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Monday, September 08, 2008

The 2008 Election moves into Familiar Territory


If you ever fired an M-16 you can see that Governor Palin seems to know what shes doing by the picture alone. See her leading arm flexed and tight pulling the weapon into her shoulder and her right arm relaxed on the trigger. This is not just a poise for the photographers, the woman knows how to shoot. Her history verifies this.

Governor Palin's authenicity on this and other issues is the mark of someone who has had a real life outside of politics. Senator McCain similarly has had an heroic life before politics.

Our forefathers envisioned that our political leaders would be citizens first and politicians second. James Madison assumed that Representatives would be "called for the most part from pursuits of a private nature and continued in appointment for a short period of office." David Walker, Comptroller General (head of GAO), observed correctly in a speech in 2006:

          ...the founders didn't believe in full-time politicians.
After all, our first elected officials were citizen legislators who
viewed elected office as a form of public service rather than a
professional job or career. Most of them earned a living as farmers or
businessmen. Today, many elected officials consider themselves
"professional politicians," a concept that most of our founders and a
number of Americans today would consider to be an "oxymoron."
As the election now enters the serious period where voters made the final decision, the 2008 campaign may mark a bold return to the anti-careerist theme of our founders. Both Barrack Obama and Joe Biden are professional politicians who have done almost nothing else in their lives. Obama's community organizing days with ACORN are now exposed as political activities for a radical organization in the main stream news mainly for its felonies. [Googel ACORN and felony!]. Professional politicians look for a issue or a byline that attracts voters, having already made a commitment to seek office they look for plausible justifications. Ted Kennedy likely never became President because in 1980 he could not answer an interviewer's question of why he wanted to be President. Often we see political themes developed soley for media impact, i.e. "hope" and "change" in the Obama campaign will go down as classic buzzwords devoid of content that allowed disaffected voters a chance to identify early-on with a campaign to elect an virtual unknown, until he was exposed as a very traditional liberal.

The "change" that most people want in 2008 is lower taxes, lower energy prices, and more economic growth. All of this being done in a country that can protect us and our allies around the world against new threats to our security. The feeling that politicians betrayed us is no where larger than in the Republican Party, where conservatives have been alienated by the big spending ways of the party that got into office on a smaller government theme. The Gingrich revolution of 1994 turned into the complacency of the last eight years. Republicans tolerated more spending to buy votes (the old Democratic formula) and were blind to abuses of their peers, not wanting to rock the boat. In 2008, it was impossible to find an establishment Republican that could draw voters to the ticket. The establishment had been discredited.

But simultaneous with this development, the underlying politics of the United States had not changed all that much. Self-identified conservatives still out-number self-identified liberals by two to one. All major polling groups verifiy this condition. TheDemocratic candidats themselves also implicitly acknowdge it when they refused to be labelled as a "liberal," knowing that it is a the kiss of death in an election. Now they use the code word "progressive" to try to signal to their base that they are okay and attempt to hide from other voters.

So two facts existed for Republicans in 2008. They needed to run as anti-establishment and they needed to mobilize the "base" - not just in the party, but among voters who identified more with conservative themes and rejected traditional American big government liberalism. It is clear - especially with hindsight - that Sarah Palin's selection on the ticket fit these two themes perfectly. The campaign for Republicans has bee revitalized by drawing on the basic strengths of Republicans, tapping the right-of-center nature of the electorate and runing against government as usual. In many ways, this is a return to the politics of Ronald Reagan, which were founded on the premise that politial leaders were temporary custodians of power facing a permanent government structure that needed reorganization to protect the rights of the public.

When I met one of the McCain campaign principals in the spring, I argued that we should not be so despondent about the election, that we only needed to reorient it to the left-right axis to make it competitive. That was not the prevalent theme of the McCain campaign at the time, when most talk was about how to get independents on board. The fundamental fact is that Republicans win when they remain true to the small government/strong defense/economic growth/good government formula. Democrats win when they obscure their liberalism for the Bill Clinton "third way" for example or the Obama "change" theme.

The outcome this year is still uncertain. But the return to the conservative ideals and government reform themes of our Reagan roots has created an opportunity for victory where none existed before. That victory will be won if we successfully align the election on the classic left/right axis and do not let "progressives" get by with voters as anything but the old "liberals" with the same agenda. We are winning the debate on national security and the need for a strong America in a hostile world. Our candidate was right on Iraq when most others were wrong (including Bush and Rumsfeld trying to win "on the cheap"). With the strongest economy in the G-7 and the highest recent GDP growth in the G-7, we are faring better than most to the spike in energy prices. And more importantly, it should be made clear that our biggest economic woe is energy prices and that the solution is "all of the above" not the liberal's knee jerk ideological answers.

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