Out on the campaign trail, Barack Obama has given us his analysis of why his party is headed for significant losses in the election nine days hence.
“Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now,” said the president for whom politics did not seem so tough in 2008, “and facts and science and argument do not seem to be winning the day all the time, is because we’re hardwired not to always think clearly when we’re scared. And the country’s scared.”
In other words, the voters can’t see straight.
But maybe it’s the Obama Democrats who are so scared they can’t see straight. John Maynard Keynes famously said that practical men of business are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. In this case, it seems that practical men of politics may be the slaves of some defunct political scientists and historians.
Those political scientists and historians, inspired by the Progressive movement and New Deal of the last century, taught that history inevitably and properly moves left. It is a story of progress from little or no government to big and bigger government.
Bigger government, in this view, helps the ordinary citizen, who is otherwise at the mercy of the masters of the marketplace. And those citizens will be grateful, especially in times of economic distress, to the politicians who expand government ever further.
This theory has been getting some empirical testing over the past two years. And it doesn’t seem to be working any better than Keynes thought the theories of defunct economists were working in the 1930s.
The Obama Democrats have been giving Americans more government, with a vengeance. But the voters seem about to wreak vengeance in their turn.
That’s apparent in the much-watched races for the Senate. Democrats may be pulling even in Pennsylvania and Colorado, but Republicans are even or pulling ahead in California and Illinois. Overall, forecasters consider five Democratic seats lost and believe that Republicans could gain up to six others, though they’ll probably fall short of the ten they need for a majority.
Similarly, in governorships, Democrat Jerry Brown has a small lead in California, and Florida is a dead heat. But Republicans seem likely to replace Democrats in the industrial heartland from Pennsylvania west to the Mississippi River. And they’re likely to gain legislative seats, which will enable them to draw congressional district boundaries for 2012 and beyond.
The big battle is for the House, in which the majority party can pretty well run things. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is insisting Democrats will hold their majority. But that is what any party leader has to say.
Charlie Cook and Stuart Rothenberg, who do seat-by-seat analysis, expect Republicans to capture the 39 seats they need for a majority and more. Both list 100 seats as up for grabs, of which 91 are held by Democrats and only nine by Republicans.
In wave-election years, the wave party usually wins half or a little more of the seats it targets, while the losing party usually wins only about one-tenth of its target seats. You do the math. Looks to me like Republicans gain more than the 52 they captured in 1994.
Why has the Democrats’ theory of history moving left worked out so badly? One reason is that it is factually untrue. We’ve moved from regulation to deregulation in the last century, for example.