Friday, November 10, 2006

Careful Where You Put the Emphasis When You Say the Word Analysis

I've been spending a lot of time thinking about politics lately. That might have something to do with the recent election. I've kind of been analyzing what I think happened on Tuesday, and the biggest conclusion I've come to is this: I really like analyzing politics.

That probably makes me a geek. And if that doesn't, this story certainly does:

I was re-arranging my office at work the other day, getting myself set-up for my new job. I was trying to plug in the computer, and as I was reaching under the desk to push the plug into the outlet my hand slipped off the safe part of the plug and touched the metal tines. Let me tell you, getting electrocuted hurts. This is where the "geek" part of the story comes in: , immediately following the gigantic "OUCH!" that ran through my head, my first thought was, "I wonder if I got super powers!?!"

I didn't.

Unless you count my powers of political analysis. I am super at that. Or not. But I do think a lot of people see eye-to-eye with me politically. And more essentially I think most people agree with my overall political view, though we may differ from issue to issue. And those differences might be big (e.g. pro-life vs. pro-choice), but even within those differences there are very often some substantial points of agreement (e.g. it is important to prevent the pregnancies which lead to abortion, it is important to do everything we can to provide for pregnant and new mothers, etc.).

So here goes my quick analysis of last Tuesday's election:

The Republicans are clearly worse off. They've lost congress, they're no longer able to simply rubber-stamp Bush's policies, and they're really going to have to work hard to re-take Congress. The Democrats, on the other hand, aren't necessarily better off. This election wasn't a sign that our country is ready for a sweeping change to Democratic governance, but rather it was a market correction of sorts, where the public realized that they no longer wanted Bush to operate without a strong check from Congress. This election was about balance.

What's especially interesting to note is that I think in the long run, if the Republicans play their cards right, this election will turn out better for them - or at least for a particular brand of them: the "values republicans." The ones who run on pro-choice platforms, anti-gay marriage platforms, no embryonic stem-cell research platforms, etc. Because Republicans have been largely ineffective over the last 6 years at addressing any of those platforms the centrists who elected them weren't willing to give them another shot. Instead the centrists had big issues with Bush, issues they would have overlooked if their values were actually being advanced politically.

What's especially fascinating is that many of the Democrats who won were Democrats who embraced - or at least were more moderate on - those centrist values. Moreover, Republicans are starting to see new blood coming into their party - new blood like Michael Steele, who embraces those social values but also agreed with Biden's (D) plan for Iraq, disagreed with Bush on No Child Left Behind, and wanted to see the minimum wage raised. For centrists, Michael Steele is pretty much a dream come true; he's got both the social values and liberal policies that appeal to centrists. Most people want to see the minimum wage increased, but they also want most abortions to be illegal. Most people want us to devote plentiful resources to education, but they also want to make sure our scientific research is ethical (i.e. no embryonic stem cells when just-as-good alternatives exist).

In my mind then, which ever party does a better job infusing themselves with those types of leaders, then that party will rule the country. What's good for Republicans is that they just had a massive bloodletting, and a lot of the old guard has been eliminated, and it looks like new people will be filling into prominent leadership roles, to take the party in that direction. What's interesting for the Democrats is that they have some of those same people in leadership roles already (Harry Reid, new Senate majority leader), and a lot of those people were just elected, but they've also got a bunch of the old New England-Liberals still running the party (for example, Nancy Pelosi (yes, I know she's from CA, but she fits the New England mold), House Majority leader). If the Democrats really want to keep their power, they're going to have to be responsive to the centrist public that has given them a chance, and not to the more extreme liberal base.

Ok then, that's my analysis. In summary: for Democrats things went good, but there's no reason to expect it in the future. For Republicans things went bad, but there's plenty of opportunity out there for them to become even stronger.

Oh, and I'm seriously considering starting an all political blog, as sort of a grass roots way for expanding my political views, providing a stronger voice for centrists like myself, and developing my policy ideas. But I need a good name for it. Anyone have any thoughts?

Oh, and big points for getting the song:

Here's something for your firstborn
George Bush Junior sing along


Anonymous said...

Title - polianalytical
subtitle - when philosophy is not fickle enough

emnovak said...

i'm going to stop reading your blog as much if you do that.
eric and I were talking about the election too, and how it's good that it seems to be balancing out, because no matter what party has the majority, if it is an extreme majority, things are not going to go as well for the country as if it were balanced. So I'm happy the Senate is pretty close.

Greg said...

Under the "values republicans", I am assuming that you meant Pro-Life. Then again, you know what assuming does... What I want to know is who is Ming?

Also not on the main point of the post, I also had the electrocution happen to me once while plugging in a new computer at my last job. I somehow managed to continue the conversation as if nothing had happened. The super powers thing is pretty clever, though. I didn't get any either. What a disappointment.

Politically, I like the centrist viewpoint. It's hard (at least for me) to find a candidate who I can really agree with on most of the major issues. I also find that when I do, they don't have a chance of winning, though I vote for them anyway.

What I find most frustrating is that the reason I think that they won't win is because of people who do not look at the issues, but are brought up with voting for a certain party as the only "moral" choice for them. There are those who are brought up knowing that they need to show up to vote, and fill in the square of any candidate with an "(R)" next to their name. Then there's those who vote for anyone with a "(D)" next to their name. That doesn't leave a lot of chance for a centrist, who probably more accurately represents a lot more people. If a candidate in either of the major parties is too far in the "other" direction, they won't be considered for candidacy. If they choose another party, they are pretty much doomed to lose. From my viewpoint, it's fairly grim.

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on that, as someone who is living closer to where the action is. Is it as bad as I picture it? What would/could change the lock that the parties have? Just fueling the fire for another political blog, if you so choose.

dyk said...

That's not "Jesus in Vegas" is it?

Also, I'm working on an email of your very own.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Dyk - No, but you're on the right album.

Eric - I like where you're going with the name. I don't like the execution.

Emily - Don't worry, I'll still keep Philosofickle for everything else.

Greg - I think you're starting to see an ideological shift, not so much in the parties as in individual represntatives. For example, the new Senate majority leader Harry Reid is often described as a pro-life, pro-gun Democrat. He's moved into a position of power in his party, but he still doesn't define the party. And that's what makes it interesting and why we need to try to start a more substantial shift - by voting for the candidates who are centrist, in exactly the same way that we are. But more importantly, we've got to work on finding a voice outside of the election, that is, in the policies which are put forth, and in early electoral stages, like primaries and such. It's an issue of getting enough of the right people into positions of influence within the party, and maybe the only way to really do that is grind it out within the party, and make sure you get your voice heard. I'd suggest you pitch in to help your candidates, and when the time rolls around, you can pitch in and help me too. ;-)

Jeff said...

Wow. I couldn't disagree with you more re: social conservatism. I found it to be one of the big losers in this elections.

The Democrats aren't going to take up socially conservative issues. Everyone knows that. Harry Reid might be pro-life, but he's not going to push an abortion ban. Heath Shuler may be anti-gay, but he's not going to go all Marilyn Musgrave on us. This election saw social conservatism take a back seat to issues that actually affect people. Social conservatives finally got around to noticing that, oh, there's a war on, real wages are stagnant and have been for some time, and our President is running the country with no oversight from a rubber-stamp Congress. With all that, gay marriage suddenly doesn't seem that important.

And furthermore, I think the events leading up to this election pointed out that social conservatives don't really have a voice in Washington. (The pro-life movement is an exception.) The Democrats are uncomfortable with them at best, and the Republicans really don't care all that much. They can still gaybash through referenda (except, apparently, in Arizona), but they're losing ground on the Hill and in the courts. Given that 30% of white evangelicals (given, not all of whom are socially conservative) voted for a party that absolutely will not push their agenda, it seems that they've resigned themselves to that fact, at least for the time being.

(Incidentally, you might want to check your facts - over 55% of Americans are pro-choice, and most Americans favor stem-cell research. You didn't mention it, but most Americans - 60% at last check - favored civil unions for gay couples too.)

Jeff said...

...or rather, "this election." Proofread, kids.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Jeff - I totally see where you're getting that impression. But I still think you're missing some key parts.

For starters, I really hate the phrase "social conservative" to describe values voters - since I really think a lot of what leads to those positions, for a lot of people is actually a liberalism. (For example, like Ben Stark, I think we should be liberally expanding rights to embryos - it's actually more a leftist position than a conservative ideology.) Furthermore, and probably more importantly, these values voters aren't voting simply on conservative values, they're voting on all sorts of values - like wanting to fight poverty, or ensure access to quality education, etc. If you'll look back over some of my late-fall 2004 posts you'll see what I'm talking about; we centrists have been torn over the past elections because no one accurately represented us, and we had to pick between some of our values (like pro-life) and others (like strongly anti-poverty).

The last several years the Republicans have done a better job courting us centrists because they've promised to address concrete values issues. And that's where your other observation comes in: you're exactly right that the Republicans have basically just been paying lip service to values the past few years.

But that's the big catch here: the Republicans paid this election for not accomplishing anything for us values voters. Why did we turn to the Democratic party? Because 1. We wanted a check on Bush and his war-on-terror policies (values voters are very anti-torture), and 2. We have other values we care about, and those clearly stand a better chance of being addressed with Democrats in power.

Maybe you're right: maybe social conservatives did lose. Maybe that's a different group than the group I'm focusing on. Because I'm talking about centrists.

And so you know, a centrist isn't just someone who shares the majority view (I assume that's what your percentage quotes were about), it's someone who is reconciling two extremes at a middle ground. Civil Unions is a perfect example (I am pro civil unions btw) - here are people trying to reconcile the importance they see in marriage (and the value it has in being an exclusively heterosexual institution) and the importance they see in providing equal rights to all persons. Or with your pro-choice numbers... a ton of those people are not in favor of abortion on-demand, but rather would only have it be available in limited circumstances. Likewise, most pro-lifers acknowledge the horrors involved in these situations and want to do everything they can to remedy them. These are both centrists positions.

And in my mind, the centrists are the big winners in this election. Because ineffective Republicans have been cast out, and they're going to need to regroup and present better candidates who will actually accomplish something, and, at the same time, more centrist Democrats were elected. Sure, they're not in party leadership yet, but hopefully they will be someday. Immediately, maybe a centrist isn't better off (but they're probably not worse off). But taking the long view, I think this election will be wonderful for centrist value voters.

Zhubin said...

I don't think your terms "values voter" or "centrist" are very good. I mean, the definitions you give them could apply to a much broader range of positions than the ones you say they support (i.e., pro-life, anti-poverty).

"Social conservative" and "economic liberal" seem to align more with your stated positions.

Matthew B. Novak said...

I accept that those phrases - to a limited extent - seem to align with my stated positions. But what they really don't capture is motivation and reasoning. More essentially though, I think those terms are much too narrow. What is a social conservative? Am I really a social conservative? Most people wouldn't say so, especially when they hear me supporting same-sex civil unions. But, on the other hand, if you asked me about abortion you might think I am a social conservative.

At least, that is, until you spoke to me for a little more than a couple of minutes and you figured out that I'm really trying to address that tension between protecting lives and eliminating the tragedy of unwanted pregnancies in unfortunate circumstances. I wouldn't just want to outlaw abortions, I'd want a comprehensive law that also addressed all of those other problems that are tied up in causing abortions and would result from a ban. (See previous posts for evidence of this position).

So part of what I really love about the term "centrist" is exactly that it is broad. Centrists don't universally have a single defined position, but rather they're struggling to weigh between two sides, and usually they'd come out somewhere in the middle, such that two centrists might individually identify as pro-life or pro-choice, but ultimately they'd be very close to agreement between themselves.

I find that breadth to be widely appealing because it leaves a lot of room for dialogue and respect, but also helps explain what is really going on in our electorate these days. Our politics and political analysis have become much too truncated, leaving us with "social conservatives" and "economic conservatives" grouped together on one hand, and "economic liberals" and "social liberals" grouped together on the other hand. When in fact the truth is that neither represents the vast majority of America, who may be economically liberal on certain issues and economically conservative on others, and socially liberal on some issues and socially conservative on others. For example, I know plenty of people who agree on the abortion or same-sex marriage issue but disagree amongst themselves on stem cells or gun control.

And since the poles have been so well identified (e.g. "social conservative", "economic liberal"), we need to acknowledge that the difference makers in the past several elections have not been the poles but rather the centrists, and which way most of them seem to be resolving the tension in a given election.

Finally, I feel I should explain just a little about why I was assigning positions to centrists, when the whole idea is that they're wrestling with tension. There are two majors reasons for this. First, I honestly believe centrists can be loosely grouped around certain moderate positions, such as the support of civil unions I outlined in my previous post. These positions I suggested are really middle ground positions, a balance between the two sides. So, for example, I said they tended pro-life because in my experience they are largely opposed to abortion, except in limited circumstances. Instead of a total ban on abortion or abortion on demand (or even the current manifestation) centrists would probably prefer a prohibition with certain allowances for abortion in cases of necessity or specific trauma (i.e. rape); thus, a middle ground position that can fairly be characterized as "pro-life".

The second reason why I was suggesting positions is because I'm actively trying to develop the label and attach it to persons who genuinely percieve the tensions between the poles and work to resolve those tensions in their own political ideology. I want to loosely attach positions to the label "centrists" because it can then serve as a counter-point to the two political parties themselves, or at least to the liberal and conservative ideologies. Not only do I want "centrists" to contrast with the poles, by providing loose position groupings we can develop a solid counterpoint to the idea of "moderates", who can be of any political stripe (e.g. economically liberal or conservative, socially liberal or conservative, etc.) "Moderate" is essentially a content-less word that means nothing more than "not always conservative, not always liberal". "Centrist" provides a nice alternative, where instead of straying from one of the poles like a "moderate", the person is actively wrestling with the ongoing tension, and working to reslove it at a point of balance.

Jeff said...

Thanks for bringing to our attention the idea that a social liberal can still be pro-life. Abortion is a sticky issue when it comes to classification, and should probably be left out of this discussion for a bit.

I don't really like the term values voters because, when you really get down to it, who isn't a "values voter"? Most people vote by figuring out where their values lie and choosing the candidate who addresses their biggest priorities. Perhaps this election can be looked at as a "reshuffle" of values priorities. More evangelical Christians "punted" on the set of values that we generally term "social conservatism" and voted in favor of other values. "God, guns, and gays" got replaced by war, wages, and righteousness (hey, it sounds like it should start with a "w").

Matthew B. Novak said...

Yeah, I'm ok avoiding the term "values voter" and I kind of regret having used it. That being said, I stick to the term "centrist" because I think it provides a significant and important contrast from "moderates" and the poles, as well as helps elucidate the process most average people go through when dealing with the responsibility of voting.

I'd also largely agree with what you said about the voting in favor of other values, though I hardly think most Christians (or the more limited Evangelical Christians) "punted" on the other set of values. More than anything, they just didn't see the people they'd put in power accomplishing what they'd been put there to do. So if Republicans are wise, they'll regroup and make a sincere effort at addressing those issues in the way they said they would the past couple of election cycles.

Anonymous said...

First, I dislike the term values voter, 9/10 people who are values voter only vote pro-life and never consider any other value, whether it be doctrinally Christian or otherwise.

Second, the ever hinging issue of abortion, which Jeff mentioned should maybe put on the back burner, and for that reason I will only pay brief attention to, is still a primary strong hold issue for one party in particular, and because of that one parties view on it the other is forced almost to take a the contrary view. In that way it is refreshing to see candidates and politicians who are "(opposing stance on issue) (political party)". I think overall there is a twisted idea in American politics that if one party is something then no one else can be, or even worse, must pick the polar opposite, and that brings me to...

Third, the Centrist as Matt describes it is becoming more and more of a necessity in politics, and I think Matt picked out good examples of their existence in his post. There was an excellent point made that they may or may not vote on their issues, or make a push to force them on their party, but their mere existence is a step in the right direction; away from increasingly polar opposites.

Forth, Matt, you make a good point about the term moderate, and till this moment I considered myself moderate, but I will hop on your centrist band wagon as of now. Like you pointed out, moderates hold strong claim to not being tied to any one party, but they are still primarily attached to one, or at least one specific set of views. I like the idea of your centrist, which coincidently was my moderate, who considers all values, or issues if you would prefer the term, and tries to reconcile them in the best possible manner.

Fifth, without centrists, or whatever name is finally decided on, this country just might fall apart in the not too distant future. With more and more elections becoming closer and closer it is going to be more important to find candidates that can represent more than 50.1% of the population, especially if their political views continue to get further away from the other 49.9%. Overall I feel that the centrist is becoming more necessary, both parties are starting to realize this, in the prior election the Left saw that conservative values were a force to be reckoned with and now we have Leftist politicians who are holding some of those values. In this election the Right saw that their values issues were not enough anymore, in name alone, and that there are other issues that people are concerned with; maybe 2008 will see an election where the Right leans a little Left.

Think of it like your first middle school dance. The girls stood on one side, the boys on the other. Without the first few people being brave and testing the middle ground no one would get to dance.