The Pull to the Center

Here’s what I was trying to say last night on Twitter.

Christine O’Donnell’s upset win in the Delaware primary is not the sign of a political realignment. It’s just not. So what is it? It is part of the stabilizing mechanism of two-party politics. It indicates not that the GOP is dying, but that it’s going through a sort of eyewall replacement.

Every so often, a party nominates an unelectably extreme candidate, possibly because it’s deliberately testing the waters, though often it happens by accident. Then the party gets stomped at the general election. One might even say that the Republicans did this with Sarah Palin in 2008, but that a VP nomination didn’t quite have the same teaching power. Of course, it still could, thanks in part to Palin’s own efforts.

The next time around, the party bosses — who tend to lack all principles whatsoever — will move the whole apparatus to the center, where it can win the general election. How? With every single means at their disposal, and these are still extensive. You can see them at work even now, quietly trying to scuttle a Palin candidacy. The median voter theorem may not be in the front of Christine O’Donnell’s mind, or of Sarah Palin’s — neither shows much evidence of having considered it — but it isn’t entirely their party. Not by a long shot. The elites still bring things back to the center.

All of which is only as good or as bad as the American political center.

In the center, no one’s much concerned about social conservative issues, which is nice. Sure. The center is solidly pro-masturbation. But the center has no solutions for our entitlement crises, for our growing national debt, for our foreign wars, for the even larger problems of the century ahead. In the center of American politics, torture is either the greatest thing since the American flag, or else … huh, what? …

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50 thoughts on “The Pull to the Center

    • @Robert Cheeks,

      If O’Donnell wins, I’d offer to convert to Christianity. But I understand it would count as simony or something and botch the whole enterprise. Still, I think it’s that unlikely.

      The Tea Party is not noticeably different from establishment conservatism in its policy prescriptions, insofar as it has any coherent ones, except (I think) in the area of greater social conservatism. The social conservatives are the ones being taken for a ride here, because they’re not going to get what they want from the establishment. (Just ask any pro-lifer who’s over the age of fifty.)

      To sum up: Fiscally, the cures we need are more radical than the ones the Tea Party has on offer. As to civil liberties, it’s business as usual — no change at all. And as to social conservatism, it ain’t gonna happen, because that’s how the GOP is going to pivot back to the center. It’s how they always do.

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      • @Jason Kuznicki, I’m starting to like you as much as the beloved North, though I’m not sure you’d want a former homophobe shouting, “Bros Jason” in public.
        Re: the current political phenomenon, the point you guys are missing is that Ms. O’Donnell did her job when she dusted the RINO last night. Win or lose is important for the Senate vote count, I agree, but in terms of “THE RISING” the lady and her crew have sent the smoke filled room boys the message: “If you clowns can’t get your RINO in Commie-Delaware, where in the hell are you going to elect them?”
        And, one more thing, don’t count her out in the general and you guys can whine, bitch, and moan about her lack of creds or her deal with the IRS Gestapo, it doesn’t matter, because by the time the general rolls around THOSE PEOPLE may have more juice than you can believe.
        This is really fun, this may be a cleansing of the GOP stables, or better yet the beginning of a viable third party!

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      • “The Tea Party is not noticeably different from establishment conservatism in its policy prescriptions, insofar as it has any coherent ones, except (I think) in the area of greater social conservatism.”

        Oh bullshit. As disappointed as I am with the nomination of Christine O’Donnell as the Republican candidate for US Senate from Delaware, it has to be acknowledge that the Tea Partiers have real credibility on limited government, much more credibility than the Libertarian establishment in fact who are busy playing liberaltarian footsie.

        We don’t have to look any further than this website to see that. If anybody here has set the record straight on the Obama health care bill, it’s either me or Bob Cheeks. Mark has made parenthetical comments here and there, you and Jaybird haven’t said a word IIRC (though I can’t believe Cato would actually give you a paycheck if you actually supported it) and Erik was in favor.

        If American ever does return to limited government, the Libertarian establishment is expendable, the Tea Parties aren’t.

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          • (short version: given that price is a function of the rate of growth in supply vs. the rate of growth of demand *AND* that given that we cannot realistically address demand outside of making smoking “cool” again *THEREFORE* to bring prices back down will require a massive increase in *SUPPLY*. (addendum: the Obama plan does not really address supply anywhere near as much as it stimulates demand as, as such, will make things worse and, as such, is yet another case where “doing nothing” would be better than “doing this” (where this is “Obamacare).))

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            • @Jaybird, I have to repeat my objection to the notion that it’s as simple as increasing supply. You can increase supply and the result can still be increased costs as the suppliers have an unusually wide degree of latitude in affecting demand.

              (All beside the point of whether or not you opposed Obamacare, but I always have a need to get that particular point off my chest.)

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            • @Jaybird, one of the things that may surprise you (or not) are the intramural battles within the medical establishment. My wife is a family physician with extensive training in obstetrics (two fellowships from which she came out with more deliveries and c-sections than the average OB residency grad). She’s qualified to teach obstetrics, but most hospitals won’t give her privileges to perform c-sections because the obstetrics folks simply won’t let non-OB docs intrude on their turf. The result is that, outside of a few states and rural areas, she’s locked out because she does things other than deliver babies.

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        • @Koz,

          I beg your pardon.

          If by “limited government” you mean “shrink the budget,” then you come up completely empty apart from a lot of slogans. There simply aren’t any well-considered Tea Party proposals out there that will cut the deficit in any significant way, let alone cut total spending.

          And if by “limited government” you instead mean “end the wars, restore civil liberties, shrink the surveillance state, and reform entitlements so they are at bare minimum solvent,” you’ve got worse than nothing. The Tea Party is marching squarely in the opposite direction on most of those.

          As to my own writing about Obamacare, see here and here. I had argued against it frequently at my old blog, but it went down a few months ago, alas. (Perhaps it’s a sign that I’m secretly cheering for Obamacare despite it all. One never knows.)

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            • @Jaybird, JB’s correct in his historical analysis of Bush’s anti-conservative spending while Koz is correct that BO/commie-dems have pushed it to the edge of chaos, which may be their goal. The ground of the economic nightmare is, of course, the commie-dems Freddy/Fanny whore’s nightmare…which Bush and the GOP warned about back in the day.

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          • “As to my own writing about Obamacare, see here and here.”

            Great. I’m happy to be corrected on that score. To restate and clarify, it certainly looks to me like the quasi-libertarian caucus of this blog has far less energy for fighting the entitlement Stalingrad of our time than coverture, homosex, open borders for Arizona, marijuana dispensaries, epistemic closure, the GZ mosque or a dozen other marginally relevant things.

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            • @Koz,

              I do not consider the freedom to live and work where one pleases to be trivial. I do not consider our marijuana laws to be minor affronts to liberty. Religious freedom is a damn slippery slope once you start making exceptions. I’m truly sorry these things aren’t so important to you. (Why do I blog about gay stuff? Because I think I understand it especially well, but not because I think it’s remotely on par with the other stuff. “The light’s better over here,” said the drunk.)

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            • Besides being horribly wrong on the merits for many of these, it continues to amaze me that so many libertarians assign themselves the right to spend societal resources on pet projects.

              If the ability to project our desires into the public sphere were money, you might as well the the illegitimate child of Obama and LBJ.

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            • @Koz, entitlement Stalingrad

              Delightful!!!

              I’m going to start using that one.

              Anyway, do you know the reason that so many Democrats won in 2006 and 2008?

              Because Republicans spent 2000-2006 engaging in Operation Barbarossa.

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            • @Koz, From my quasi-libertarian point of view, I don’t believe there is an “entitlement Stalingrad of our time”. I would be interested in hearing your explanation of precisely what the problem is and how you propose to fix it. Even if hypothetically you did persuade me that the social safety net is unsustainable even in principle, I don’t consider taxes in general or budget deficits (which are just the anticipation of future taxes that may never materialize) to be the worst violations of liberty. Being shot in a drug raid, for example, is a worse violation of liberty. As is being arrested for failing to carry your papers. As is having your property confiscated because your relationship wasn’t recognised by the state. As is being denied the right to open a place of worship.

              Of course I’m only a quasi-libertarian (unlike Jason who doesn’t deserve the quasi at all) but I’m fairly sure that caring about welfare spending more than any of those other things would not make me any less quasi.

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            • “I would be interested in hearing your explanation of precisely what the problem is and how you propose to fix it. “

              Given our current demographic and financial circumstances, I don’t think we can know exactly where the point of unsustainability is. Except that the current welfare state plus the subsidized federalization of health care services implied by the Obama bill is well, well past it.

              This is what I mean by entitlement Stalingrad. If we can’t win this battle, there’s very little else that can help.

              Obviously being shot by a SWAT team is a bigger life disruption and a greater loss of liberty for the poor sap who is dead. But as bad as such things are (and they are really bad), most of us are not going to be shot by the cops.

              But, every one of us are going to have our future livelihoods taken away or put in jeopardy if we can’t reestablish a regime where people can economically engage with each other and cut deals without the government taking such a big slice so as to scuttle the whole transaction.

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            • “Because Republicans spent 2000-2006 engaging in Operation Barbarossa.”

              Bullshit. The Administration of George W Bush and the Republicans who enabled him did not create a new entitlement (plus stimulus package) during an entitlement/financial/sovereign debt crisis. There’s a lot of blame to be laid on their plate but that something they just didn’t do. No, no, no.

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            • @Koz, Medicare Part D. The multiple raisings of the debt limit. The highest revenues in AMERICAN HISTORY in 2007 that were exceeded *ONLY* by THE EXPENDITURES that year.

              A vote for O’Donnell was not a vote for the Tea Party.

              It was a Repudiation of what the Republicans had become.

              Welcome back to the wilderness Koz.

              Until you realize why you’re there, you’ll never leave.

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            • “Welcome back to the wilderness Koz.”

              I know you’re enamored with this Jaybird, so forgive me for being churlish enough to point out that it’s not only wrong, it doesn’t even make sense.

              I have no particular love for the GOP establishment and in just about every case but this one support the “insurgent” candidate.

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  1. I completely agree. I’ll probably get over it soon enough, but for now last night was one of the most half dozen or so disappointing elections of my lifetime. I don’t think the people who supported Miss O’Donnell have any idea how much damage they caused.

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      • Maybe but I don’t think so. It’s one aspect where Miss O’Donnell’s supporters have badly badly miscalculated.

        There is just no chance the Tea Party conservatives can discipline the liberal/centrist part of the GOP this way. If we nominate Marco Rubio and he retires Charlie Crist the moderate establishment has reason to be afraid. If we nominate Caligula’s horse and she retires Mike Castle, our perceptions of the role of Senators and such are so far apart so as not to be worth talking to.

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        • @Koz, and if the Republican Party Machinery is going to promote its candidates at the expense of what Conservatives actually want, the Republican Party Machinery is going find its gears ground on a regular basis.

          Is Castle really the only guy they could have thought to run?

          Really?

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          • No, not necessarily.

            I strongly supported and continue to support almost all the “insurgent” Republicans. But the point being is that most or all of them are good candidates and good people who have done something somewhere that we can hold out as a foundation for support. If it were Peter Fitzgerald or Pat Toomey, I’d retire Mike Castle without thinking twice.

            But this is ridiculous. There are a hundred ways to demonstrate excellence or accomplishment. Miss O’Donnell has shown NONE OF THEM.

            This hurts more than the GOP’s chances of a Senate seat in Delaware. It hurts Rand Paul, Sharron Angle, Ron Johnson and all the other Tea Party candidates who are going to be tainted by association.

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            • @Koz, golly, the Republican Party Machinery made a really bad call by running Castle despite the mood of the voters in the state.

              If I were a Republican, I’d be screaming for the heads of the people who made such a gross miscalculation.

              You know, instead of screaming about the non-viable non-machinery candidate who won.

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            • “golly, the Republican Party Machinery made a really bad call by running Castle despite the mood of the voters in the state.”

              I’d like to think so but we can’t hang this one on the GOP Establishment. We had a proven votewinner in a difficult environment. He’s not the only guy to make this race but let’s make sure Plan B is actually credible before trying it out.

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            • @Koz, Compared to the nomination of a squishy squishy squish squish?

              I really think that you need to address the fact that your so-called “political realism” regarding electability isn’t reflective of the events on the ground.

              There are a lot of folks out there who think that the Republicans were in charge of the government from 2002-2006 and acted like Democrats… and these people are doing what they can to make sure that such Republicans don’t get back in power again.

              Quite honestly, these people are the only hope we have for Fiscal Sanity.

              One would think that you’d be more supportive of this fact rather than playing woulda/coulda/shoulda games about Republican Candidates who voted for such things as the TARP.

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            • “I really think that you need to address the fact that your so-called “political realism” regarding electability isn’t reflective of the events on the ground.”

              Oh I think it is, but my biggest problem with this nomination is not about electability, at least as it applies to the Delaware Senate seat.

              The real problem is that the GOP is running good candidates who are not pol lifer fossils who have all accomplished tangible things inside or outside government office: Marco Rubio, Ron Johnson, Sharron Angle, Rand Paul, etc.

              I expect most of them will win but they will be running into the wind of personal attacks, distortions, and cheapshots. It will be difficult enough as it is but it will be all the more difficult with the association of Christine O’Donnell.

              George W Bush was President of the United States for five years before he nominated Harriet Miers to be a Justice of the Supreme Court. The Tea Partiers have won just a bare handful of elections and they’re already trying to get sinecures for their third-raters.

              We’ve got no time for that, or scoresettling against RINOs. The situation is dire. We as Tea Party sympathizers need to represent to the rest of the electorate that we can be trusted to make our best effort to restore limited government and prosperity to America. Nominating Christine O’Donnell is a big step backwards.

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            • Obviously, the Republicans should have chosen a more conservative standard-bearer with a history of winning elections in a generally hostile state such as… uhm… ?

              I mean, I get that in a conservative or even moderate state that it is worth taking the chance on a genuinely conservative candidate. Delaware isn’t one of those states.

              For someone like you (or me, for that matter), that doesn’t have any real loyalty to the GOP and doesn’t care all that much if they get a majority, I understand why it’s a chance worth taking cause it’s not our fight (exactly). But for those, like Koz and a lot of the Republican primary voters that aren’t in the middle or simply off the rails of the general left-right continuum? The wrong person won. Losing by a couple thousand votes in a closed primary and an unproven theory that conservatives really can win in liberal state doesn’t compensate for having a candidate that Delawareans actually like and have demonstrated a willingness to vote for.

              (Unless O’Donnell actually does emerge victorious, in which case I will eat my words. I’d take 5-to-1 odds on a Coons victory, though.)

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            • @Koz, I think Jay has a fair point given what we know now about how big the wave is turning out to be. But when these decisions were being made, i don’t think it was nearly so clear. Winning Delaware at that time would have been a blue-sky endeavor, and hardly the place to make a point about ideological fitness of candidates, from the party’s perspective. Jay is showing hindsight bias here. Additionally, correct me if I’m wrong, but running Castle was the one thing that pushed Beau Biden out of the race. Say what you want about dynastic succession, but Biden would have been a formidable candidate. So not only did the party not now just how winnable Delaware would turn out to be due to the climate, additionally the choice of Castle itself contributed to how winnable it proved to be in the event (barring something like last night). It’s path-dependent.

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            • I don’t think hindsight bias changes that much actually. We live in the post-Scott-Brown world, and even allowing for that Christine O’Donnell is 15 points behind in today’s poll. I suppose it is possible that underestimates her strength or the difference can be made up. This is assuming that the landscape is going to tilt further to the Republicans’ favor, and I don’t like that assumption. I want the landscape to tilt toward the GOP, but I also want the GOP to grind out wins from where it’s at.

              More than that, both you and Jay seemed to gloss over the fact my biggest problem with O’Donnell is that she is a bad candidate and as such tends to discredit both the Tea Parties and the GOP. That’s related to electability but not at all the same thing. We only have a finite amount of energy to project into the public square. I want that energy concentrated toward prosperity and limited government. Christine O’Donnell’s resume padding isn’t on my agenda at all.

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  2. Of course the establishment pushes back to the center because they have only one interest getting elected or re-elected, thats all that matters to them, the rest is window dressing. The republicans demonstrated this after 1994 by failing to follow up and live with their pledges. If they had had the guts to push term limits thru things might be different, but they did not, showing that they will say anything to be elected. More and more it is obvious that both parties only care about winning elections and the rest is just to win them, they don’t give a damn about people.

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  3. Castle also apparently voted for TARP and crazy lady whom I do not endorse but probably would have voted for anyway ran on this.

    Huh.

    Check it out.

    reason.com/blog/2010/09/15/so-what-did-christine-odonnell

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