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The Narrative War

As usual, George Will nails it in today's column: "It is amazing the ingenuity Democrats invest in concocting explanations of voter behavior that erase what voters always care about, and this year more than ever - ideas. This election was a nationwide recoil against Barack Obama's idea of unlimited government."

Dear Preacher Will, We Hear You.  Sincerely, The Choir.

At the same time, as NLT readers nod approvingly at Will's analysis, we must contend with the counter-narrative, which Will decimates by implication but which inevitably will gain traction in the coming days.  All the usual suspects--White House, DNC, MSNBC, etc.--will be hard at work pushing their own interpretation of Tuesday's results.  The election was about the economy, they'll say.  It was about jobs.  It was--as Peter Schramm noted in reference to Tim Kaine--about a collective lament that "change has not happened fast enough."  History never actually repeats itself, or so I tell my students, but this last line conjures memories of Bill Clinton's '94 mid-term post-mortem: the voters have spoken, he said at the time, and their message is clear: "Move faster!" 

None of this is surprising, of course.  To the progressive mind, the obvious convenience of interpretations that dismiss electoral misfortune as the product of politically-radioactive conditions--unemployment, slow growth, etc--is that those interpretations help shelter progressive ideas from the fallout of a historic political thrashing.  Still, the Left's near-monopoly over the dissemination of information and opinion guarantees it an enormous advantage in the battle to define the meaning of Election 2010.  Furthermore, the economy is bad, and no doubt it was an issue for many voters.  

Republicans, in short, now face the rhetorical challenge of periodically (I prefer daily, but I'll take what I can get) highlighting their chasmic differences with progressive ideologues while also working to ameliorate lousy economic conditions.  In my view, Republican leaders will meet this challenge in part through unwavering and unapologetic commitment to a narrative that treats as self-evident the symbiotic relationship between a robust economy and a limited, constitutional government.  In the end, though, as Will reminds us with characteristic elegance, one cannot escape the conclusion--no matter how the opposition chooses to rationize it--that Tuesday's results reveal something deeper, something we've recognized all along as more thoughtful and more visceral: a "recoil" against progressive-style government the likes of which we've not seen in more than a generation.         


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Discussions - 26 Comments

The voters' reaction to Democratic policies reminds me of how American workers back in Depression days, who might have hated their bosses, but did not necessarily blame the country, as old time communists attempted to convince them. This election showed that Americans were concerned about the economic downturn, but rejected the Democrats' prescriptions.

Harry Reid announced today that he learned his lesson from this election: the voters sent a message that they want the two parties to get along! That's an even more predictable meme. When your party wins, the message is "full speed ahead" with your ideological agenda. When your party loses, the spin is that voters are angry about "partisan division." Both are wrong. This election was not about giving the Republicans or the Tea Party permission to proceed "full speed ahead" with an ideological agenda but neither was it a call to them to reach across the aisle and give Democrats permission to stomp on their necks in the name of bi-partisanship (nice try, Harry). (Indeed, neck stomping of all kinds were repudiated in this election--both literally and figuratively.)

Instead of taking power, both sides are going to have to learn how to earn it by earning the people's trust. They are going to have to explain themselves all day every day to the voters and to do so in ways that are persuasive to them. Little acts of tyranny and self-aggrandizement will not be tolerated. And big ones will met with this kind of result:

I think we're in a kind of near 50/50 limbo as regards policy prescriptions in this country. I don't think Republicans or the Tea Party have actually won the argument (yet . . . but the wind is at their backs) about Obamacare, taxes, or limited government. Nevermind Constitutional government. This stuff is still all very vague in people's understanding. But people have had a very large helping of the STYLE of government that is characteristic of the OPPOSITE of limited constitutional government (its arrogance, overreach, and presumption) and they've absolutely had enough of THAT. To the extent that Republicans remember that and continue to frame their arguments in ways that demonstrate the connection between Progressive ideas and this kind of petty tyranny, Americans will continue to reject it and embrace them. Don't tread on me.

"one cannot escape the conclusion--no matter how the opposition chooses to rationize it--that Tuesday's results reveal something deeper, something we've recognized all along as more thoughtful and more visceral: a "recoil" against progressive-style government the likes of which we've not seen in more than a generation."

So, is that why nearly half of House Blue Dogs went down, while those from the Progressive caucus kept 68 of 72 seats?
huffingtonpost dot com/2010/11/03/blue-dog-coalition-gop-wave-elections_n_778087.html

Good charts here:,-becomes-a-plurality-of-House-Dems


Quote of the week:

"It is a neat trick. Conservative elites pretend to be part of a marginalised cultural force while at the same time orchestrating an electoral bloodbath led by America's least marginalised people. The fact that this is working so well tells us a lot about who the elites really are and where the power really lies."


"(Indeed, neck stomping of all kinds were repudiated in this election--both literally and figuratively.)"

Say again? Repudiated - as in conservatives largely being silent about it, or even making excuses for it (a la Rush)??

(I'm speaking, of course, about Rand Paul's Private Security Thug Posse)

Here's my piece in support of my "both economic downturn and Democrat policies" interpretation of the election:

CS, It's not hard to explain why the Blue Dogs went down and the progressives (by no means all!) survived. The former were elected in 2006 and 2008 from historically Republican districts, in which they disappointed the people who trusted them and were appropriately punished at the polls. The progressives represent solid Democrat districts, particularly, but not only, in California. It's called gerrymandering.

I think it's just people giving the Republicans a second chance to part of the conversation after they were routed in 2006 and 2008.

I wouldn't put too much stock in the idea that Republicans winning back the House (even by a large margin - made, in part, by initial Democratic gains in '06 and '08) is some sort of mandate for swift action against Will's "unlimited government" strawman.

I also tell my students history doesn't repeat itself, but these kinds of posts remind me of the whole "rolling re-alignment" crap after Bush's 2004 re-election.

I think it's just people giving the Republicans a second chance to part of the conversation after they were routed in 2006 and 2008.

I would have though holding 40% of the seats in the federal legislature and having won 46% of the vote in the most recent contest for the federal executive might qualify one as 'part of the conversation'.

is some sort of mandate for swift action against Will's "unlimited government" strawman.

It better be a mandate for swift action of some sort 'ere the level of public debt approximates that of Greece.

That last was from me.

Art -

Fair enough. But I mean "part of the conversation" as participating beyond simply saying "no" to everything Democrats try to do. Now Republicans will have the opportunity (not to mention the civic responsibility) to do that.

And if you guys start fighting the deficit with cuts to our bloated defense budget, I'll start believing your attempts at hacking into it are actually sincere.

John Boehner is rightly pointing out that the Republicans will refuse to give up being the so-called "party of no" if that means "getting things done" through the state and more federal spending. There is no civic responsibility to promote statism as a solution to our problems. The Republicans offer a different vision of what the right solution to our problems is and it is not one that includes progressive statism. He is rightly laying down the terms of the debate and compromise, not in which government programs to propose but rather which vision is in harmony with the American character and a right framework for going forward solving the recession, the massive federal debt, etc. This is the right debate over principles going forward and it shall be left to the self-governing American people as to which vision they prefer.

Saying 'no' is perfectly legitimate when what they are promoting is a bad idea.

Figure out which aspect of military expenditure you fancy is in excess and I might think that a serious idea.

This is tongue-in-cheek, right? Do you need me to really enumerate all of the military bases, programs, and contracts Congress funds which are unnecessary? Or are you seriously suggesting that our military budget is not over-inflated?

Not tongue and cheek.

'Unnecessary' toward what end? Why would I assume you had the granular knowledge of military operations or procurement to make more than fragmentary statements about what we should or should not be spending? If you had some coarse grained notions about military mission that would entail excising large chunks with identifiable line items and you have worked out the implications for regional state systems, be my guest (keeping in mind I am inclined to be rude to guests who engage in magical thinking).

The military budget currently amounts to about 5% of domestic product. That is higher than was the case 12 years ago, when it was about 3.5%. Then again, we have been fighting a pair of counter-insurgencies. About 72% of American personnel are stationed in the United States and its possessions and most of the remainder in one of five other countries. The number of Naval personnel is as low as it has been since 1941.

Public bureaucracies have certain irreducible pathologies. The thing about the military and the police is that their functions are ultimately not replicable by private enterprise, commercial or philanthropic.

What's bloated is government, period. Look how recession-proof the DC area is. Look at the housing prices, and then look at the wealth of the donors for the Democrats. What government has created in this country is a new (parasitic) class. Sure, the DoD has its share of parasites, and we would all like to see more common sense in the defense budget (and perhaps a little less global policing), but the real culprits are the suits and their minions. Far, far too many people are living off the public trough. The GOP's goal should be to reduce government (and that includes Medicare and other entitlements) to 15% of GDP. It can be done, and without harming the public welfare.

It's certainly the case that proposed cuts or eliminations in particular weapons systems face opposition, but more often than not that opposition comes not from conservatives or from the military, but rather from local interests that would be affected. Even the biggest liberals in Congress sound like hawks when defending programs that benefit their districts. Discussions of base closings follow a similar logic. I remember the hullaballoo around here a few years ago when a bipartisan commission recommended closing the Air National Guard base in Mansfield. If there was one thing that Mansfielders of all political persuasions could agree on, it was that base was ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL to national security.

I want to piggy back off of Dr. Mosier, and discuss BRAC, but I think Art Deco's standard is a bit high. I think it is on target for what we expect congress to do, and part of the problem with talking about politics is that it is always done in generalities, in a broad brush.

"Why would I assume you had the granular knowledge of military operations or procurement to make more than fragmentary statements about what we should or should not be spending?"

A very high standard, that would deliver the tea party still borne, replacing them with "experts"?

In terms of BRAC without "granular knowledge", I would point out that a lot of facilities move from the main branches to the National Guard. I have actually deployed for trainning to facilities "closed" under BRAC in 1995. i.e. Fort Chaffee. I have also been to Cannon Airforce base which was to be closed under the 2005 BRAC.

The Narrative that government doesn't move fast enough is fair enough.

As we can see that the 2005 BRAC is only partially completed. So that "hullaballoo around here a few years ago" it was just the noise that a congressman had to make.

In fact, here is the procedure: The bipartisan commission provided the evaluated list to the President Bush, who approved the list with the condition that the list could only be approved or disapproved in its entirety.

On November 7, 2005 the approved list was then given to Congress which then had the opportunity to disapprove the entire list within 45 days by enacting a resolution of disapproval. Congress did not do this, so BRAC went foward.

Scouten USARC, Mansfield, OH
Commission recommendation(s) affected by this installation:
Number Title
37 Reserve Component Transformation in Ohio
Closure or realignment actions taken as of December 1, 2009:
Conducted BRAC Implementation Planning. Developed and submitted Business Plan to
facilitate budget allocation. Business Plan has been approved. Conducted site orientation
visit. Conducted Project Review Board to determine prioritization of military projects. Disposal
Environmental Assessment is complete. LRA has submitted the Reuse Plan to HUD for
Has a local redevelopment authority been recognized by the Secretary of Defense? Yes
Has the screening of property for other Federal Agency use been completed?
Has a redevelopment plan been agreed to by the redevelopment authority? Yes
Description of redevelopment plan:
Quantity of property remaining to be disposed: 4.0
Quantity of property already disposed: 0.0
Federal Agencies requesting property during screening process; and if applicable, the
anticipated transfer date and the amount of property to be transferred:
Federal Agency Anticipated Transfer Date Acres to be Transferred
None None None
Explanation for any delays in transfer of property:
Known environmental remediation issues: None
Acreage affected by remediation issues: None
Estimated cost to complete environmental remediation: None
Plans and timelines to address environmental remediation: None
Estimated completion date for all closure or realignment actions: Dec 1 2010

Here is the source document for 2005 BRAC.

If you actually look into the 2005 BRAC you will see that Mansfield OH was one of the easiest and least complicated closures.

Compare to Cannon Airforce Base...which somehow evaded BRAC and got a new and more important use.

I mean Cannon Airforce Base is more plausibly Absolutely Essential, but what determines essentiality is in part the sophistication of the weapons systems at the base....

You know that Gov Bill Richardson is no unconnected weakling. He was baptised in fire early on when he served under Kissinger, working congressional relations for Nixon. He was a congressman, he was secretary of Energy under Clinton, adjunct proffesor at Harvard. He holds a guiness world record for most handshakes by a politician in 8 hours.

Cato and Forbes Magazine praise him as most fiscally responsible democratic governor. He was also chairman of the Democratic Governors association. (CREW) Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington have no love for him.

So when you step back and look at the big picture you basically need a lot more than just a congresman to stop a base closing under BRAC, you need a Governor with as much insider pull as Bill Richardson.

As far as I know Bill Richardson's Fort Cannon was the only one that somehow escaped.

This is pretty much the rub, right here:

"WASHINGTON - Americans feeling demoralized or mystified by the veritable army of Republican legislators who are on the march to Capitol Hill have one specific demographic to blame: old white men.

Nothing gave the Grand Old Party a bigger boost in the mid-term congressional elections on Tuesday than an increase in that most Republican of all constituencies. Exit polling has revealed that almost 25 per cent of the electorate was aged 65 and up, most of them white males; only 11 per cent of voters surveyed were aged 18-29.

Two years ago, when U.S. President Barack Obama won the White House, young voters significantly outnumbered their elderly countrymen, who comprised only 19 per cent of the electorate. That means this year's turnout of the group dubbed "The Olds" represented a 25 per cent increase, while the young voter cohort shrank significantly.

The number of voters who switched sides this election, from Democrat to Republican, was also much higher among those over 65."

Perhaps the GOP can fine-tune any health care policies so that old, white men can get subsidized care?

Exit polling has revealed that almost 25 per cent of the electorate was aged 65 and up, most of them white males

Given the actual ratio of men to women in the population over 65, the Winnepeg Free Press might ask some hard questions of the exit pollsters about their methodology (and then be smart and hire some other firm the next time).

By the way Craig: a vote cast receives the same weight as any other vote cast, even if the voter is a.) male and b.) has lived long enough to have put 40-odd years into daily labor, pay off his debts, and enjoy the company of his grey-haired wife, grown children, and grandchildren.

That's what the death panels are for, killing off Republican voters. The others can get sent off to reeducation camps.

I think Craig makes a valid point -- there is a demographic crisis looming for conservativism. Instead of simply focusing on electoral issues, we should be infiltrating higher education (hundreds of thousands of college students graduate each year with a real bad case of the liberal stoopids), busting k-12 teachers' unions, closing down borders and restricting migration (both legal and illegal), undercutting labor unions wherever possible, and other longterm structural changes that will help us (yes, diabolical things that the Left often accuses us of -- were it only true!). The Left has long attended to such things, and we must do the same to guarantee our survival as a viable political philosophy.

Turnout in mid-term federal elections tends to average about 39% of the electorate. If I paid attention to Craig's sources (or Katie Couric), I would have to assent to the notion that voter participation among voters under 30 (20% of the electorate) was around 21% of the total and to the notion that participation among elderly caucasian men (6% of the electorate) was in the realm of 77%, give or take. One can compute the (supposed) comparative propensity to vote as a ratio of odds, as follows:

(77/23) / (21/79) = 12.6.

Color me skeptical.

Katie Couric also insisted that two-thirds of the youths voting cast their ballots for the Democratic Party. Given that north of 20% of those under 25 are out-of-work, color me skeptical about that as well.

One of the curios of the last decade has been the proliferation of polls and the diminished reliability of polls (as Enrico Lazio, Esq. and Lisa Murkowski learned the hard way last September).

My own contemporaries had to put up with school administrations which were liberal by default as well (remember Room 222?). To be sure, it was a more civil and earnest sort of thing, still (see Peter Viereck on this point) willing and able to drawn on cultural capital stockpiled by preceding generations; it also lacked the obsession with sexual perversion and inversion which is the hallmark of our immediate times. My contemporaries were also (as youths and young adults) the most Republican cohorts in the population. You will recall also that party identification changed quite rapidly during the period running from 1976 to 1985. I doubt you can say demography is destiny in such matters, at least not without a great deal of qualification.

Making valid points - all part of my being "so very lame"!

Lamitude has degrees, Mr. Craig. Your comment about demographics and voting, while neither original nor particularly insightful, was valid on its face (although we can be skeptical like AD). In general, however, your lameness flows like feces through the proverbial waterfowl.

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