As a followup to my last post, Josh Marshall reminds us why that the opposition party runs, and wins, on opposition…
So, while Democrats look poised to take back at least one house of Congress, we all know that this is in spite of the fact that they’re relying on opposition to President Bush rather than on putting forward a positive program of their own, right?
Seldom has Washington conventional wisdom been a more obedient handmaiden to historical illiteracy.
Let’s say this once and for all, after a deep breath and for the record: In US politics, in off-year elections with unpopular incumbents it is always that way. Always. Hear it again, always that way.
Consider a few examples: the 1946 (Truman), 1974 (Nixon) and 1994 (Clinton) mid-terms. There are a few others that come close. But these are the three big wave elections of the New Deal and post-New Deal eras. In each case, the winning party ran overwhelmingly and almost exclusively on opposition to the sitting president of the opposite party and — in two of the three cases — the congressional leadership.
And 1994, finally an election the great majority of us have a living memory of. A positive agenda? Please. The 1994 election was an anti-Clinton election, full-stop. Against Clinton’s health care plan, which was already a dead letter, against the tax increase. Against. Against. Against. The Republicans, to their tactical credit, went to great pains to avoid putting forward any substantive agenda. The ‘Contract with America’ was just a campaign stunt that only really became a big deal after the election.
Remember some of these great broad vision planks from the Contract.
#6 “No U.S. troops under U.N. command and restoration of the essential parts of our national security funding to strengthen our national defense and maintain our credibility around the world.”
And who can forget #7 “Raise the Social Security earnings limit which currently forces seniors out of the work force, repeal the 1993 tax hikes on Social Security benefits and provide tax incentives for private long-term care insurance to let Older Americans keep more of what they have earned over the years.”
The real heart of the Contract was that it included no mention of any of the major policy positions Republicans favored. No mention of the repeal of the 1993 Clinton tax hike, no mention of health care reform, no mention of Social Security privatization. It obfuscated all the big policy issues in favor of a list of poll-tested bromides.
It was an anti-election as mid-term congressional election always are. This isn’t to say that that is good or bad, simply that it is built into the structure of American politics. It’s the norm.