Moreover, gambling canít make the Catskills more exotic than the easily accessible Caribbean. Gambling has also shown itself to be an industry that profits the casino owners and those people they do employ but not much else. Las Vegas is now a family vacation destination where you can see the wonders of the world without leaving this country.
So hold the course. Obamacare will vindicate itself and provide the Democrats with a good issue for the election as more and more people find out how good it is for them. Meanwhile, there are a lot of anecdotes thrown back and forth about people who have suffered under it and people who have benefited, and no real data to judge it by. The long term is more important than whatever controversy is needed to fill the time on the talk shows.
Here is a tidbit from this week that is worth barely more than a glace: Rand Paulís ďplagiarismĒ. Apparently, Paul used Wikipedia as a source for biographical information about people and quoted the pieces exactly. How many ways are there to say when a person is born and what his major accomplishments are? Am I plagiarizing when I do not cite Wikipedia for the date I find there of when a novel was published? There are more important things to hold against Rand Paul, like what he thinks about Ayn Rand and whether she makes any sense at all. MSNBC should find better things to talk about because harping on the Rand Paul plagiarism shows them following the low road and so unworthy of the ideal which they set that they are better than Fox News.
I must add this recently broken news. Reports are that King Tut was killed in a chariot accident! The young Pharaoh was taken before his time, never able to live up to his promise! A friend asked me who wired the chariot! And, adding insult to injury, the embalming was botched! Shades of Princess Diana and the Kennedy autopsy. Nothing changes, and that certainly includes both the rules of melodrama and the rules of politics.