Triumph of The Independents, And of Reality Based Voters

It is probably safe to say that John McCain will win the Republican nomination. While the Democratic nomination battle is certainly not over, the momentum is going in Obama’s direction. Assuming that these trends continue, the primary battles in each party can be seen as a triumph for the independents and the more reality based members of each party. We are also seeing a defeat for extremism, hyper-partisanship, voodoo economics, and anti-scientific views.

The conventional wisdom before Rove’s strategy fell apart was that the center did not matter. Each party was seen as being primarily composed of hyper-partisan extremists, and the winner would be which ever party which could get more of their extreme party members out to vote. There were not believed to be enough votes in the center, or enough swing votes, to matter any more.

This idea was destroyed when groups such as the Starbucks Republicans voted Democratic in the 2006 Congressional elections. These consisted of affluent socially liberal former Republicans who also were questioning the war. Of course other voters also rejected the Republicans, contributing to the Democratic majority. It turned out that, as I’ve argued all along, the voting population isn’t separated into two groups on the left and right which all hold one or the other set of beliefs. Not all agree with the most extreme members of their party even if they agree on most issues. People can also be socially liberal and fiscally conservative, can be religious fundamentalists without holding conservative economic views, or can hold a wide variety of other viewpoints which differ from the the party line of either party.

Assuming Obama’s momentum persists, it now looks like each party will nominate a candidate who is preferred by independents and who has raised reservations among the ideologues of their party.

Obama both pursues liberal goals and receives economic advice from adherents of the Chicago School. His views appeal to independents, but are opposed by ideologues from both the right and left. Ideologues of the right start from the assumption that government action is always bad and close their minds to any evidence to the contrary.

Ideologues on the left sometimes fail to recognize the limits of government action both in efficacy and in principle. While they will defend choice with regards to abortion or marrying a partner of either sex, they fail to understand that those of us who run businesses also value choice in running our businesses, and that most individuals value choice in personal economic as well as sexual matters. The far right calls Obama a Socialist. The far left fails to acknowledge that others do have valid objections to some government action, and mistakingly claim that any consideration of personal choice in economic matters, or any arguments to limit government, constitutes use of conservative frames.

Democratic voters already rejected John Edwards who based his campaign on arguments of class warfare, and now appear to be rejecting Hillary Clinton’s views which are based upon the philosophy that more government programs can solve any problem. This is no more valid than the view on the far right view that all government programs are bad and that government is not able to solve any types of problems. Similarly the attempts of the Clinton campaign to attack Obama for merely mentioning Ronald Reagan in a historically accurate perspective failed to stop Obama’s momentum.

Republican voters are also rejecting the voodoo economics of the far right. The most extreme cling to the Laffer Curve as justification to cut taxes without facing the consequences. McCain, facing the political realities of the Republican Party, has often strayed from conservative orthodoxy on tax policy, but has also been known to repeat conservative claims.

Partisan Democrats (including many liberal bloggers) claim it would be impossible for Obama to work with Republicans as they note the difference between their views and the Republican orthodoxy. The reality is that most people who vote for both Democrats and Republicans do not hold the views of the most vocal ideologues or bloggers. I know many Republican businessmen and professionals who vote Republican because, rightly or wrongly, they see Democrats as hostile to business and supporters of higher taxes. This does not meant they follow the Republican line on all issues, or are uncompromising extremists.

The reality on taxes is that most people, whether Democrats or Republicans, would prefer to pay as little in taxes as possible. The ideologues of the left who have no qualms about raising taxes are no more correct than the ideologues of the right who argue that we can continue to pay for a war while also cutting taxes. Many Republicans beyond the ideological extreme want to keep taxes as low as possible, but recognize that a Grover Norquist style pledge to never raise taxes, even in time of war, is simply unrealistic.

I’ve often written about how Obama transcends some of the views of the left/right linear spectrum. Many moderate Republicans see McCain in a similar manner. Dennis Sanders wrote of what he sees as McCain’s Decent Conservatism at The Moderate Voice.

I could be totally wrong, but he seems to offer a more decent and civil conservatism that is far different from the stuff we are used to hearing.

He does go after the Democrats, but he seems to express what is wrong with their ideas instead of saying that they are evil. He expresses a desire for small government, stating that government isn’t the answer to every problem, but without all the anti-government rhetoric. He is willing to listen to those who disagree with him.

There is no talk about “family values” or other hot button issues.

There is room to argue as to whether McCain remains too conservative on these issues, but this provides an example of how many independents and moderate Republicans see him. Just as extremists on economic issues have been rejected by members of both parties, many are voting for the Republican candidate who they see as not being the candidate of the religious right. Mike Huckabee still appeals to a distinct minority of Republicans, but even he has found a way to place a kinder, gentler face on such views. While George Bush has governed from the far right, even he first was elected by claiming to be a compassionate conservative who opposed nation building.

Just as extremists often ignore reality in economics, the extremes on the right have increasingly been denying reality with regards to science. There is a view on the right that science is open to debate in political magazines, on talk radio, and in the blogosphere. They think that if they can win debating points and put forth a good argument, they can claim to be right and ignore reality. Many fail to understand the scientific method, or that science is best discussed in peer reviewed journals, not by armchair amateurs in the press or on blogs. They will typically cite any report, regardless of how weak, which seems to support their biases and ignore the large body of scientific evidence which contradicts their personal opinions. Their ultimate failing is that they reach their viewpoint first and then try to work backwards by trying to make the data fit. In science, as well as economics, it is necessary to keep an open mind and accept the conclusions as demonstrated by the evidence, even when the evidence forces you to change your original opinions.

Many conservatives support creationism and deny evolution based upon their religious views and do not care about the actual science. Several Republican candidates this year have denied evolution, which is firmly established as a fundamental principle of modern biology. While two creationists, Huckabee and Paul, remain in the race, neither is likely to win.

Similarly many conservatives have decided to deny global warming because they fear the consequences of accepting the scientific conclusions will be inconvenient to their life styles. Many ideologues also find it necessary to deny global warming because they cannot accept the existence of a problem requiring government action as this would contradict their viewpoint that government is always the problem and never the solution. As I said before, most Republican voters do not accept the full range of views held by the extremists. In this case they are willing to nominate a Republican who does not deny the consensus of scientific thought.

I also believe it is foolish for economic conservatives to take themselves out of the discussion of climate change by taking the untenable position of ignoring the scientific consensus. While there is a consensus on the nature of the problem, science does not offer a single solution. This is an area where I would prefer to see rational people from both the left and right consider the problem and offer solutions.

I believe that John McCain’s reputation as a moderate is exaggerated, but at least an election between McCain and Obama means that neither candidate is a supporter of torture. Unfortunately McCain is not being entirely consistent in his views, but I suspect that should McCain be president he will be more moderate than when trying to appeal to conservative voters. I also suspect he will return to the pre-Bush policy of Republicans of offer some verbal support to the religious right but limit what they actually do.

I suspect that both McCain and Obama are allowing the realities of a partisan nomination battle affect what they are willing to say, although Obama has often shown a willingness to stray from Democratic Party orthodoxy even before potentially hostile audiences. I am anxious to see how both candidates campaign in a general election campaign when the goal is also to appeal to swing voters and independents. I am hoping there will be reluctance from both camps to resorting to the types of attacks which have been characteristic of recent elections and we have a genuine national debate on the issues. A top adviser to McCain is already stepping down rather than engage in a campaign based upon attacking Obama.

At present both Obama and McCain are seeking independent voters in their party’s primaries and the battle for the independent voters will become even more intense between the two in a general election campaign. This will force the candidates to take a more reasonable line than would be expected from candidates appealing to their party’s base. While this will create greater anguish among partisans and ideologues of both parties, it is will be a welcome development to an independent such as myself.

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2 Comments

  1. 1
    thepoliticalcat says:

    Hi, Ron,

    In honor of Blogroll Amnesty Day, I’m putting you on my blogroll and requesting a reciprocal spot on yours. Come visit any time. I’ll be by, too.

    I blog as ThePoliticalCat at La Casa de Los Gatos and CultureVultures. Thanks!

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Ok, I’ll put your two blogs on the blogroll here in return for links back here.

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