Loser Takes All

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The "off-off-year" elections went about as well as one could expect: The American people essentially rejected both of last year's presidential candidates. Glenn Reynolds offers what I think is a pretty good overall integration of how voters probably weighed local concerns and discontent with a far-left Congress and Obama Administration:

All politics is local, they say, and Tuesday's off-off-year elections certainly had their local angles. Jon Corzine has been a terrible governor even by the undemanding standards of terribly governed New Jersey. Creigh Deeds, though he looked good to Democratic Party recruiters not long ago, turned out to be an undistinguished campaigner, more driven by the concerns of Washington Post editorialists than of Virginia voters. And NY-23 Republican nomineee Dede Scozzafava was a bizarre choice, bizarre enough to inspire a seemingly quixotic third-party run by Doug Hoffman.
Reynolds rightly notes later that, "[I]f [Obama] were the political marvel he was thought to be, these races wouldn't have been contests, but walkovers. So one consequence of this Election Day is the end of his special political magic." Reynolds sees Obama's problem as part-agenda and part-competence.

Maybe so, but I find myself both dubious and ambivalent about the latter. First, Obama's agenda, being demonstrably bad for America, will masquerade somewhat as incompetence to the extent that he can enact it. This will both magnify the problem he has with inexperience (that Reynolds notes) and make it too easy to excuse his actual policy failures: I shudder to imagine a future Democrat President reintroducing the Obama agenda and, thanks to this perception of ineptitude, getting away with an assertion like, "Obama was incompetent. Socialism will work this time." Second, to the extent that Obama really is incompetent, I find this mostly a relief since he spends much more time trying to re-shape America than doing his actual job, anyway.

Reynolds' short-term prognosis is that there isn't any longer any steam behind the locomotive of that train Obama keeps trying to herd us all onto: "It'll be politics as usual from now on, and we can thank Obama, at least, for making politics-as-usual seem not so bad after all ..." I hope he's right in the short term, but wrong in the long term. Politics-as-usual hasn't looked so good in a long time, but since "politics-as-usual" means a mixed economy, and mixed economies trend towards dictatorship, America is going to have to reject "politics-as-usual" sooner or later.

Fortunately, NY-23, where Bill Owens became the first Democrat to win in over a century yesterday, offers some hope that Americans are waking up to this idea. Recall that Newt Gingrich lost his argument that the Republicans should run as "Democrats Lite," to Sarah Palin when many Republicans started backing the Conservative Party candidate in that election.

It would appear, though, based on the huge Republican margin in that district reflected in the seven previous elections, that Sarah Palin also lost her (Reaganesque) argument -- that a little bit of theocracy is okay with the American voter -- last night. Doug Hoffman mixes a small government economic outlook -- which should have been a sure winner -- with a very socially-conservative one that I, for one, find completely unacceptable. Eric Scheie expresses similar "misgivings" on Hoffman and adds:
Perhaps the voters had had it with all the national hype, and finally decided they'd rather just vote for a Democrat who said he was a Democrat rather than be dragged against their will into a much-hyped "referendum" on a "bloody Republican civil war" they never asked to fight.
That kind of exhaustion, too, should tell the Republicans something: Just because Americans don't want the government's hands in their wallets doesn't mean they do want to let the government back into their bedrooms. Or, as one blogger memorably put it, "Your rights end where my pockets begin."

I think Scheie is premature to ask whether this was, as his post title put it, a possible "victory for laissez-faire," but that (or at least progress towards it) is what was missing from the ballot. It will be a long time before Americans have that option, but the time for "moral suasion" as our nation's first anti-slavery movement called it, does appear to be ripe for advocates of individual rights. (Ayn Rand called this "intellectual activism.")

Yes, it is good news that this election possibly represents a big loss of momentum for the Democrats, but that last is even better news. In terms of the ballot choices, there was no way for Americans to win politically last night. So we did the next best thing: we stalled for time instead.

-- CAV


madmax said...


Here is the way some hard core Christian Conservatives are reading the Hoffman loss:


If you read the comment by Tim W. at the end and then the follow up by Auster, you will see that the Conservatives are drawing the conclusion that they need to be *more* "traditionalist" ie religious and theocratic. They point out the same-sex marriage has been a big loser politically and this shows that the country is more open to "traditionalism" (read that as theocracy).

Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks for pointing that out.

I thought about discussing the defeat of gay marriage, but was already running late, so I left it out.

Very briefly, my take on that is that the gay marriage issue is harmed by the "in your face" approach of the left (and, in some quarters, also by its affiliation with same). That is, many (if not most) people are tolerant of homosexuality and have a "live and let live" attitude, but are put off by many of the people actively campaigning for gay marriage.

Mo said...

I think rand had an excellent quote to this effect. something about matters that should be left private rather than public.

Mike said...

Gus: "That is, many (if not most) people are tolerant of homosexuality and have a "live and let live" attitude, but are put off by many of the people actively campaigning for gay marriage."

Reminds me of a classic Onion article. The pictures are probably safe for work, but hoo-boy!, they sure seem like they shouldn't be.

Gus Van Horn said...


I am not sure what you mean by your comment, but I am guessing it is about gay marriage and is about the "in your face" attitude I mentioned earlier.

If so, I can see it, but only up to a point: There is no objective reason to deny committed gay couples the right to marry. Thus, the cause is legitimate and has to be fought for.

To be clear: You can't object THAT someone brings up gay marriage (How else can one advocate changing the law?); only sometimes in the way he goes about it.

I'm not accusing you of slamming advocacy of gay marriage, but merely pointing out since it would be easy to take you the wrong way.

That said, I vaguely remember a quote along those lines. Too bad my Ayn Rand research CD lacks Boolean search...


Your link goes is broken. Try running the URL for the Onion article through tinyurl.com and simply posting the very short link so folks can cut-and-paste.


Mike said...

"Your link goes is broken."

Argh. Rats. Here it is:


Hope that works.

Mo said...

oh I am not objecting to gay couples having the right to marriage. It is a legitimate point no doubt about it and they should get that right just like other couples do. The quote by rand just sprung up in my mind as soon as you mentioned the "in-your-face" attitude.

But Max raises a very interesting point. It seems that gay marriage even in progressive states like Maine got rejected and now conservatives are harping about liberals imposing "their values" on "our" state.

Gus Van Horn said...


I remember that one now. I agree: It's a classic!


I think that what you're seeing in the situation madmax brings up is yet another manifestation of a confusion (deliberate in some cases) between Christian altruism and decency.