We got off easy! The strongest, broadest attempt to extent the scope and intrusiveness of government since Pres. F. D. Roosevelt was let by Barack Obama. The initially very popular reactionary (no, not a mistake) leader has proven weak, indecisive, fragile and, above all, incompetent. Also, he has a pushy wife. And no, this is not a sexist comment. I can easily see, even in the near future, unhappily, a female president with a pushy husband. (Know what I mean?)
It’s difficult to resist the temptation of seeing the big Republican victory in the 2014 midterm elections as a referendum on Big Government. Certainly, a large number of Americans did not shake themselves to go and vote against Democratic candidates because they loved the alternative Republican agenda. There really wasn’t any. Or, you had to look hard for it which few voters ever do, I believe. The most parsimonious explanation for the Republican wave is not Republican virtue but Democrat vices, faith in more and bigger government chief among those.
I am not venturing to say that many of the votes cast in favor of Republican candidates at all levels were conscious expressions of opinion against the expansion of government in society in general. I suspect very few were the kind of moral votes I wish for (“Government is inherently repressive. We resist repression.”) Rather, in addition to those who systematically oppose more government for fiscal reasons, there were many voters who expressed rejection of the consequences of attempts to regulate more from above.
These consequences include at once of the actual performance of active government programs such as Obamacare, and economic failures associated with Big Government such as the inability to raise the incomes of most working people (and especially, in this country, the incomes of the always-deluded black minority). Other consequences of government over-reach are the absurd replacement of market choice by flimsy political decision as in the dramatic case of blocking of the Keystone pipeline. Finally, in the past very few years, big, growing and ambitious federal government was confronted by predictable crises such as the rise of terrorist ISIS and by others that were not, such as the Ebola big fright. Big Government proponents were tested and they were found wanting and everybody knows it. They failed precisely where they promised the most.
Incidentally I do not include moral scandals in the description of the debacle of Obamite government expansion, such as the coverup of the Benghazi affair and the cynical use of the IRS to intimidate citizens. A good case could be made that the bigger and the most expansive the government, the more likely such departures from ordinary civil morality. But another explanation may be just as valid this time around: The scandals are the results of a long tradition of corruption in the Democratic Party (another, different “Chicago School”) that is not especially linked to programs of Big Government.
Americans tried a heavy dose of Big Government and enough of them disliked it enough to turn the tide in a big way.
I find most remarkable in this election cycle the widespread inability among its proponents to promote squarely what they wish for.
Many Democrat candidates let themselves become trapped by their own fantasies. Several campaigned, as they had two year earlier, against the imagined program of their largely imagined adversaries. The “War on Women” is a case in point. Yes, it’s true that many Republicans want to reduce the incidence of abortion. But about half of Americans who express an opinion on the subject are opposed to abortion to different degrees. It’s been like this for many years. Several democratic candidates even suggested that Republicans in power means limited access to contraception. No national-level Republican candidate proposes any such thing, I think. The War on Women theme lost traction because it was simply not believable. You can fool many people for a while, not for a long time. Yet, Democrats clung to this fairy tale in reverse. The same could be said of the ” cry wolf” alleged disenfranchising of minority voters simply because many of us wish to restrict fraud through conventional, well-tried means. (Note to overseas readers: In most American states, one can vote without proving who one is or even if one actually exists. In some areas of this beautiful country, the dead vote for twenty years or more. Conservatives propose voters’ identity cards. For this, they are vilified!)
By contrast with the fantasy fixations, inattention to what most preoccupies voters, the economy, was widespread in Democratic ranks. Few candidates even bothered to brag about economic achievements that presidents traditionally give themselves credit for. Under the Obama administration, for example, national unemployment went down to under 6%; in the quarter preceding the election, the economy grew by a more than respectable 3.5%. This failure to brag is bizarre. I am tempted to read into it discouragement about Big Government even in the ranks of its habitual proponents.
In the end, they go bitch-slapped for what they did and also for what they did not do.
I am not sure of what the near-future holds. The victors of this 2014 midterm election may yet squander their victory. The Republican Party may find it difficult or impossible to switch from years of blanket opposition to positive acts of government, beginning with massive tax reform. Or, it may do it incoherently. Democrats may regain much of the lost political ground in 2016. Yet, I think the lesson of the 2014 midterm elections will stick, at the margin:
Big Government is not what it is cracked up to be. It’s even worse than its critics alleged. We tried it; it did not work. Its victories (the imposition of Obamacare on a reluctant citizenry) are even worse than its defeats (the failure to contain ISIS).
But make no mistake; things would have turned out differently if the latest attempt to expand government had been led by a more competent leader and, especially, by a more forceful leader. Think about this: Six and a half years after promising it formally to his followers, Pres. Obama has still not closed the Guantanamo Bay detention center. He could have done at any time through a single, undebatably constitutional order as Commander-in Chief. This time around they did not have a Commander-in-Chief, fortunately.