Saturday, September 13, 2008

Party Pooper: End of Partisan Politics?

Professor Alan Brinkley describes the decline of partisan politics and the rise of the independent voter. Brinkley presents both anecdotal and history evidence of millions of American voters abandoning the Republican and Democrat parties, and what he calls "the birth of a post-partisan world." Brinkley, writing in the Wall Street Journal, is the Allan Nevins professor of history and the provost at Columbia University, and after reading his Sept. 6th article you'll probably wish you could have had him as a professor. I offer that with a caveat, however, which I will explain at the end of this post. (Hint: Brinkley is an academic...) "Rarely has this post-partisan world," writes Brinkley, "been more visible than in the campaign of 2008. Sen. Obama has few ties to any party leaders or organizations and nevertheless edged out one of the most famous, well-connected and well-funded candidates of recent decades. For a time, at least, many supporters of Hillary Clinton appeared likely to vote for Sen. McCain." Actually, a significant number of Hillary supporters may still vote for McCain-Palin, a Sept. 9 poll shows the McCain ticket surging ahead of of Obama's with white female voters. "An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll..." writes Deborah Charles at Reuters, "showed ... [that] Before the Democratic National Convention in late August, Obama held an 8-point lead among white women voters, 50 percent to 42 percent, according to the Washington Post/ABC News poll. After the Republican convention in early September, McCain was ahead by 12 points among white women, 53 percent to 41 percent, that survey found. "In the Republican race," continues Brinkley, "the nominee is a man who has spent much of his career as a self-proclaimed maverick, crossing party lines on many issues. In 2004, he was so faintly identified with the Republican party that he was even considered as a possible Democratic vice presidential candidate; and in 2008 primaries, he nearly lost the race for the Republican nomination because conservatives in his own party did not trust him. Since clinching the nomination, he has been repudiating some of the Bush administration's policies and embracing ideas that were once taboo in the current Republican party. Not surprisingly, some of the most ardent Republican supporters of George W. Bush have claimed they will not vote for McCain in the same way that some Clinton voters say they will not vote for Obama -- although the selection of the extremely conservative Gov. Palin as McCain's running mate might change this dynamic." THE CAVEAT... This is all very interesting. However, polls are polls and they have been shown to be wrong often enough in the past that we should take them with a grain of salt. Even so, taking inaccuracies into account, well conducted polls can show us the general direction that a campaign is headed in, just as an inaccurate map can still get you to the correct city, even the right block, but misdirect you the exact address. Close enough for general purposes. Brinkley misses a number of points, some of which I will touch on. He claims that we are now in a post partisan world, where party politics matter less. He cites the near-abandonment of John McCain by his own Republican Party as evidence of this, but Brinkley does not understand that this came from a groundswell of Republican -and conservative GOP sympathizers - who did not favor McCain precisely because they viewed him as incompatible with the party's foundations and platforms. How Brinkley misses this simple and obvious fact is mysterious. Republicans in 2004 rejected McCain because they felt he would not serve the party well. In 2008, many Republicans rejected McCain for the same reason, but rallied to him recently because of his choice of Governor Sarah Palin. Palin is seen as good for the party, another glaring fact that Brinkley seems to see but not comprehend. Finally, one must wonder how accurate Brinkley is. He is, after all, living in the world of academia, where it is fashionable to proclaim oneself to be independent. I live in Rogers Park, Chicago, which has a population of about 60,000 within a two-square mile area. Here, there are 20,000 registered Democrats and a mere 250 registered Republicans. There is a high percentage of the local Democrats who can accurately be described as "very liberal," and this leads to many amusing reactions when one reveals himself to be conservative. They have trouble believing it initially. Surely you must be joking, their widened eyes silently scream. Rogers Park, like academia, is politically insulated and in no way representative of the norm of American society. Sure, there are many Democrats everywhere, but very few who are as liberal as those in Rogers Park. Here, liberal Democrats and "progressives" have marinated in their own delusion of being representative of the average American for so long that they have trouble believing that there are people "out there" who actually disagree with their world view. To return to Brinkley, then, his own marinade of academia has flavored his outlook. I say this with certainty. Although his WSJ article is excellent, he seems out of touch with mainstream America. He refers to Sarah Palin as "extremely conservative." She is certainly conservative, moreso, arguably, than Senator McCain. But "extremely?" (Would Brinkley call Barack Obama "extremely liberal?" How about Ted Kennedy or Hillary Clinton?) The use of the adjective "extremely" is a disturbing signal that Brinkley does not understand what conservatism is, let alone what is would take to be "extremely" so. In fact, Brinkley mentions Palin only twice in his WSJ piece. The other reference is to her "slashing, sarcastic acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention," which gives us one more signal of Brinkley's academia-tainted vision. What Brinkley misses is the fact that Palin is playing the heart strings not only of "extremely conservative" Republicans, but of mainstream and moderate Republicans as well - including John McCain. Brinkley notes that in 2004, McCain "was so faintly identified with the Republican party that he was even considered as a possible Democratic vice presidential candidate; and in 2008 primaries, he nearly lost the race for the Republican nomination because conservatives in his own party did not trust him." Okay, but this is the same John McCain who chose, as Brinkley describes her, "the extremely conservative" Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008. There seems to be a disconnect inside of Brinkley's head. He sees the trees, examines them closely, but does not see the forest. If McCain and his advisers thought that Palin was truly an "extreme" conservative, they probably would not have chosen her. Rather, they recognized that Palin is more closely an orthodox conservative than is McCain. To be orthodox anything is not extremist. The choice of the phrase "extremely conservative," then, exposes Brinkley's otherwise informative article as having a bias, although it is probably unintentional. For him to describe Palin that way is as accurate as describing Brinkley as "extremely isolated." No, he's probably not "extremely" isolated, just isolated in an orthodox kinda way.