For foreigners, the only thing nuttier than watching the way we elect our Presidents is watching the way we inaugurate them.
For a nation that wears its egalitarianism not just as a badge of honor, but (as we saw this past November) almost as a requirement for office, the pomp and circumstance involved in a modern U.S. Presidential inauguration would have moved Louis XIV to modesty.
Both parties face the same issue: Looking for the balance between demonstrating a public outpouring of interest, if not affection, for the person preparing to take the oath of office without giving your political opponents any more ammunition than necessary. Continue reading →
Except according to the Lord’s plans – which are not known to man – the “end of the world” is not nigh, although to listen to politicians and pundits, we should be packed and ready to go by next Thursday.
The headlines recently have read like Woody Allen’s 1979 “My Speech to the Graduates”: “More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly. I speak, by the way, not with any sense of futility, but with a panicky conviction.”
During the Eddie Murphy years, Saturday Night Live had an iconic skit that can best be called “Who Shot Buckwheat.” In a spoof of the media culture that glorifies murderers and assassins, it examined why John David Stutts shot Buckwheat. Continue reading →
What should congressional Republicans’ policy objectives be for the next two years regarding federal deficits and prosperity? Two very different strategies are being considered by authentic conservatives: 1) Attempt to govern from their majority in the House and try to start the process of reducing the costs of entitlements – most conspicuously, Social Security and Medicare – as a path back to prosperity and good jobs or 2) recognize that the GOP cannot govern without holding the White House and that therefore they should not touch entitlements but merely tinker with discretionary spending and frame the issues for 2012, when they may win the presidency and Senate as well as hold the majority in the House.
In the last week or two, an eccentric debate has been dividing Democratic Party pols and commentators in Washington: In 2011, should President Obama strive to be more like Harry Truman in 1947 or Bill Clinton in 1995?
If the Republicans win enough seats in Congress this November, GOP leader John Boehner will become the next speaker of the House. The Ohio Republican would assume the gavel amid a maelstrom of polarization not seen since the late nineteenth century.
Last November, as members of the House of Representatives considered the health care reform bill, President Obama made a dramatic trip to Capitol Hill. After closing down sixteen blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue, a half-mile long White House motorcade whisked the presidential entourage past cheering tourists to meet with the House Democratic Caucus.
Despite the drama, these trips rarely occur if the outcome is unknown. No sense aggravating a bunch of taxi drivers if you’re not going to win.
When he arrived before the roaring group of lawmakers, the president oozed transformational hyperbole. Even lowly House members could “make history” by passing the measure, the president apparently told his audience, according to news accounts.
Political enthusiasm is the secret sauce of American politics. When it comes to producing calories for winning elections, it’s the difference between a Big Mac and Lean Cuisine.
But what stimulates this vote-producing electoral flavoring? One party sometimes gets an energy jolt through a combination of forces.
This year Republicans received the extra dollop of zeal on the political menu. Predictable historical conditions explain part of the equation. The “out” party normally enjoys an enthusiasm gap because the “outs” want to become the “ins.”
But Barack Obama and the Democrats in Congress also contribute to the GOP’s edge. Their policies and performance – since January 2009 — engender emotions that will create additional GOP electoral punch in November.
At one level, the Republicans enjoy an expected enthusiasm gap. History provides some insights here. In November 1994, with Bill Clinton in the White House and his party in control of Congress, a Gallup survey asked voters if they were “more enthusiastic” or “less enthusiastic” about voting compared to previous elections. Self-identified Republicans said they were more excited by an 11-percentage point margin.
Public opinion about the appropriate role of the federal government moves like the moon cycle, causing tidal shifts in citizen attitudes and election outcomes. After watching Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress over the past year and a half, attitudes about Washington are changing again, possibly giving those who advocate devolving power to the states a political advantage in the midterm elections.
Political scientist James A. Stimson nailed the ocean metaphor in his insightful book, Tides of Consent: How Public Opinion Shapes American Politics. Stimson demonstrates that the overall public mood about government starts to run counter to victorious political parties soon after they win. For example, voters typically elect Democrats when a more liberal, pro-activist federal government sentiment hits an apex. But for the big government crowd, Election Day is about as good as it gets. Going forward, sentiment soon starts to shift in a more conservative direction. Continue reading →
The American suburbs fueled the emergence of the Democratic congressional majority in 2006 and then helped expand it 2008. During those two election cycles, Republicans lost 24 incumbent or open seat races in these cul-de-sac filled districts.
But now suburbanites are shifting again. As a result, many of these districts could swing back to the GOP, providing more than half of the forty seats Republicans need to capture the majority in the House.
The battle for the suburbs will determine if President Barack Obama continues to work with his own party as the congressional majority or if Washington reverts to divided government.
Many swing voters live in the suburbs. As these regions grew following World War II, they became an increasingly large and pivotal piece of political real estate. Continue reading →
Fifteen years have passed since Timothy McVeigh’s bomb ripped the heart out of my hometown. Fifteen years since people I knew had their lives cut short by violence planned and executed here in our land by one of our neighbors. This is one pain that does not diminish over time.
I had represented Oklahoma City in Congress for 16 years. On the day Timothy McVeigh’s bomb exploded outside a courthouse named for a federal judge I had known, I was far from my home, teaching at Harvard. I was about to enter a classroom for a 10 o’clock class when I learned of what had happened. The news was numbing. Not only was this my home, these people were my friends; my daughter still lived there, my grandchildren lived there. What was happening? Who had done this? Who was safe?