(Centennial Fellow) If we see the competition for power between Democrats and Republicans as a main theme, then modern American political history is exactly one hundred and fifty years old.
This history can be neatly divided into three distinct eras: Republican dominance 1860-1930, Democratic dominance 1930-1980, and Republican restoration 1980 to present.
Each of these eras was launched by a charismatic President who took office in traumatic circumstances, undertook great tasks, persevered through great turmoil, overcame formidable opponents, and successfully delivered the country to a rebirth of its competence, confidence, and prosperity. Accordingly Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan who delivered us respectively from Civil War and slavery; Depression and World War; and domestic economic chaos, and foreign policy humiliation made a deep and enduring impression on their countrymen who raised them to iconic status despite the abuse heaped upon them during their Presidencies. Finally, they changed the way Americans thought of themselves and the political parties that they held to judgment every two years.
While the Age of Lincoln has largely receded into the mists of history, the Age of Roosevelt remains very much with us. The political landscape established by FDR endured for half a century because the Democrats were truly a “Big Tent” party. They brought together elements from every region of the country, reconciled philosophical opposites (e.g. rural southern segregationists, and urban northern civil rights advocates), and united them in an overarching common purpose: delivering the votes that would keep the Democratic Party in power in perpetuity.
The Roosevelt Coalition crashed and burned in the 1960’s in a perfect storm of mismanaged war, racial conflict, and cultural upheaval. The party then began a baleful long march in an increasingly leftward direction in the process shedding the Southerners, conservatives, and even moderates who had been important players in the Democrats Big Tent Era. This trend would win increased influence and eventually complete dominance for the Liberal Progressives who had been a loud but relatively small element in the Democratic Party going all the way back to the 19th century.
During this period Republicans were reinventing themselves as an essentially conservative party espousing free markets, individual freedom, and strong defense. Success came slowly, but in 1980 the combination of the disastrous Carter regime and the optimistic, inclusive, and principled leadership of Ronald Reagan brought triumph to the Republican Party as evidenced by the Gipper carrying 93 of a possible 100 states in his two Presidential runs. Thanks to the migration of the “Reagan Democrats” the GOP was now the true “Big Tent” party while the Democrats drifted increasingly toward European style socialism and an unending parade of Left and further Left Presidential candidates.
During the thirty years of the Reagan Era the GOP has held the White House for 20 years, the Senate for 18 years, the House for 12 years, and an edge in Governorships, and State Legislatures as well.
The extended Republican ascendancy has provided one vital advantage to Democrats: it has enabled them to portray themselves not as they actually are or in terms of what they really wanted to do but rather as a make-believe party of reasonable moderates espousing all good things for all good people while almost never being fully responsible for delivering the goods and always being in a position- aided by a liberal media- to blame the Republicans for everything.
Only twice in this 30 year period (1992-94 and 2008-2010) has the country got a brief glimpse of what the Democrats are really like and where they want to move American society when they get both hands on the steering wheel (i.e. control of White House and both houses of Congress). Both times the American people recoiled in horror and punished the Democrats severely in historic mid-term elections.
After the Republican blow-out of 1994 the people allowed Republicans to retain control of Congress for a dozen years and were satisfied with the Republican President for the final six years of that period.
Republicans however ultimately did not meet the test of good stewardship. Domestically they became almost as addicted to big government, big spending, and perpetuating their own power as had the Democrats before them. On the international front they launched an invasion of Iraq that in the end they could neither win nor adequately explain to the American people.
This lamentable track record gave the Democrats all the opportunity they needed and in consecutive election cycles the people ousted the Republicans from control of Congress and the Presidency.
Once again the Democrats controlled all the levers of power, but they apparently had learned nothing from their debacle of 1992-94, and with unprecedented ideological fervor renewed their crusade to transform America into the statist paradise of their dreams. In doing so they exposed themselves in all their naked arrogance and contempt for the American people and the democratic institutions that had sustained the country for over two centuries.
Nemesis quickly followed. Impervious to being mocked by the elites, the people rose up in all their sovereign majesty and once again demonstrated that in the world’s one true Exceptional Nation, the people will always be bigger than the government.
In the Republican landslide the most striking element was not the Senate, or even the stunning turn-around in the House, but rather the unprecedented gain of nearly 700 legislative seats and control of 56 of the nation’s 99 legislative chambers; an ascendancy not reached since 1928.
This electoral tsunami at the base of the political pyramid cannot be explained merely as a rejection of bad policy and legislation at the national level. Rather it suggests that a highly attentive populace has seen the true character of the Democratic Party and its unchanging statist mission with a new clarity and they have clearly rejected it. For the Republicans the election was not their victory but their opportunity to redeem themselves.
The only real victory on Nov. 2nd belongs to the American people who saw the Democratic record for what it was- an existential threat to the American Democracy and its handmaiden, the American Dream.
Let Freedom Ring!