Friday, May 12, 2006 :::
Peggy Noonan makes the case for the bases of both sides to stay home this November:
The Republicans talk about cutting spending, but they increase it--a lot. They stand for making government smaller, but they keep making it bigger. They say they're concerned about our borders, but they're not securing them. And they seem to think we're slobs for worrying. Republicans used to be sober and tough about foreign policy, but now they're sort of romantic and full of emotionalism. They talk about cutting taxes, and they have, but the cuts are provisional, temporary. Beyond that, there's something creepy about increasing spending so much and not paying the price right away but instead rolling it over and on to our kids, and their kids.
So, the normal voter might think, maybe the Democrats. But Democrats are big spenders, Democrats are big government, Democrats will roll the cost onto our kids, and on foreign affairs they're--what? Cynical? Confused? In a constant daily cringe about how their own base will portray them? All of the above.
There is and has been a fundamental disconnect in the GOP's wiring. They no longer are the party of limited government -- just government that's slightly smaller than what the Democrats would produce. Hardly the sort of galvanizing force that brings the base out to the polls. And Noonan wonders if, given these choices, folks may just opt out entirely:
What's a voter to do? Maybe stay home, have the neighbors over for some barbecue, and then answer the phone when a pollster calls asking for a few minutes to answer some questions. When they get to the part about whether America is on the right track or the wrong track, boy, the voter knows the answer.
There's the very real possibility this may occur. But that would hardly make it novel or earth-shattering, particularly in an off-year election. Turnout falls markedly when there's no presidential race. Over the years, many have pointed to this pattern with disgust and concern -- people just don't care, they are alienated, the Republic is doomed.
And yet, somehow, the sun manages to rise the next day.
I recall reading a long time a go that in countries like Albania, where pro-forma elections occurred every now and then, voter turnout approached 100 percent. Vote or die. In democratic countries, voter turnout tended to rise in times of crisis and fall during times of relative calm. A less-discussed factor in the decline of voter participation can be linked to the expansion of the franchise to 18 year-olds.
But none of this explains the unrest in the base -- the party regulars who vote no matter what, who give when asked, who man the polling stations and stuff the envelopes. The growing disquiet in these ranks is send shivers through the hearts of some observers, but not necessarily the pols themselves:
Party leaders are showing a belief in process as opposed to a belief in, say, belief. But belief drives politics. It certainly drives each party's base.
One gets the impression party leaders, deep in their hearts, believe the base is . . . base. Unsophisticated. Primitive. Obsessed with its little issues. They're trying to educate the base. But if history is a guide, the base is about to teach them a lesson instead.
If it comes to pass, and the GOP base decides it would rather go to the movies in November than head to the pols, it will be a harsh lesson, indeed. There is some debate as to whether this happened in Virginia in last year's gubernatorial race. I think it might have, to at least some degree.
But the idea of believing in process for it's own sake takes me back to the current budget struggle. Here we have members of the same party baring their teeth at each other over how to address a "crisis" in transportation. I suggest the Senate is more closely aligned with process for its own sake than is the House. But only just. The House is popularly portrayed as more wedded to its philosophical beliefs than the Senate. But I don't think so. The Senate has a solid core of beliefs and its leaders are willing to go to great lengths to defend them -- even if it means shutting down the government. In that way, they are as unbending as Newt Gingrich, as scorched-earth as Grover Norquist.
If Virginia's government is shuttered this summer, it will not entirely be the result of House intransigence. The Senate's own, perpetual mulishness, abetted by the Governor, will be a major factor. The meta-narrative -- that the House and only the House is to blame -- fails to understand that unlike their congressional counterparts, Virginia's Republicans are fighting over principles with everything they've got, right out in the open, for all to see. Of course, whether anyone is paying attention, or even cares at this point, is doubtful. But it's a fascinating struggle to watch, and its future implications could be enormous, particularly among the GOP base.
::: posted by Norman Leahy at 5/12/2006