[Editor's note: Below is the transcript -- and video -- of Michael Barone discussing what is emerging on the political national scene at David Horowitz's Restoration Weekend in Palm Beach, Nov. 18-21.]
Video Part I:
Moderator: Michael Barone, American political analyst, pundit and journalist, is well known for being the principal author of the Almanac of American Politics. Considered the dean of American political journalists, Michael started analyzing population statistics as a boy after the 1950 census by studying the New World Book Encyclopedia his parents brought home. He has gone on to visit all 50 states and all 435 congressional districts. He can still tell you, down to the last digit, the number of residents in the major cities of the United States.
Michael is a popular commentator on US elections and political trends for the Fox News Channel. In 2009, Michael Barone joined the Washington Examiner. Leaving his position of 18 years at US News & World Report, he is based at the American Enterprise Institute as a Resident Fellow.
Some of Michael Barone’s expert commentary has been concerned with the topic of immigration. He’s the author of several books — “Our Country — The Shaping of America from Roosevelt to Reagan,” “The New Americans — How the Melting Pot Can Work Again,” “Hard America, Soft America — Competition vs. Coddling and the Battle for the Nation’s Future,” “Our First Revolution — The Remarkable British Upheaval That Inspired America’s Founding Fathers.”
Scholar, pundit, political ally and admired friend — please welcome our very special guest, Michael Barone.
Michael Barone: I’ve been given a tough assignment here. I have to wake up everyone who was put to sleep by Michele Bachmann. So that’s tough.
We’ve just had another election, an interesting election. In some ways, I think I could sum it up by saying that a tsunami spread across America from the George Washington Bridge to the Donner Pass. Unfortunately, it’s still leaving the cannibals on each side still standing. Speaking of the public employee unions, of course.
It’s really — this has been a fascinating period for me. Because we’ve actually had two historic elections in a row. And I think it’s insufficiently appreciated by much of the mainstream media. 2008 in some ways was a record election victory for the Democratic Party. And 2010 in some ways was a record electoral victory for the Republican Party.
Start off with 2008, although perhaps some people in this room would rather not reflect on this. Barack Obama — and keep this mind, by the way, when people tell you that the American people can’t stand having a black President. Barack Obama was elected with 53 percent of the vote. That’s more than any other Democratic nominee in history except Andrew Jackson, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. It’s more than John Kennedy or Jimmy Carter, more than Woodrow Wilson or Harry Truman. It’s more even — and don’t think that he doesn’t know this — than Bill Clinton.
In the popular vote for the House of Representatives, which is a kind of key metric of American political sentiment every two years, the Democrats beat Republicans by a margin of 54 to 43 percent two years ago. That may not sound like a lot, but it was better than the Democrats had done since 1986, when they were still winning most of the popular vote for the House in the South, which of course they don’t anymore. And in the 36 non-Southern states, the Obama Democrats won 57 percent of the vote. That’s more than any time in the last hundred years — perhaps ever. It was actually a record victory for the Democratic Party.
Now compare 2010 — Republicans won the popular vote for the House by 52-45. That’s the same percentage as they won in 1994. It’s higher than any percentage that they’ve won since 1946. And at that time, the figures aren’t actually commensurate. Because in 1946, only about 10 percent of the popular votes were cast in the South, which was then the most Democratic region in the country. If the South had voted proportionate to population as it does today, the Republican percentage would’ve been lower than it was this year.
So we’re looking at a historic high for the Republican Party. If you compare the popular vote for the House in 2008 and 2010, the Republican percentage went up nine percent; the Democratic percentage went down nine percent. That’s a huge change. Remember, a lot of congressional districts, even in a wave-election year like 2010, are not seriously contested. There’s just sort of momentum for the incumbents. There’s sort of a drag factor there that keeps those national numbers from changing too much. In an ordinary election year, they change by one, two or three points.
This is a nine percent shift. We are talking about a tsunami crest going across America between those two locations that I mentioned. We haven’t seen as large a shift as nine percent of the popular vote since the elections just after World War II in 1946 and ’48. And interestingly, American voters at the years just after World War II were faced with a choice something like the choice the Obama Democrats have presented. And that is to say a choice between a vast expansion of the size and scope of government.
President Franklin Roosevelt in his last years called for national health insurance, public housing to replace the private housing market. He called for the vast continuation of wage and price controls, the vast expansion of labor unions and so forth. American voters and the Congresses elected in that period effectively rejected that policy.
So while Britain was voting for the Labour government after World War II that nationalized industries and put in national health insurance, the United States made another choice. And I think that that is the choice that Americans made once again in 2010.
There’s two kinds of periods that we have. We have periods of trench-warfare politics and periods of open-field politics. Trench-warfare politics — political opinion is relatively stable, voting behavior doesn’t change much from year to year. Issue focus remains the same. In periods of open-field politics, politicians and voters are moving around, issue focus shifts, and we get very different results sometimes from election to election.
And we had a period of open-field politics roughly from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, with sharp changes in voting behavior; and then a period of trench-warfare politics from 1983 to ’91. Most voters voted Republican for President; Democratic for Congress. And political scientists developed, as they do, theories why this would always be so. The Republicans had a lock on the presidency; Democrats had eternal control of Congress.
That was promptly followed by a period of open-field politics from ’91 to ’95, in which all those theories were demolished. American voters in their wisdom broke the Republican lock on the Presidency and elected Bill Clinton in 1992. Republicans ended the supposed eternal Democratic majorities in Congress in 1994, as Newt Gingrich predicted.
And we had third-party candidates who were leading in the polls against major-party candidates — Colin Powell, in the fall of 1995 and Ross Perot in Spring ’92. You’ll all remember how Ross Perot got out of the race because he said the first President Bush was going to send the Air Force in to strafe his daughter’s wedding. Then he gets back in. Nineteen percent of our fellow citizens voted for a man who was obviously clinically insane. But we had — nonetheless, all the old rules were broken in that period.
And then, that was followed, between 1995 and 2005, by a period of trench-warfare politics, which the two parties, politicians and voters were like two almost equal-sized armies in a culture war, fighting it out for small bits of terrain that made the difference between victory and defeat, and in which the demographic factor most highly correlated with voting behavior was religion or degree of religiosity. And many of the issues that were emphasized — issues like abortion — had, for many voters, specific religious content.
This was the nation I call the 49 percent nation, after the 2000 election. In the five House elections, Republicans won pluralities of the popular — they won the popular vote and won more seats [to] the Democratic Party, but never by a wide margin.
And I can remember how close this was. Ten years ago, on Election Day, I was at Fox News headquarters in New York. And we got the first tranche of exit polls, in those days, about 12:45 p.m. And we got all these results, very close results, in, you know, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Florida — close results in one state after another. And I looked at these and contemplated the lengthy election night, and I had a two-word comment, of which I will relay only the first word to you, which was, “Oh….”
Brit Hume said, “Michael, this election may not be decided till the wee hours of the morning.” And I said, “Brit, we may not have a result in this election for two or three days.” As you remember, it was 36 days that we had the result.
So, since the summer of 2005, since Katrina, since the explosion of violence in Iraq, we’ve been in a very different period of open-field politics. During this period, we’ve seen the issue focus change sharply. 2006, it was all on Iraq. By 2008, you don’t hear about Iraq anymore. Because the surge is working, and even Harry Reid has a hard time denying it.
You get the interesting phenomenon — $4-a-gallon gasoline made a huge difference for Americans on environmental issues. Before that, the attitude on oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska was — we must preserve the pristine environment. When the gas went to $4, the attitude changed to — nuke the caribou.
And in fact, you know, for people concerned about global warming supposedly caused by carbon emissions, I should point out that there are 377,000 caribou in Alaska. They have multiple stomachs and considerable flatulence. And I’m not sure that maximizing the number of caribou is actually the way to prevent global warming.
In any case, the Democrats, as we know, made big gains in 2006 and won historic majorities, as I’ve argued in 2008. The political philosopher, James Carville predicted 40 years of Democratic dominance. Carl Rove had predicted something a little more modest than that four years before, when Bush won by narrower margins. It turns out Carville was wrong. Forty years of Democratic dominance turned out to be more like 40 weeks. Republicans moved ahead of Democrats in the generic ballot question — which party’s candidate do you support for House of Representatives — in August 2009, which is almost exactly 40 weeks after the November ’08 election.
In my view, the Obama Democrats made a fundamental miscalculation about the American people. They interpreted the Republicans’ defeat as not just a negative verdict on their competence — which I think it clearly was — but as a rejection of their ideology. And they assumed that economic distress would make Americans more supportive of, or at least amenable to, big government policies.
This is the lesson, after all, taught by the New Deal historians, which were bestsellers in their time. I tried to advance a somewhat different view in my book, “Our Country — The Shaping of America from Roosevelt to Reagan,” a more nuanced view, if you will. That book is now available on Amazon for $3.50. And maybe you can double-buy with Amity Shlaes’ “The Forgotten Man,” which attempts to do, in a somewhat different way, the same kind of thing I was trying to do there in the ‘30s.
Go back to the polling of the late 1930s. Unemployment was stubbornly going above 10 percent. You had — most Americans believed that government was spending too much and choking off recovery. They believed that uncertainty about government tax and regulatory policies were preventing business from creating jobs. They thought labor unions had too much power and needed to be curbed. It actually sounds kind of familiar today.
And at the same time, if you look at the other Anglosphere democracies in those days, you’ll see big-government parties were rejected by voters in the UK, in Canada and Australia. You know, the New Deal historians said, Well, the Democrats won five elections in a row, Roosevelt won four times. If you go back and look at that, at the 1940, ‘44 election, you’re talking about elections in time of war. 1940 was a period of foreign policy crisis. Hitler and Stalin were allies in control of, or threatening to be in control of, most of the land mass of Eurasia. It was the closest the world came to 1984.
And in that period, the voters went with Roosevelt as a seasoned leader against a utility executive who had not held public office. I don’t think that that’s a big-government-supporting election.
Now, a lot of people would say that these old elections are irrelevant. And I don’t think so. I think they should’ve been a warning that in a time of lingering high unemployment in the wake of a financial collapse, recessions after financial collapses last a lot longer than recessions that just occur as incidents in the business cycle. Voters are rejecting big-government policies as economically damaging, and they are politically dangerous.
And so we’ve seen, through this campaign, the Democrats ban the word “stimulus” from their campaign vocabulary. I guess you were allowed to use it with appearances of former President Clinton. The GM and Chrysler bailouts, which earlier speakers have talked about — you know, that should’ve been popular in my home state of Michigan. But Michigan voted for Republican Rick Snyder for governor by a margin of 58 to 40, and they won a majority of the state Senate at 27 to 11. That doesn’t sound like support of the GM and Chrysler bailout.
Then the healthcare bill — voters, speaking through the medium of public opinion polls and through the unlikely [agents] of the voters of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, said don’t pass this bill. Speaker Nancy Pelosi decided they should pass this bill. She persuaded President Obama, or he went along with this. And they did pass the bill, after marching one after another Democrat up there in an endangered district to say that they would support it.
This is, as far as I can tell, the most unpopular piece of major legislation passed by the Congress since the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. And Pat Caddell points out that the Kansas-Nebraska Act was campaigned against by the Republican Party — the just-coming-into-existence Republican Party — as the crime against Kansas; and that the healthcare bill might be thought of as the crime against healthcare.
In any case, the Kansas-Nebraska Act resulted in the disappearance of one major party, the relegation to minority status of the other major party, and civil war. I don’t think those results — you know, Obamacare’s not going to be as dire as that. But it sure seemed that way to a few Democrats on the night of November 2nd.
The most unexpected development of the last 19 months — and Michele Bachmann spoke to this, speakers at the different panels referred to it in different ways — is the spontaneous inrush in the political activity of hundreds of thousands, even millions, of previously uninvolved Americans, in the movement which is symbolized by but not limited to the Tea Party movement.
And I find this absolutely fascinating. We haven’t seen anything like this in quite a few years. It is not Astroturf. Nancy Pelosi was projecting when she said that. She knows that those SEIU people that are picketing the Republican candidates are only there from noon to two because they’re only paid for two hours.
But the Tea Party people were there in those town hall meetings in August 2009. And after those meetings, many Democratic congressmen basically abandoned having public schedules any time, or making public appearances where citizens and their constituents could actually talk to them.
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