Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Pendulum of the Political Spectrum

Looking at the last 100 years, there's a distinct pattern of alternation between liberal and conservative presidents. A conservative (one who favors short term greed) gains power, drives the country south, and is replaced after sufficient voter dissatisfaction with a liberal (who favors long term greed), who then improves things modestly until all is forgotten and the right-wing returns. Overlaid on that pattern is the degree to which vibrant social movements are extant and force the government to enact reforms.

Recent indications are that we may be at the beginning of a swing back to the liberal side. See for instance [Susan Page, "Most consider lobbying scandal a big deal, poll shows," USA TODAY, 1/9/2006].

A USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll taken Friday through Sunday points to a risky year for congressional incumbents. Views of whether most members of Congress and the respondents' own representatives deserve re-election have sunk to levels not seen since 1994, when Democrats lost control of both houses.

...some incumbents gained friendlier districts when congressional lines were redrawn after the 2000 Census.

"I wouldn't foresee the tidal wave of '94 repeating itself — the system's incumbents are entrenched enough to avoid that," says Dennis Thompson, founder of Harvard's Center for Ethics and the Professions.

By 50% to 40%, those surveyed say the policies proposed by Republican leaders in Congress would move the country in the wrong direction. That's by far the worst showing since Republicans took control more than a decade ago.

Attitudes toward Democrats are better, but not much. Respondents were divided, 44% to 43%, when asked if the policies proposed by Democratic leaders would move in the right direction.

For the first time since 1994, a plurality of Americans say most members of Congress don't deserve re-election. Forty-two percent say most members do deserve re-election — the same as in the first survey taken in 1994.

The stability of the U.S. system arises partially from the remarkable difficulty of unseating incumbant congressmembers, a feature enhanced by the cynical use of redistricting. There is much lamenting of the Democratic Party's lack of any compelling goals or vision. But this is hardly surprising - it's been true for the last 40 years. Its main function is to enact reforms to preserve the stability of the system, something that hasn't been necessary since LBJ's Civil Rights legislation and FDR's New Deal. When Democrats have won, they have done so on the basis of nonsense intended to distract people (Kennedy's image, Jimmy Carter's honesty and human rights, Bill Clinton's image and health care plan [scrapped as unrealistic once he achieved power] and, in the second election, v-chips in televisions and computers in schools and so forth).

Also notable is the generally approving attitude of most adults towards Congress, only broken during spikes of discontent like now. Liberal capitalism has achieved remarkable ideological hegemony that prevents people from supposing anything better is possible.


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