The Republicans lost not only because a majority of voters rejected their views but because they were fighting the wrong battles. Voters didn’t so much disagree with Republicans but simply found that their views were irrelevant to the 21st century world.The old Republican arguments no longer worked.
Republicans won in 2002 and 2004 by capitalizing on fear of terrorism and portraying themselves as being stronger on foreign policy. The failure of Bush’s policies in Iraq have made the Republicans far less attractive on foreign policy. Fareed Zakaria pointed out how the view of Republicans on foreign policy has changed when interviewing Brent Scowcroft today. While a transcrpt is not yet available, the gist came down to Zakaria saying that Republicans were perceived as delivering a pragmatic internationalist foreign policy in the past but have now been taken over by ideologues.
Liberals now represent pragmatism on foreign policy. The same is true on economic policy. Voters did not accept the outrageous and untrue claims that Democrats favored socialism and redistribution of wealth. The battle between socialism and capitalism is long over with capitalism coming out victorious and supported by members of both political parties. Most voters did not vote based upon this false choice between capitalism and socialism. For those who did, Republicans made for poor representatives of a free market philosophy even before the current response to the financial crisis. I have not taken Republicans seriously as defenders of the free market since I saw Richard Nixon institute wage and price controls. While few current voters are likely to remember this, some may have considered factors such as Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force and the K-Street Project as examples of Republican hypocrisy on the free market. Most voters simply are looking for the party with the most pragmatic answers on the economy.
Republicans came to office promising to cut the size of government but instead have given us a bigger government. After cutting taxes they continued to spend, borrowing money instead of cutting the size of government. Between seeing this failure to cut the size of government, along with decreased concern for cutting government in all cases after Katrina and the recent financial crisis, Republican arguments based upon cutting government were no longer as meaningful. Many voters simply wanted smarter government and were less concerned about the size.
After seeing Republican government, many voters also became more sophisticated, realizing that cutting the size of government is not the real issue. The impact of government on the lives of the individual is far more meaningful than the size of government. Even if Republicans delivered in cutting the size of government this would not necessarily be a victory for liberty. Voters increasingly see Republicans as the party which desires to restrict civil liberties, eliminate abortion rights, intervene in end of life decisions as in the Schiavo case, prevent funding of embryonic stem cell research, block the medicinal use of marijuana (even in states where it is legal), and promote the agenda of the religious right. These are far more concrete issues than the size of government.
It is the association of Republicans with the religious right which has done the most to marginalize them into primarily a southern regional party. Both the nonreligious and sensible religious individuals understand the reasons why our founding fathers considered separation of church and state to be so important. This association also resulted in the loss by Republicans of suburban and affluent educated voters. Educated voters would have difficulty backing a party which backs creationism, regardless of whether they have total agreement with the opposing party.
Republicans tried to make issues of the patriotism of their opponents, but voters have become more sophisticated and ignored such attempts to revive what Mark Halperin and John Harris have described as the freak show. Most voters ignored these arguments and concentrated on which candidate they thought could best solve our problems. Many of those who did consider these arguments questioned how the Republicans could dare challenge the patriotism of Democrats when they were the ones who acted in opposition to our American heritage of separation of church and state, freedom of expression, and freedom of association. You cannot claim to be patriotic Americans while opposing such basic American values. It is a virtue of Barack Obama that he listens to a wide variety of views, and some association with those whose views he does not share was not considered reason to base ones vote by voters beyond the extreme right.
Voters ignored the Republican arguments and looked for pragmatic solutions to problems. After having backed a president who was clearly unqualified for the position for the past eight years, the Republicans further harmed their credibility by pretending (until they began to speak out after the election) that Sarah Palin was qualified to be VP. Support for Sarah Palin, along with her views on creationism and ignoring the position of the vast majority of scientists on climate change, only emphasized the anti-intellectuaism of the current Repubican Party. As Nicholas Kristoff wrote today, after Obana’s race, the “second most remarkable thing about his election is that American voters have just picked a president who is an open, out-of-the-closet, practicing intellectual.” Voters wanted a pragmatic, intelligent candidate who would attmpt to solve problems without being blinded by ideology.
Conservatives lost not because of any specific issue but because their entire world view is not relevant to the modern world. They campaigned against Obama not based upon his actual positions but out of a distorted sense of what non-conservatives believe after years of listening to their own rhetoric. To see how out of touch with reality the conservatives are, read the view of Peter Hitchens that the election of Obama represented the end of “our last best hope on Earth.” He repeats the conservative line that voters for Obama were cultists when in reality most were voting for a pragmatic centrist. While he accuses Obama supporters of being like “Moonies, the Scientologists or people who claim to have been abducted in flying saucers,” it is conservatives like him who have adopted a philosphy which is not only extremist but out of touch with reality. Voters awoke to this reality in 2006 and 2008 and the Republicans arguments based upon a fantasy-world failed to resonate with them.