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The Daley Machine is Nervous: Political Realignment in the Works? December 26, 2009

Posted by seeineye in : Politics , trackback

by Paul A. Rahe

For some time now — here, here, and here — I have been arguing what at first must have seemed counter intuitive: that a great political realignment may be in the works.

Today, in The Washington Post, William M. Daley warns his fellow Democrats that they are in danger of bringing just such a realignment about. After alluding to the announced retirements of four centrist Democrats in the House and to Parker Griffith’s switch to the Republican side, Daley argues that “the Democratic Party — my lifelong political home — has a critical decision to make: Either we plot a more moderate, centrist course or risk electoral disaster not just in the upcoming midterms but in many elections to come.”

The political dangers of this situation could not be clearer.

Witness the losses in New Jersey and Virginia in this year’s off-year elections. In those gubernatorial contests, the margin of victory was provided to Republicans by independents — many of whom had voted for Obama. Just one year later, they had crossed back to the Republicans by 2-to-1 margins.

Witness the drumbeat of ominous poll results. Obama’s approval rating has fallen below 49 percent overall and is even lower — 41 percent — among independents. On the question of which party is best suited to manage the economy, there has been a 30-point swing toward Republicans since November 2008, according to Ipsos. Gallup’s generic congressional ballot shows Republicans leading Democrats. There is not a hint of silver lining in these numbers. They are the quantitative expression of the swing bloc of American politics slipping away.

Griffith and the Democrats who have decided to retire are, Daley says, “the truest canaries in the coal mine.”

Bill Daley is a man well worth listening to. His father was a legendary machine politician and longtime mayor in Chicago; and his brother has for sometime held that office. Bill Daley is himself the man behind the curtain. He was Clinton’s Secretary of Commerce, he chaired Al Gore’s presidential campaign back in 2000, and, as is widely acknowledged, he is the brains behind today’s Chicago machine. He is also a leading Catholic layman, and he knows just how explosive the abortion question could be. He would not have written this op-ed had he not been profoundly worried.

Of course, Daley thinks that the Democrats can head off disaster by changing course. “It may be too late,” he observes, “to avoid some losses in 2010, it is not too late to avoid the kind of rout that redraws the political map.” All that his party has to do is to “to acknowledge that the agenda of the party’s most liberal supporters has not won the support of a majority of Americans — and, based on that recognition, to steer a more moderate course on the key issues of the day, from health care to the economy to the environment to Afghanistan.” The Democrats need not, he adds, abandon their radical agenda. They need only take the polling data “as a sign that they must continue the hard work of slowly and steadily persuading their fellow citizens to embrace their perspective.”

This is good tactical advice — but it is too little and too late. With the Senate’s passage of Harry Reid’s version of the healthcare bill in the wee hours this morning, the die is cast.

Realignments take place when the American people come to feel — I use that last word advisedly — that one of the two parties is a conspiracy to take away their liberties.

This was the charge that Thomas Jefferson and the Jeffersonian Republicans of 1800 directed at the Federalists, and the conduct of the New England Federalists at the Hartford Convention a few years thereafter persuaded a majority of their compatriots that there was something to the charge.

It was the charge that Andrew Jackson directed at supporters of the second Bank of the United States, that Abraham Lincoln’s Republicans directed at the slave power, that Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Democratic Party directed at the so-called “economic royalists” in and after 1932.

The argument that FDR lodged in 1936 –that “a small group” is intent on concentrating “into their own hands an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people’s money, other people’s labor – other people’s lives” — was then a lie. But it worked. Americans were suffering, and someone had to be blamed.

FDR’s charge is now quite obviously true. Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid have unmasked the Democratic Party. We now know who and what they are. We know that the entire party supports what I once described as “Obama’s Tyrannical Ambition.”

All that it now takes to turn American politics upside down is for someone on the Republican side to rearticulate FDR’s charge and drive it home.

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