Felicia Muftic – It’s the middle, stupid
November 8, 2009
I have been listening to the pundits struggle to find lessons in last Tuesday’s vote.
Republicans won two gubernatorial races, New Jersey and Virginia. A Democrat won an upstate New York congressional seat in a district that went Republican for the past 100 years. Local issues like property tax, corruption, and outside carpet bagging from tea party folks added to confusion in analyzing the impact of President Obama’s coat tails, economic woes, and other national issues.
What struck me was that all three races did have something in common: The independents made the difference and those independents were the moderate middle.
Both winning candidates for governor positioned themselves as problem solvers and pragmatists, not as ideologues, in spite of their very conservative credentials. They focused on issues concerning jobs and the economy. In upstate New York, the radical tea party right ran a conservative candidate who succeeded in knocking out a moderate Republican. Enough moderates, who resented the carpet bagging Conservative and the hard core social and economic ideology he represented, voted Democrat and the Democrat won. In New Jersey, an independent in the race found his votes swinging Republican at the last moment, accounting for the Republican’s 5 percent margin of victory.
I am sometimes inspired by Murphy’s Law (“what can go wrong will go wrong”) so I have devised my own list of laws of politics based on last Tuesday’s elections.
Law 1: Whatever the issues, whenever a third party enters the race, the independents determine the outcome. This was true of both the New Jersey and New York races.
Law 2: Independents are not ideologically loyal. Obama had carried the independents in New Jersey and Virginia in 2008. In New York state, given the registered voter data, some Republicans appeared to have voted Democratic.
Law 3: Independents are pragmatists. Independents vote for the candidate who will fix what hurts them. This is a switch from the independents of yore who emerged after World War II with optimism about the future. My independent minded parents used to say: We vote for the person, not for the party. Fear and pessimism have replaced optimism lately: Now we vote for the person we think will fix what hurts or scares us.
The pragmatists dominate our current political climate in spite of the shrillness of talk show radicals. The Obama win in 2008 was an expression of belief that he represented hope he would fix pain felt by a majority of voters … ranging from getting us out of an unpopular war, to the stock market crash, to health care, to job loss ( then a rust belt issue). The danger for Obama is that he may not be able to deliver on the hopes that were raised by 2012. Defeat at the polls is the price a pragmatist pays for failure.
Law 4: What independents see as the source of their pain can change at warp speed. The Wall Street crash, its unbridled greed and bailouts were not even on tongue tips before September 2008. The unemployment problem grew from a regional concern to a national one by inauguration date. Health care dominated the presidential primary and general election debates ahead of worries about the economy and getting out of Iraq was the other hot potato.
Law 5: Today’s solutions may not address tomorrow’s problems. You just cannot assume the same lesson will apply in two or four years from now. See Law 4. It is like building a house on a foundation of sand. It looks great today, but tomorrow, the sands may shift. To appeal to independents, proposed solutions have got to address the problem of the day that concerns them.
When the gross domestic product grows again as it did last quarter, jobs are usually created about six to nine months later. The mood of the voters could be different a year from now if the economy follows economists’ predictions about the timing of recovery. So far, the economists have been generally correct. The stimulus and bailout issues will then be old hat.
If health care reform gets through Congress before the mid-term campaign season begins this January, the issue will no longer be on the front burner. Most people will see no tax increases and most will still have their employer based insurance. Medicare benefits will not have been affected. The uninsured, small business employees, and consumers will see some improvements more quickly, though.
Regarding Afghanistan, it is likely the path to reaching any goal might not be clear at all. Obama must show some hope of success here or face grief from independents who are neither dedicated doves nor hawks.
Call the independents “the middle,” or ” pragmatists,” the message to ideologues is the same: Ignore them at your peril.
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