Will There Be a Realignment?

Mon, 03 Nov 2008 12:22:38 +0000

I'd like to pick up on Stan's two great posts from this weekend. It is election eve, and all the buzz this week will be about what it all means. In particular, if the polls should hold up and Senator Obama should win, does it mean that the country has aligned itself with the Democrats, who will control the White House, Senate, and House, with any degree of permanence?

The answer is "yes," from my perspective, only if President Obama is nearly flawless in his first two years. If he is, that means he will have overseen successful resolutions of the war in Iraq, the current financial meltdown, the coming recession, and enormous budget deficits. He will also have shown some progress on his health care reform and moves to curb greenhouse gas emissions. That he inherits all of these challenges is not going to matter much to the American electorate in two years.

This is particularly true in the swing districts in the House and a few of the contested states in the Senate where the Democratic gains came in 2006 and will come in 2008. The American voters' political memory is short, and their ability to run the counterfactual is not very precise. If we are a mess leading up to the midterm elections in 2010, the Democrats will lose what they gained in the prior 4 years. With weaker majorities (particularly in the Senate), the Democrats will be in a much tougher position in the last two years of an Obama administration than the first, and the ascendant Republicans will already be fielding challengers for 2012. That some of the crises noted above may attenuate on their own in the interim will help, but it will be small consolation.

The realignment will come with policy success, not political victory. In general, this is as it should be, though I think the bar will be set very high for President Obama, perhaps unrealistically high. Even though I am not planning to vote for Senator Obama (more about this tomorrow), I'll be hoping he succeeds in meeting these policy challenges if he is President and will do whatever I can to help. This is not because I care about the Democrats and their grip on power, but because I'd like to see the country resolve these policy challenges and emerge a better place for its citizens.