Thursday, November 05, 2009

Vainly Trying to Fill the Leadership Vacuum

“What was learned Tuesday is that the American voter is absolutely, totally, unremittingly disgusted with both political parties. More than anything, the American voter is desperate for political leadership.” —Daniel Henninger

Studies suggesting that independent voters are essentially Republicans or Democrats that feign non-affiliation may need to be retooled when the 2008 and 2009 back-to-back elections are considered. While Democrats undeniably won the day in 2008, the 2009 elections look like a feather in the cap of Republicans.

The GOP win on Tuesday cannot be chalked up to voters suddenly falling in love with Republicans, says the WSJ’s Daniel Henninger in this column. Both the 2008 and 2009 elections, he claims, demonstrate an extreme hunger for real leadership on issues that really matter.

Noting that this rapid thrashing from party to party is way outside the realm of normal political events, Henninger likens today’s growing herd of independent voters to a cattle stampede.
“Independent voters across the U.S. have become like the massive cattle herd John Wayne drove from Texas to Kansas in "Red River." These voters are spooked and on the run, a political stampede that veered left in November 2008 and now right a mere year later. They will keep running—crushing incumbents, candidates and political models of the left and right—through November 2010 and onto 2012 until they find a person or party capable of leadership appropriate to our unsettled times. And yes, Virginia, the possibility of a man on a white horse in 2012 is not out of the question.”
The way Henninger tells it, John McCain flushed his chances of winning last year when he “suspended” his campaign to rush back to Washington to tackle the fresh financial crisis. Henninger writes:
“Within 48 hours, his candidacy stood naked. Mr. McCain's instincts were right; The American people wanted leadership. But he didn't have a clue how to provide it. The restless herd ran toward Barack Obama.”
President Obama and the Democratic establishment thought that they had been elected with a mandate for implementing their progressive plans. The mandate was actually smaller than they imagined. But the entire landscape of priorities shifted dramatically in the minds of average Americans between Election Day and Inauguration Day.

By the time the President took office, some of his top campaign issues had dropped dramatically in importance for most Americans. They want the economy fixed. They want jobs. They want America’s pre-eminence in the world restored. Reeling with sticker shock from the mind boggling deficit, they want some semblance of fiscal responsibility brought back to government.

Barging ahead with cherished programs such as health care reform and Cap’N Trade looks an awful lot like a pack of politicians with such a political tin ear that they care nothing for Americans’ immediate concerns. This is not the kind of leadership Americans want right now.

Although Republicans were able to make hay of this on Tuesday, Henninger derides the apparent GOP strategy of letting “Democratic failure dump states like New Jersey and Virginia into their control.” He believes that “most voters, no matter their party registration, know that in the past 12 months the stakes for them have suddenly become larger than political "control."”

Henninger forecasts, “Unless leadership emerges equal to the new world voters see they have fallen into, volatility in America's election returns is going to be the norm for a long time.”

Some may see this kind of thrashing as the evidence of vibrancy in a free society, much as Thomas Jefferson initially viewed the French Revolution. It seems, however, that such circumstances lend themselves well to exploitation by a strong man ruler that appears (or makes himself to appear) as a savior on a white horse. Alas, throughout history, such political saviors inevitably act the role of the despot rather than the role of the fictional John Galt.


rmwarnick said...

Or.. you just could say that on Tuesday progressive candidates (Bill Owens and John Garamendi) won and non-progressives lost.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Owens barely squeaked by a pretty lousy third party candidate, winning with less than half the vote. And Garamendi was in a safe Democratic district. These races mean little when compared with the state-wide offices that pretty much went the other way.

While it's optimistic to take the glass-half-full view, wearing rose colored glasses does not change reality.

By the way, I'm currently quite comfortable with the despise-both-parties viewpoint.

Charles D said...

I have to agree with a lot of what you say, perhaps most of it. But of course agreement makes for poor discussion, so I'll tell you where I disagree.

I don't believe that Obama ever had a progressive agenda. He made various statements during the campaign designed to give that impression to the Democratic base but always with enough caveats and wiggle room to avoid commitment. Once elected, Obama gathered around him advisors committed to the status quo - that is, opposed to any change one could believe in. The list is long: Rahm Emanuel, Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, Hillary Clinton, etc.

When it came to those progressive agenda items he could not avoid such as health care and the environment, rather than taking the leadership role and setting forth an agenda, he deferred to the Congress, a completely dysfunctional institution, letting them create legislation with the considerable input of lobbyists (Remember change the way Washington works? Well, not so much.) for the very industries that were causing the problems.

What I think voters are now realizing is that our government is no longer able to function - at least at the national level. Regardless of the party in power, the government will serve the interests of large corporations, large banks and investment houses (now inseparable unfortunately), and the military establishment. Each party gives lip service to those issues their consultants tell them are important to get votes, but they aren't really going to do anything about them.

Democrats in Virginia and New Jersey stayed home. They simply didn't see the point. They worked hard to elect Mr. Hope N. Change and now they know there's no hope of any change from him. Fool me once, shame on you, etc.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Thanks for your interesting perspective.