...and there was much rejoicing throughout the Kingdom. The End!
Well of course not. It wasn't the end. It wasn't the beginning either. For Democrats it might have been an ending or a beginning, but for conservatives? This was just another moment. Just one small campaign in a larger war. I use the term "war" very purposefully. That's how they see it. It is not how Democrats see it. It certainly is not how Barack Obama sees it. But for conservatives and for real lefty liberals like me, that's exactly what this is.
The modern conservative movement probably starts back in the 1950's with William Buckley, Jr. though obviously it didn't end there and morphed into something else. Buckley was a very libertarian conservative but for a time held very racist views. Then He changed his mind and apologized for it. For example he said he should not have opposed the Civil Rights acts of the '60s. Which is interesting because those same laws also have a bit to do with what I'm doing here so keep them in mind, we'll be returning to them.
At some point the modern conservative movement in the United States split apparently. On one side was the, what I would call, "common sense conservatives" and the radical ones. To differentiate the two think on Buckley's racist attitudes in the '60s. For example, this quote speaking in favor of Southern Segregation:
"the central question that emerges... is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas where it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes – the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race."
He later disowned this way of thinking but a lot conservatives did not. George Wallace for example. While the split did not rupture and destroy the conservative movement, it did show clear distinction. As Buckley and his brand of conservatism grew up and made slightly more sense, the other side of the conservative coin did not. Think Strom Thurmond.
Now, the other 2 parts of this history that are important to remember is that the "dixie-crats"(Democrats in favor of segregation, again typified by Strom Thurmond) switched sides in that era and became Republicans. The other thing to remember is that passing and signing those civil rights laws did indeed lose the Democrats the south for a generation and more.
Brown v. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade both played pivotal roles in the conservative movement as well. Brown, because of the civil rights acts losing the south for Dems, Roe because at some point some one figured out that you could get god fearing,Christian conservatives to vote for you if you paid lip service to overturning it.
As this all goes on, several members of the GOP start thinking that what they really would love is to control every part of government. One of these is Karl Rove. Rove decides he wants a "permanent Republican Majority" in the House and Senate and he gets to work. When does he start doing this? Immediately. The catch is though that Roves real genius lies in not his intellect but his patience. He understands, even today, that losing the White House sucks, but losing congress was worse. Losing Congress for a term or two though is acceptable. Rove and his brethren begin thinking long term.
One strategy they decided to use, quite effectively, is constant campaigning. Ah, now you see where I'm going right? On Jan. 20th, 1981 Ronald Regan is sworn in as the 40th President of the United States.
On Jan. 21, 1981 the Republicans start campaigning for the 1982 and 1984 elections. I can remember professional asshat Ralph Reed telling one interviewer that for the foreseeable future that the conservative movement would work to be permanent back in the 80's.
In 2006 though, something changed with the Republican party. They lost their majorities in the House and Senate but they also (and I'm not sure who came up with it) decided that they would start campaigning for 2010 starting on election day 2008. Now, the Republicans had learned from back during the 80's and Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson had shown them that you have to run on issues, preferably wedge issues and fear. So from Day 1 of the Obama administration they started taking cues from the wackier elements. And since they were already calling Obama a socialist and questioning his illegitimacy as a president, it was easy to "just say no".
Now, back to Jan. 20,2008. Obama comes in to office and gets to work picking his cabinet, passing bailouts yadda-yadda right? But one thing he does not do is campaign. He's the president, of course he shouldn't be campaigning, right? The Democrats who make up the 111th congress didn't campaign either but the GOP did. And you might be thinking they didn't but they did. How?
Everytime they said "no" to something the Dems wanted passed they then went out and said "See! We're working for you!!" and they were constantly on the attack. They were constantly using these wedge issues to wrangle the common folk into cheering them on. They told the rich that they would lower their taxes and the non-rich that they were protecting their freedom. It was constant.
Meanwhile the Democrats were passing things like the Health Care Reform act. But the versions of the bills they were passing had little resemblance to what they were promised to be or flat out things rejected by the Dem base and liberals. So to be clear, while the GOP,with every vote and action and word, has an eye on what it wants and on it's member's wishes, Dems...not so much.
This isn't always bad. For example if Lyndon Johnson had not bucked his party black people might still be riding the back of buses. But everything the GOP has done in the last 20+ years has screamed to their base "We are working for you!", even if they weren't. The Dem message to it's base has been more convoluted. At least up until 2008. That's when Obama decided he wanted to govern just like the other Democrat presidents had before him. Instead of worrying about the long term he hires Rahm Emmanuell,Peter Orzag,Ben Bernanke etc...While on the campaign trail he talked about wanting to make a difference. Once in office he decided it should be a difference without distinction.
Having been elected on a platform of change, he immediately kept Bush policies in place. Remember when he said he was gonna close Gitmo within a year of taking office? He said that it was immoral and that the United States had lost it's moral high ground. Torture, an unnecessary war in Iraq, and killing of innocents in the war zone.
Remember how the warrantless wiretaps were supposed to go away? That George W. Bush's strong arming of the American people was going away? That the president should NOT be able to classify American citizens as enemy combatants and have them held indefinitely without trial? These were central themes of his campaign to become president. These were central themes of Democratic Party campaigns from 2002 on. This is what got him elected.
But Obama even went a step further by not only classifying one American citizen an enemy combatant, but literally signing a death warrant for him. In letting go of his ideals and promises from the campaign trail and hewing closer to his predecessor's policies he came to be viewed as Bush term 3.
Just in this last year he flipped on off-shore drilling more than once. As Obama kept this up over two years he formed a picture in his base's mind that he was a Republican in Democrat clothes. As the Senate faltered due to a lack of leadership on Harry Reid's part and as Obama is seen as the head of the Democratic Party the base stayed home on Nov. 2,2010. Remember my movie box office analogy? If nothing you want to see is playing at the theater, you stay away. If Democratic party voters see a choice between a Republican and a Republican how can you expect them to come out to vote?
Why did it take until September for Obama to come out really swinging? You can't win elections with just the two months of campaigning. If you try to, you get what happened this year. You have to not just stay engaged, you have to give your base what they want. If 2010 proved anything, it proved that indeed the base does matter. Had Obama's base shown up and voted we would probably be looking at a super-majority for him in both houses of congress.
Campaigning for the next election no longer begins in the spring. It begins the day after the vote. Don't kid yourselves, this Obama Tax Cut For The Wealthy is part of the GOP campaign for 2012. It should have been part of Obama and the Democrats' campaign as well by standing against the GOP. People have to be reminded every second who is on their side.
No, Obama can't control the Senate but he can still campaign like he wants to. Let's hope he realizes his mistake sooner rather than later. Because he's not doing so hot so far in the campaign for his re-election and worse he's hurting Democrat chances in the next vote.
This is part 1 of a series of I don't know how many. I'm wanting to examine the rift between Obama and his base. Next up: avoiding getting shot in the back.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @Colierrannd