The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Voters Fed Up with Both Parties

In an important new piece at Fox News, James Pinkerton asks a provocative question: what if neither the Republicans nor the Democrats are able to build a sustainable majority? Over the past decade, power has swung wildly from the Republicans to the Democrats and back again with alarming speed. The only constant seems to be that voters are dissatisfied with whoever is in power at the time. Needless to say, this does not make for stable or effective politics, and the resulting cacophony is doing little to reassure voters that the nation’s politics are on the right track.

Clearly, a lot of voters aren’t pleased. One would think that at times such as these, the parties would take a close look at their ideas and attempt to define a new agenda that would capture the popular imagination. Yet as Pinkerton argues, they’ve done exactly the opposite:

. . . [S]trangely, at the moment when both parties are failing to build an enduring majority, Democrats as well as Republicans seem to be retreating into their respective “bases”—that is, into their treasured, if not necessarily popular, orthodoxies.

And so today Democrats are once again the party of redistribution, and Republicans are once again the party of austerity. And as the partisan rhetoric heats up, the political divide between the two parties deepens. [...]

Thus the conundrum for both parties: People realize that there’s an overall problem, and blame politicians for not fixing it, and yet they seem to mistrust the specific solutions put forward.

Does that mean that the voters are inconsistent? Even hypocritical? That’s one explanation.

Another explanation is that politicians have not yet put forward solutions that win the voters’ justified confidence.

So let’s take another look at the budget brawl. Some might say it’s a shame that the two parties are fighting over future budgets, because both parties are sure to be wrong.

Read the whole thing.

It is stunning that at a time of the greatest change we’ve seen in more than a generation, our national debate is not only polarized but stale. We are recycling old platitudes (Ron Paul arguing with Nancy Pelosi) rather than developing new approaches that take advantage of the new extraordinary new possibilities that the information revolution has created. The blue model system that has governed America is collapsing, yet many politicians are still unwilling to admit it, and those that recognize the problem have few novel ideas about what should replace it. There is ample room for a genuinely new, forward-thinking vision, and the first party to articulate it stands to reap electoral dividends for years to come.

Voters are hungry for visions and alternatives. Something new needs to appear.

Published on April 26, 2012 9:10 am
  • http://vbounded.blogspot.com vbounded

    Pinkerton has his head backwards, so does VM. Each politician is doing EXACTLY what his voters want: pushing his voters’ view and refusing to compromise. Until the voters break left or right or for compromise, there won’t be a consensus.

    Criticizing politicians for doing what his regions voters want is naive and silly.

  • Anthony

    “Voters are hungry for visions and alternatives…” Now, to organize the hunger and recognize the crisis….

  • Anthony

    WRM, here’s related subject matter on voters being fed up…

    “…what’s more, a reality is seeping into the national consciousness that the political battles of our time aren’t going to fade away. They will have to be resolved one way or another. That means we are living through a time of transition; we are living through a crisis of the Old Order. It is in large measure a crisis of conflict between entrenched powers and their constituent groups on one hand and ordinary Americans on the other…” (America’s Civic Deadlock and the Politics of Crisis – The National Interest).

  • thibaud

    Vast majorities of voters support border enforcement, immigration sanity, greater equality and increased hiring via tax reform, and an end to the scandalous American practice of allowing private insurers to deny benefits to people because of a “pre-existing condition.”

    There is no party and no politician (except for the brilliant Jim Webb, who alas was a clumsy and ineffective Senator) who supports all the elements of this sensible agenda for providing greater security for US working families.

    And when Ryan compromises with Wyden to actually move forward and get something done, each party condemns his guy as “selling out.” Ideology carries the day. OtherSide delenda est.

    One party doesn’t [care] about people facing ruin solely because of their health condition or employment status; the other doesn’t [care] about our dreadful schools; and neither [cares] about ending our importation of an underclass.

    A pox on both houses.

  • Some Sock Puppet

    I’d say you’ve certainly hit what I’m feeling right on the head.

    I’m disgusted with the entire system.

    Corruption and rot set in and it’s festered badly. We need some radical slashing of the governments powers and abilities and no one seems ready to do it outside of the Tea party.

    The bozo boomers (Children of Marx™ variety) have screwed it all up so badly that everything they touch turns to crap. Call it the reverse Midas touch.

  • http://athens-and-jerusalem.blogspot.com Withywindle

    I am more skeptical that there are new answers–Prof. Mead, you ought to recognize that as a blue nostrum. It’s more a question of which platitudes are appropriate for the time. And I think Spengler’s contention equally plausible, that much of the American populace has not faced up to the harrowing economic losses they inevitably face, one way or another–that sacrifice, period, is their problem, not an insufficiently perfected program of shared sacrifice. Do consider that key phrases of this post might have been written by Tom Friedman, and take that as a signal to reconsider.

  • Kenny

    Re: The budget, the debt, the unfunded liabilities, and everything else.

    Nothing is going to ‘solved’ until there is a true crisis event. And when that crisis hits, power will be consolidated in one side or the other in a relatively quick manner.

    The sides can be described in various ways

    1) Big Governemt vs. Small Government
    2) Liberal leftists vs. Conservatives
    3) France & the PIGGS vs Germany
    4) Security & suffication vs personal responsibility & freedom

    but they all represent the same basic choice.

    The Blue Model that you write so much on, Mr. Mead, is represented as the former in each of the above descriptions. It is my wish, however, that the latter description prevail.

  • higgins1990

    I say start over. It is the RIGHT of the people to abolish destructive forms of government. From our Declaration of Independence:
    .
    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…”

  • Andrew Allison

    I believe that the crux of the problem is that elected office has become a (lucrative) career. Not enough attention is given to the different outcomes between states in this regard (TX and CA spring to mind).
    The only real interest of the incumbents is to keep their jobs. This they do by bribing gerrymandered constituencies and special interests. The solution is term limits for US Senators and objective districting (give the job to a computer!) for Congress and State elected officials. Unhappily, because the incumbents are so entrenched, @7 is correct, and only a crisis will bring change.

  • Mrs. Davis

    Something new needs to appear.

    Under the Sun?

  • John Mainhart

    I believe that Mr. Meade’s blog a few months ago cited the true problem. We have a generation of leaders who in general do not bring their values to the table when they are trying to solve political, economic or social problems. If we had leaders who were willing to offer solutions that were based in time honored values that bespeake of most Americans willingness to be unselfish in the pursuit of solutions, we would succeed.
    However this will take leaders who have the courage to risk losing which would fly in the face of what we are told twenty-four/ seven by the talking heads on TV . It will also take people who see morality as essential in just solutions to problems. There are no scientific solutions to the present mess we have created. All those people who sacrificed their lives and health to defeat the menace of Facism in the 1940′s are saddened by what we have done to this country with the freedom they earned for us.

  • ms

    I was just reading an article by Jay Cost this morning that argues that each party has a solid base of 45%, which essentially leaves the presidential decision to 10% of voters in swing states. By contrast, in mid-20th century elections, fewer people were firmly committed to a party and election swings were much bigger. In other words, a candidate might garner 60% of the vote, something that never happens now.

    What this tells me (but I could be wrong) is that the parties are actually more stable now and represent true differences in philosophy. At mid-century, people might swing back and forth because the parties weren’t that different and people voted more on the person they liked than on the party. The differences in philosophy that have hardened in the two parties also explain the aversion voters feel when their party is out of power.

    Now, everyone from either party no doubt hankers for sensible solutions to the nation’s ills, but I must say that it looks to me like the philosophy of the Democratic party is much more tied to the blue model of governmental and bureaucratic solutions. That said, I don’t think that the “pox on both your houses” approach is all that helpful because we have to proceed from where we are. We absolutely should make full use of technology and seek to solve our problems in innovative ways, and I have a lot of faith in good old Yankee ingenuity, but solutions arise from problems and from particular understandings of institutions and traditions. These things are not just weighing us down, they help us move forward in sensible ways eventually. I guess my point is that, while it’s fun to dismiss both sides and call for something wholly new, this doesn’t seem to me to be a very useful or realistic way to deal with our current problems.

  • http://Thepencilofnature.net Lorenz Gude

    I think both parties inside the beltway are not facing the music. State governors are begining to and it will be from thier ranks that more responsive leadership will come. We should be able to see some clear trends by 2016, but for now neither party is fit to govern at the national level. I would add that as a recovering liberal I am sometimes infected by Tom Friedman optimism and I agree that WRM seems to catch a touch of that virus from time to time.

  • stan

    In DC, both parties start from a position entrenched in the blue model. The GOP wants to trim a little around the edges of growth for the model and the Dems want to blow it up to full-time socialism. The majority of people in flyover country know that government has gotten too corrupt and special interests too entrenched to make for a workable system. Until a candidate appears who is willing to declare open war on the blue model, the phony war in DC will continue.

  • Jim.

    “In any given election, one politician or party has to win, of course, but success in one election only seems to breed a backlash in the next election.”

    Really? 2010 came and went, and Republicans are up in the generic Congressional race more often than not. (CNN’s 35 to 58 favorable / unfavorable isn’t reflected by either the Congress poll, or at the ballot box, period.)

    The fact is that our budgetary problems are so grave that we have to take drastic action to solve them. Paul Ryan is as close to a hero as we have, on that point. The fact that Obama is running against him shows just what sort of cowardly, pandering ideologues the Democrats are producing these days.

    We can’t support their plans because the money’s gone. Efforts to raise that money would be counterproductive.

    Peoples’ expectations — particularly Boomer expectations — have to change, to be more in line with sustainable government expenditures.

    Once those expectations have changed, we can move forward — and sweeping away politicians who will lie and pander rather than owning up to what has to be done is a good first step.

  • Glen

    There’s a very simple explanation why “Over the past decade, power has swung wildly from the Republicans to the Democrats and back again with alarming speed.”

    George Bush and the Republican majorities in Congress governed in ways that were indistinguishable from their Democratic Party predecessors. When Barack Obama presented himself in 2007 as a blank slate vaguely promising “Hope and Change,” a public disgusted with business-as-usual in Washington voted out incumbents, believing that Obama would do what he said.

    The public won’t make that mistake again.