We can not underestimate the level of ardent resistance Barack Obama and his “New New Deal” will come under from the GOP. The field marshals are already warning the troops for the battle ahead, at CATO they predict that any passage of a form of universal health care, could mean the end of the GOP. CATO quotes Norman Markowitz who says:
The best way to win over the the portion of the working class in the South or the West that supported McCain and the Republicans is to create important new public programs and improve the social safety net. National health care [and other measures] will bring reluctant voters into the Obama coalition. That is how progress works.
The GOP of course has been down this road before. After the successful FDR administration Republicans were forced to support what had become national institutions like Social Security. Recall that even Bush, nearly a half century later, could do nothing to change the basics of the program. At all levels of government Republicans became the usual minority. With the exception of Eisenhower, Democrats would dominate the White House until Nixon’s election, and the House until 1995 with only 2 terms being controlled by Republicans 1947 and 1953. We have lived in a time where Republicans have come out of the desert. Starting with Reagan in 1980 the GOP made significant electoral gains, reestablished themselves as a national party, and a pro-business, pro-opportunity party. Voters in 1992 chose Clinton, in large part because of the failure of the GOP to turn the economy around.
It was at this moment that a Democratic revival should have began, it was here that an opportunity similar, though all together separate, from where we find ourselves now, emerged. Had Clinton been able to pass universal health care, and other prominent big government supported programs, a new generation of solid Democrats could have emerged. The 1992 Electoral Map bears a striking similarity to Obama’s. Though they won in some different places, the facts were the same as Markowitz alludes to: passage of national programs could have turned voters in places like Missouri into Democratic voters for years to come.
Of course, Clinton squandered this opportunity in the first two years, and then hamstrung with a newly energized GOP in control of Congress, worked in incremental steps to advance small pieces of what was once a larger agenda of reform.
The battles to start in January over the Obama Stimulus plan are battles for whether or not the GOP will survive for the next 20-30 years, or whether they will remain a minority party once more. Failure to institute meaningful and fundamental change like universal health care, will create another opportunity for the GOP to return.
They will return like they did the last time. It’s no wonder that some conservatives believe the key is to return to heavy conservatism and religiosity: those were bedrocks to their strategy of return in the 80s and 90s. I don’t believe that the Obama win was necessarily a refutation of these tactics, after all dirty campaigning and fear, uncertainty, and doubt have been campaign staples for as long as democracy has existed. Instead I believe that a unique electoral climate, created by the failures of the modern conservative movement that are now killing our economy, created an opportunity for Democrats to get a second chance. This began with the midterms in 2006, and culminated on November 4th.
The question now is can we deliver. At every turn they will try to block large-scale reform, sounding the calls for compromise and bipartisanship. Giving into their demands and instituting anything less than a fundamental shift in how government helps its people is failure. The American people will suffer, the promises of change will be unrealized, and the American voter makes no distinction between the party to blame, only who was in charge when things stayed the same.