Commentary Magazine


Contentions

The New Political Division

Peter writes,

This Social Security gambit, which will fail politically (as has so much of what Obama and his aides have tried), is simply more evidence that the core premise of the Obama campaign — that he would transcend the usual divisions in American politics, that he would elevate our discourse and reach across the aisle in an unprecedented way, and that he would act reasonably and responsibly in facing America’s challenges — was a mirage. It was an effective optical illusion, but it was, in fact, an optical illusion. And every week, it seems, it is being revealed as such.

I certainly agree that the gambit will fail. And one of the main reasons Obama has and will fail “to transcend the usual divisions in American politics,” is, I think, that the usual divisions aren’t there this election cycle. They may never be there again.

John Fund had a fascinating article in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal about the pollster Scott Rasmussen. The White House was stunned by Scott Brown’s Senate victory in Massachusetts last winter. Rasmussen, he writes, thinks a principal reason,

lies in a significant division among the American public that he has tracked for the past few years — a division between what he calls the Mainstream Public and the Political Class. …

Before the financial crisis of late 2008, about a tenth of Americans fell into the political class, while some 53% were classified as in the mainstream public. The rest fell somewhere in the middle. Now the percentage of people identifying with the political class has clearly declined into single digits, while those in the mainstream public have grown slightly. A majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents all agree with the mainstream view . … “The major division in this country is no longer between parties but between political elites and the people,” Mr. Rasmussen says.

Timothy Carney in the Washington Examiner writes that,

The current GOP fault line is not exactly conservatives vs. moderates or new guard vs. old guard. For 2010, the rivalry is the Tea Party wing against the K Street wing. To tell which kind of Republican a candidate is, see how the Democrats attack him: If  he’s branded a shill for Wall Street, he’s from the K Street wing. If he’s labeled an extremist outside the mainstream, he’s a Tea Partier.

More tellingly, study their campaign contributions. K Street Republicans’ coffers are filled by the political action committees of defense contractors, drug companies, lobbying firms, and Wall Street banks. A Tea Party Republican is funded by the Club for Growth or the Senate Conservatives Fund, which is run by the Republican leadership’s least-favorite colleague, Jim DeMint.

The K Street wing is business as usual, whereas the tea parties represent the new politics that has, for thirty years and more, been slouching towards Washington to be born. The election of Chris Christie, Scott Brown, and Bob McDonnell is a sign of the growing power of tea-party politics. The SEC suit against New Jersey is a sign that the old rules are changing, as is the spate of news stories about the power of public-employee unions and their excessive compensation that is bankrupting states.

Politicians, like generals, prefer to fight the last war. The politicians who have figured out that the election of 2010 is being fought along new lines will still have jobs after November 2nd. But the Democrats under Obama have a big problem. They are the party of the political elite and big government. They can’t remake themselves in two months. That’s why they are in such terrible trouble.