10.01.2008 0

Is it the Message, or the Messenger?

  • On: 10/14/2008 13:04:42
  • In: Barack Obama
  • “If nothing else, the 2008 election will resolve the question of whether the Democrats have been losing the White House in recent decades because of their message or because of their candidates’ inability to articulate it well.”—Peter A. Brown, “Obama Will Decide: Is the Democrats’ Message Flawed?”, Wall Street Journal, June 22nd, 2008.

    In his column on Sunday, Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, outlines his hypothesis that the 2008 election may be a good proving ground for another hypothesis: that the electorate would vote in favor of a well-articulated message by Democrats.

    As the argument goes, the reason Democrats have lost seven out of the last ten presidential elections is not because voters were rejecting the liberal, Big Government message of Democrats, but because “their nominee had not effectively communicated the party’s core message.”

    Mr. Brown contends that this line has “been used as a rationale by those who didn’t see the string of defeats as a call to retool the party’s message…” which is still pretty much in favor of higher taxes, more regulation, more entitlements, and nationalizing vast sectors of the economy like health care or energy, and opposed to free trade, free markets, free speech, and generally speaking, profit.

    Now, Mr. Brown informs, the Democrats are out of excuses, because they have one of the most articulate candidates they have had since John Kennedy. And if anyone can communicate the message of Big Government, it certainly is Barack Obama.

    So the argument concludes: If the Democrats blow it this year, they will nothing to blame but their own burdensome governing philosophy.

    As an unbiased pollster, Mr. Brown is simply doing his job and explaining why Democrats keep losing presidential elections. But is the inverse true? If Barack Obama does happen to win this year, would that mean that America had embraced Hard Left values?

    Would that mean there was a mandate for nationalized health care and energy? That public employees unions should get even more benefits and greater salaries? That the investor class should be punished for generating a good return for their retirements? That global warming hysteria ought to govern national energy policy with America artificially capping its energy use? That America does not want to trade with the rest of the world?

    Therein lays one flaw in Mr. Brown’s argument: The electorate is not the final barometer of whether a political message is flawed. History is. Even Nazis or Reds can get elected.

    To be fair, to Mr. Brown, a political message is flawed in a democracy if it fails to garner public support. Policies that garner a majority of public support ought to be pursued rather than those in the minority. So the logic goes: The majority is always right.

    But if that were so, in the American system there would be no filibuster in the Senate. There would not even be a Senate—which was originally composed of members chosen by individual State legislatures. There would certainly not be a Constitution, which was designed to inherently limit the powers of the Federal government regardless of what a majority may want to do.

    Instead, there would simply be a unicameral legislature without any constitution that by a simple majority vote changed the laws of the land. And there certainly are parliamentary systems throughout the world that use such models, like the United Kingdom. But, America is a republic, not a democracy by design.

    Another flaw to Mr. Brown’s argument is that he apparently ignores the function that political cycles have served in impacting election results. As far as control of the White House goes, the average amount of years an in-party will control the presidency—from 1921 through 2008, for example—is about 9.8 years.

    The mode—or the value that occurs the most frequently—is eight years of one party controlling the White House, as happened five times out of the past nine times control of the presidency has switched parties. In other words, based on that data, there’s about a 55 percent chance that the Democrats will win back the White House this year.

    And so, a victory for Senator Obama this year does not necessarily create a mandate for Big Government policies any more so than his defeat will signal the end of entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicate. Elections matter, but they are tempered in their impact by the above constraints and more.

    Public attitudes about particular issues or candidates will swell and contract as the facts change. And party control of the government will switch hands through the kaleidoscope of time. In order to truly examine a political program’s utility, therefore, one actually needs to evaluate the positive and negative impacts of the policies that are formulated based on principles. In other words, one has to exercise judgment.

    And from a perspective of defending liberty and limited government, to answer the question, yes, the Democrats’ message is very, very, very flawed. And Mr. Obama need not lose the election in a landslide in order to prove it.

    ALG Perspective: Should the Democrats run to a three-house sweep this November, and control both the Congress and the White House, they will claim that there is a mandate for their Big Government, anti-liberty policies. At that point, it will be up to a restless minority to stand up and oppose them, fighting tooth-and-nail to defend individual liberty and roll back the size, scope, and powers of government. As the Irish judge John Philpot Curran once wrote, “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance…”


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