Armchair Analyst: Republicans Could be Better Off Voting Democrat

DISCLAIMER: This is merely an exercise of thought, not necessarily a practical suggestion!!!

Bush is getting more and more flack from conservatives over his embrace of social welfare and excessive government spending. A Cato report last week commented:

The administration should be supporting conservatives in Congress who actually want to get federal spending under control. Yet Bush wants to show that he is “compassionate” with his conservatism. But big-time social spending sure isn’t compassionate to federal taxpayers.

With deficit spending on the rise, several conservative congressmen have noted, rightly, that if they were the minority, they would never let the Democrats get away with the kind of irresponsible spending that the GOP is now tolerating. Furthermore, if we look at Bush’s record of accomplishment, it appears instantly un-conservative: Farm subsidies, steel tariffs, record level pork, campaign finance reform, a voucher-less education bill….etc.

Angry partisans are wont to blame this on Bush’s “compassion”, his lack of fortitude in the face of political pressure. Yet, this appraisal assumes the President to have an unrealistic amount of power. The power of political gridlock is far greater than any president’s intestinal track when it comes to policy. The President’s compromises are in many ways merely survival tactics required by this political circumstance.

What do I mean by gridlock? Don’t the Republicans control both houses of congress? Well, sort of, in a formal but often superficial way. The GOP has power only in what agenda goes to the floor. The real power is in a little thing called thefilibuster. Effectively it takes 60 votes in the Senate to pass any particular bill, which means Bush has to get nine democrats to defect each time his goes to the hill. This is a daunting task, especially on controversial issues.

Gridlock in the government can sometimes be overcome by extraordinary popularity. For instance, Reagan was able to control a democratic senate when he took office because of his convincing victory over Jimmy Carter. Bush has enjoyed this sort of popularity in the realm of foreign affairs, but it has never quite developed into support for his domestic agenda.

This gridlocked situation in congress and in the electorate is unlikely to changein 2004 even with a Bush victory. A nine seat pick up in the senate is an overly optimistic forecast. Bush’s coattails would have to be enormous. So even in the event of a Bush win in 2004, conservatives have little to look forward too but more compromised policy and less conservative reforms.

Yet, all is not lost. Ironically, if voting for Bush won’t translate into policy gains for conservatives, voting for a democrat just might do the trick. In a surreal facet of the American system in some circumstances it’s actually better to be the minority party. A Democrat president would have to bow to a Republican congress. Health care and education packages would have to contain key cost reduction and privatization measures. Tax hikes would be impossible, as would deficit spending and gun control. Consider that it took a democrat, Bill Clinton, to pass welfare reform and NAFTA and balance the budget.

While it offends our deepest sensibilities, rationally speaking, we might consider voting for a Democrat in 2004. Gridlock politics can reverse the power distribution in Washington giving a strong minority, or a party “out of power”, a leg up on the major national issues. Put simply, it's better to be the party compromised to, than the one doing the compromising. In this context, seeking the best power position for our party’s ideals might lead to an unorthodox commitment to losing.

There are all sorts of interesting caveats to this suggestion. For instance, foreign policy escapes this power dynamic because of its relative independence from the legislature. Thus, we would have ot be sure to vote for a good foreign policy Dem, like Joe Biden or Joe Lieberman, and not Howard Dean. Otherwise conservatives would risk safety for the sake of their domestic agenda.

Whether or not you follow my suggestion is irrelevant. It’s just an interesting exercise in political reasoning that leads us to question the fundamentals about our voting behavior. Do we always vote in our best interests? Do we vote the party, even when it isn’t in our interest? Why do vote for anyone anyway? Do we seriouslt expect to see policy in return? Or is it just the principle of the matter? These questions should run through our minds more than once as the elections approach. And if you do decide that it is in your interest to vote Democrat, then you might just have to start paying a little more attention to those pesky primaries … and all their left-wing glory.

(If you enjoyed this read the Armchair Analyst)

Posted by Mike Van Winkle at August 5, 2003 4:57 PM