Death Knell

In 2008, most pundits (and most Americans) thought and believed that the Republican Party was on it’s last legs… that it was dying a slow death.  This was because of Obama’s (and the Democrats) huge win over the GOP in the general election.  And thinking upon old terms, all the first time voters (young and old) that voted for the Democrats would have stayed with the party from then on out.  I scoffed when I was hearing this knowing that the Republican Party was going to be around for years to come… that reports of its death were greatly exaggerated (if I might borrow that phrase).  And here we are in 2010, just after a huge Republican victory in the midterm elections, so it got my mind in to thinking about things.

When the pundits started talking about the death of the Republican Party in 2008, did they know anything about political history before they started speaking?  Apparently not.  This actually works both ways.  One could have said that after the Civil War, the Democratic Party was on the way out… since there were only three Democratic Presidents elected between the Civil War (1865) and the election on FDR in 1932.  They were Grover Cleveland (22) and Grover Cleveland (24) — yes, it was the same man…the only man to be elected to two non-consecutive terms — and Woodrow Wilson.  I did not count President Andrew Johnson in this since he was not elected to the Presidency but merely succeeded to it upon the assassination of President Lincoln.  There were 14 Presidents between 1869 and 1933… and only 3 were Democrats.  Those aren’t very good odds and one would think the Democratic Party could not rebound from this.  And there was one overall thing fueling this Republican trend… the votes of the freed African-Americans (and even their descendants) who were voting for the Party that had freed them from their shackles.

But in the 1932 election, something happened.  The nation was in the middle of the Great Depression and trying to find new answers in order to get help pulling themselves back up.  Who was the party in power?  The Republicans.  So thus, who got the blame for not doing enough?  The Republicans.  So they went in a new direction by electing then-New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt in a landslide.  Even the African-Americans had switched their votes…some for the very first time…in order to achieve this new change.  President Roosevelt had a majority in both houses of Congress and began work on getting people back to work and giving them hope for a better tomorrow.  Did people consider the Republican Party dead then?  It is a possibility that they could have by the numbers the Democrats had in Congress.  But it was nothing compared to what would happen four years later.  In 1936, Roosevelt won in a landslide again…and the Democratic majority in Congress grew even bigger.  In the Senate of the 75th Congress there were 76 Democrats, 17 Republicans, 2 Farmer-Labor, and 1 Wisconsin Progressive.  The House of Representatives of the 75th Congress had 334 Democrats, 88 Republicans, 7 Wisconsin Progressive, 1 Progressive, and 5 Farmer-Labor.  The 2008 numbers don’t even compare to the thumping the Republicans had received in the 1936 general election.  They had been silenced to a whisper within the halls.  And the trend of Democratic control in Washington would last from 1933-1953 when Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower was sworn in.  Again…this was a trend.  For those who voted for the Democrats for the first time in 1932, they stuck with the party through the hardships of the Great Depression and the hope and promise of The New Deal and the trials that would come about because of World War II.  It only changed again because the situation had finally called for it… and again for some, it would be their first time voting for the other party in 1952.

Though there was still party loyalty, things did go back and forth.  Despite a major landslide for President Lyndon Johnson (D) in the 1964 election, the Democrats took a major hit in the 1968 election.  And Republicans were riding a new high after the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 thus making people wonder if the Democrats were possibly on their way out.  But the Democrats bounced back.   In the 1994 midterm elections (Democrat President Bill Clinton was in office) the Republicans took back control of Congress…which it stayed that way until 2006.  So in the last couple of decades, the pendulum has been swinging fairly largely back and forth.  So what does that mean?

If there is one thing we can see with this midterm election in 2010… only 2 years after Obama and the Democrats were swept into office… is that party loyalty is mostly gone.  Today, only 36.3% of the population consider themselves Democrats… while only 33.4% consider themselves Republicans.  (poll numbers come from Rasmussen)  So where is the rest of the population?  They consider themselves Independents…and it’s an ever-growing number…now standing at 30.3% according to the same poll report.  So does this mean that elections of old are gone?  Yes.  Party loyalty is becoming a thing of the past as some people are starting to see both parties working against each other rather than finding common ground in which to work.  And it’s those Independent voters that are going to be switching back and forth in each election…depending if they see a need for it or not.  It’s not going to matter as much whether a “D” or an “R” is next to a candidates name, it’s going to depend on the candidates themselves and their message to the people.

And could we see the rise of a third major political party during these times?  It is a possibility as there is an opening for one to take shape and to grab a foothold.  It’s just a matter of will one step in to do it.  The voters of Rhode Island just elected an Independent as their Governor.  And as I have said in an earlier entry (The Know-Nothings), I still doubt the Tea Party will become anything more than the far-right wing extension of the Republican Party… and it will be up to the GOP on how they deal with that wing and the future course that that faction will take.  I see the major contenders as being the Libertarian Party, the Constitution Party, the Green Party, and the Reform Party.  And quite frankly, I’m all for a major third political party in this country to get things shook up and more non-partisanship to be found.

So in 2008, when everyone thought that it was the death-knell to the Republican Party, I figured that they would make a comeback at some point.  That rather than going away and dying off, the GOP would just use that moment as a chance to reorganize and reinvent itself… which seems to have happened successfully in the 2010 election with the help of the Tea Party movement of their own party.  And this was probably quicker than I or anyone else possibly thought that it would happen.  So does this spell doom and gloom for the Democrats in 2012?  Not necessarily.  The Democratic Party would be wise to be very careful.  They only lost control of one of the houses of Congress… so they should use this time to reorganize and reinvent itself before an even bigger thumping comes along.

So what was the major problem for Democrats in 2010?  Bad PR.  It comes down to basically that.  When it came to getting the message out about any major piece of legislation, the Republicans took the reigns early on and never let go. (The Democrats did the same in 2006 when the Republicans opened up that PR window and they stepped through.)  And that has a lot to do with overall perceptions.    When the first shots of the American Revolution were fired at Lexington and Concord, the colonists knew that they had to get their side of the story to England first… and they did (though not by much).  It helped solidify them a base of people (though still a minority) that would be wanting to reconcile with the colonies first and then later grant them their independence.  And it was the minority that would win out the day in the end as their voices got louder until they took control away from the other side.

With a larger percentage of the voting public becoming more independent, voting trends in this country are going to go back and forth.  We’ve seen the government fairly divided after recent elections (only after the 2008 election was there a big-enough gap in Congress) and more than likely, that will be here to stay as well.  So the American people are looking to have their voices heard but they are also looking for the parties to work together to come up with solutions.  No one party is ever right completely.  And that tends to be overlooked after an election.  The party that wins (like the Democrats in 2008) tend to get a little slap-happy and overreach and tend to over-think that the American people have given them a mandate.  The Republicans have been just as guilty of this before and they will be again, too.  Both parties need to realize there really is no mandate when they switch from one side to the other.  It’s more along the lines of we don’t think the current party is doing what needs to be done anymore so we’re voting for you to have someone new… and that will stay until we feel the same thing again and switch back.  So while both parties are trying to reorganize and restructure themselves, maybe they also need to take a good hard look at the politics of today.  They simply aren’t the same anymore… the voting public has changed and it’s an entirely new ballgame out there.  With technology and information at our fingertips, anyone can find out the true facts on anything if we do our own research instead of believing all the BS that is put out there.   Only time will tell how both of these parties will react to this new wave of Independent voters, and the only death-knell that will come to either of these parties will be if they cannot adapt.

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