]]>COUNTRY'S LIBERAL SHIFT
ANALYSIS & OPINION BY RUSS STEWART
Should the Republican Party become part of TARP – the federal Troubled Asset Recovery Program? As of now, being a Republican is a liability, not an asset.
In Illinois, where corruption is epidemic and a major income tax hike is imminent, Republicans are as yet unable to exploit and capitalize on the sordid situation. Democrats control all the levers of state, Cook County and Chicago government. A recent Rasmussen poll indicated that 64 percent of respondents blamed "politicians" in general for "corruption," but none specifically. There may be a developing anti-incumbent trend, but not necessarily an anti-Democratic trend – and definitely not a pro-Republican trend.
"Change we need" was Barack Obama's national mantra in 2008. That may materialize in Illinois in 2010, but won't benefit Republicans. Here's why:
First, in the past year, America has lurched significantly to the left. Over the past three centuries, since monarchies faded, it is accurate to say that, ideologically, the liberal philosophy has grown increasingly more liberal, and the conservatives' increasingly less conservative. There is a constant ebb and flow: A decade or more of liberalism, meaning an expansion of governmental power, countered by a couple of decades of conservative retrenchment, and then another liberal spurt, and more government growth. There is never a rollback to a previous era.
America has always been a center-right country, more pronounced since Ronald Reagan's election in 1980: it's been basically conservative, capitalistic, and encouraging of entrepreneurs and wealth accumulation. No longer. Like much of Europe, America is now a center-left country, and government is viewed as the "solution," the so-called "safety net," and not the "problem" articulated by the Reagan Republicans.
Second, the recent economic collapse has precipitated the evaporation of trillions of dollars of personal and institutional wealth, in investments and in real estate. Baby-boomers and others, who have spent thirty or forty years accumulating a nest egg of a million dollars or more to support them in retirement, have seen that effort come to naught. IRA's and 401(k)'s have lost half their value; real estate values have plummeted by a third or more; houses can't be sold. There is economic stagnation and personal paralysis.
No amount of immediate effort can recover that lost wealth. The "greed is good" philosophy that motivated entrepreneurs is now inoperative.
Of course, the housing market may recover within the next five or six years, and the stock market may reach 2007 levels again by 2012 or 2013. But, in the interim, the prevailing philosophy is "government is good." Government subsidies and payouts, be they bailouts to employers or banks, extended unemployment, or social security, are the new "wealth." The enduring Republican philosophy of less government has no current relevance.
Third, social issues don't matter. In tough economic times, voters care only about Number One, and their family. Abortion, gay rights, gay marriage, gun control, or who sits on the Supreme Court are irrelevant matters.
Fourth, Republicans took a calculated risk in opposing President Obama's recovery program, which includes a $3.5 trillion budget, $210 billion in tax hikes over the next decade, a $1.2 trillion deficit in 2010, bailouts of banks and auto manufacturers, and the $787 billion "economic stimulus package." Obama ran for president to restore peace, but now he is compelled to restore prosperity. Yet the debate is not about how much is being spent, but instead about how soon it will be spent.
Quite simply, the Republicans' success depends on Obama's failure. Gas prices, mortgage foreclosures and unemployment (8.9 percent) are up. But there are inklings that the worst is over: Jobless claims are declining; job losses – 5.7 million since December 2007 – were 539,000 in April, less than March's 699,000; the "bear" market seems to have bottomed out at 8,400, and is actually up during 2009; consumer spending has spurted, but not by much.
Economically, the Republicans are in a no-win position. If the economy continues to tank, the majority of voters will demand further bailouts and spending, not less. What can Republicans propose? Do less? Do nothing? If the economy rebounds, Obama will get the credit, and Republicans will be dismissed as opportunistic and stupid.
Fifth, Obama's administration is perceived as being "centrist," not excessively liberal, because the country has moved leftward. Obama has not solved the Afghanistan and Iraq situations, and supported additional war funding; he did loosen stem cell research funding restrictions and proposed a mammoth, expensive health care expansion. On the environment, he asked for $42 billion in energy-renewable projects. Obama's upcoming U.S. Supreme Court pick, if not an ardent abortion supporter, could infuriate that faction.
In some liberal circles, Obama's Administration is already being castigated as the "New Republicans," due to his lack of stridency on certain issues. They want to fight "global warming"; get out of Iraq and Afghanistan now. By 2012, the most vituperative Obama criticism may be coming from the left. And that, just possibly, could portend a serious political realignment.
Congressional Democrats are more liberal than Obama. The "Green Party" has been attracting support for a decade. If Republicans lack a coherent message, then future political campaigns may revolve around those advocating spending-and-taxing more and those seeking spending-and-taxing much more. Obama's stance will be the conservative stance. A leftist third party could soon emerge.
And sixth, me-too Republicanism may be resurgent. The country lurched to the left after Franklin Roosevelt (D) demolished Herbert Hoover (R) in 1932, with voters blaming Republicans for the Great Depression. Laissez faire, unregulated capitalism was thereafter harnessed by a plethora of federal regulative agencies, none of which has ever been abolished. For the next 40 years, until Barry Goldwater's ascent in 1964, the Republicans were the "me-too" party – proclaiming support for Roosevelt's New Deal government expansion, but promising to manage it better and more economically. They did not have the temerity to promise to abolish it.
The current congressional Republican leadership is not much different from their anti-government predecessors in the 1930s. In four Depression-era elections –1930, 1932, 1934 and 1936 — Republicans lost 170 U.S. House seats and 35 U.S. Senate seats, reducing their number to an irrelevant 17 senators and 89 representatives in 1937. Since 2004, Republicans have lost 54 House seats and 15 senate seats.
How much lower can they go? Republicans view 2010 as another 1994, when they picked up 53 House and eight Senate seats on a wave of anti-Clinton revulsion. But if voters continue to blame Bush for the recession/depression, then it could be a replication of 1934, when still-angry anti-Hoover voters ousted 12 Republican senators and nine congressmen, even while a Democrat was in the White House.
Normally, in mid-term, disgruntled voters opt for the opposition, so as to rein in the excesses of the incumbent president. But that is not the developing situation. There is no perception of Obama "excesses" or stupidity. Democrats could gain seats in 2010.
Which brings us to Illinois: A Democratic governor has been impeached, and exposed as chronically corrupt. An appointed Democratic senator is accused of perjury. The Democratic Cook County board president is a dunce. The county board wants to cut the sales tax by one cent, which Todd Stroger has pledged to veto.
New Governor Pat Quinn wants to increase the state's income tax to 4.5 percent on individuals, hike employee pension contributions, triple the $2,000 personal exemption – and fund a $9 billion capital construction plan, while enacting ethics' reform. At present, the state's budgetary shortfall could be as high as $12.4 billion for fiscal 2010-2011.
Where is the hue and cry? Why aren't voters enraged? Perhaps they see the taxes coming from somebody else, not them.
The 2010 Republican statewide field contains some credible names, but none are awe-inspiring: U.S. Representative Mark Kirk (R-10), state Senators Bill Brady and Matt Murphy, DuPage County board chairman Bob Shillerstrom and state's attorney Joe Birkett, or businessman Ron Gidwitz.. Their first problem is positioning: Do they run as "reformers," hammering corruption? Do they run against "higher taxes," aware that those taxes are necessary to pay the state's bills?
Their second problem is party label. Do voters really care about checks-and-balances? And if Stroger, or Roland Burris, or Quinn is ousted in a Democratic primary, then why vote for a Republican? There are just too many habitual Democrats in Illinois.
In the 2006 election, the Green Party got 10.4 percent of the vote for governor. That could balloon to 20 percent in 2010. And if the Republican vote, despite all the Democratic corruption, sinks to under 40 percent, and Democrats sweep every office, it will be the beginning of the end of the Republican party in Illinois.
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at wwwe.russstewart.com.
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