Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A week out from the midterm

I should preface this with a reminder that I'm a Canadian, and so an observer rather than a voter. But US elections have a significant impact north of the border too -- the effect is more indirect, obviously, than our own elections, but it may well be deeper, in the influence on our political culture generally.

In any case, while I think of myself as a long-range optimist, in shorter ranges I'm inclined to prepare for worst-case scenarios. So, a week away from the mid-terms, I'm concerned that predictions of a huge Republican sweep are over-confident, and anything short of a monumental overturn will be taken as a Democrat "moral victory". Not that that means much except in the immediate aftermath, but it would have been better to see more modest expectations, and be pleasantly surprised, rather than the opposite. My own sense is that the Republicans should retake control of the House, and make gains in the Senate but be short of a majority -- that seems to me a reasonable expectation, with anything significantly more than that being a genuine Republican victory, anything less a genuine Democratic victory.

My real point, though, is that it's a mistake to look upon any one election or set of elections as some epochal, climactic, make-or-break event. That's an understandable tendency when things seem dire (and I don't doubt it's easier to say when you're out of the fray yourself, as I am) but it invites all the risks of triumphal overconfidence when things go one way, and despairing resignation when they go the other. When what's really needed is a long-term focus on changing the underlying political culture I spoke of above.

Along those lines, it can be helpful to stand back a bit and look at the real nature of the political alternatives before us, or the dimensions of political space. Elections tend to force alternatives into the single dimension of left and right, but political realities are usually more complex. So, for example, despite the general BigGov/smaller-state distinction between Democrats and Republicans, there is a BigGov, corporatist wing of the Republican Party too, just as there is limited state, free-market/capitalist wing of the Democrats. And on both sides there are the usual divisions over "social issues". But the social issues needn't separate people politically, unless they see the state as a means of enforcing their particular views or values -- in other words, it makes sense to pursue a long-term strategy of forging alliances among smaller government proponents, who are prepared to use persuasion rather than power to advance their values. And that, as I've said elsewhere, would be truly progressive.

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