Even though it is still early days yet, there have been hundreds of analyses and discussions about the Democratic swing in the recent US midterm elections. There are probably as many different spins being put on the outcome as there are commentators.
What can be said for sure is that the Democrats won control of both houses of Congress. President Bush’s last two years in office will now be much more difficult. Conciliation, not antagonism, is already being witnessed, and there will indeed be interesting days to come.
While the slow progress in Iraq has been part of the backlash, there have been other issues. Two American commentators who are always worth listening to have added their own assessments to the mix. While their remarks are not the final word, nor a complete explanation, they do add important perspectives on how we should understand the election results.
Charles Colson, writing in Breakpoint (November 9, 2006), argues that the character issue was a key factor.
He begins by making some timely reminders: “I have always maintained that Christian leaders should not make partisan endorsements – and I never have. But I am unashamed to say that I am a conservative. In one sense, I think, all Bible-believers are conservative, because we believe in governing our lives by revealed truth rather than by man-made, utopian ideologies. Modern liberalism wants to remove all restraints on people’s behavior. Conservatives believe in the moral law. So Bible-believers might be liberal on a lot of issues, at least in the common sense of that word, like helping the poor, but they would be fundamentally conservative in their disposition toward life.”
Even though there have been plenty of moral falls from grace on the Democratic side of politics, Republicans should have higher standards, and should live by them: “According to that great conservative thinker Russell Kirk, the first tenet of conservatism is the preservation of the moral order. True conservatives don’t look at government as a plaything by which they can impose their latest ideas on the country; they look at political power as a guardianship, what Chesterton called the democracy of the dead. In other words, we have a debt to those who have gone before us, and the primary debt is to preserve the moral and constitutional order that our forebears fought to defend.”
He continues, “So when a conservative has a much-publicized affair or is outed for improper sexual behavior with pages, or digs into the congressional budget pot to hand out earmarks to his own district, he is a hypocrite to be scorned. My hope and prayer is that conservatives in America will do some serious, sober soul-searching. We need to get our own act together before we can preach to others, or before we deserve to hold power. And if we break trust, we are breaking trust with the very essence of who we are. Our own character is at stake.”
Colson concludes, “You can talk all you want about the unpopularity of President Bush, or the Iraq war, or immigration. But what this campaign really boiled down to was, well, when it comes to conservatives, it’s character, stupid. If conservatives don’t learn that lesson, they will spend a long time in exile – and deservedly so.”
James Dobson of Focus on the Family offers another view on the results. He suggests that the Republican Party has largely ignored its greatest voting bloc, conservative Christians who care about values issues. Says Dobson,
“Laura Ingraham said it best. When Congressional Republicans wait until the First of October to begin reaching out to their base, they are destined to lose. That was the GOP’s downfall. They consistently ignored the constituency that put them in power until it was late in the game and then frantically tried to catch up at the last minute. In 2004, conservative voters handed them a 10-seat majority in the Senate and a 29-seat edge in the House. And what did they do with their power? Very little that Values Voters care about.”
He continues, “Many of my colleagues saw this coming. I said in an interview with U.S. News and World Report shortly after the 2004 elections, ‘If Republicans in the White House and in Congress squander this opportunity, I believe they will pay a price for it in four years – or maybe in two.’ Sadly for conservatives, that in large measure explains what happened on Tuesday night. Many of the Values Voters of ’04 simply stayed at home this year.”
He then quotes several Republicans who are now in fact seeking to blame these values voters, and are suggesting that the Republican Party needs to move more to the left. Not at all, argues Dobson. These politicians need to be reminded that “without the support of that specific constituency, John Kerry would be President and the Republicans would have fallen into a black hole in ’04. In fact, that is where they are headed if they continue to abandon their pro-moral, pro-family and pro-life base. The big tent will turn into a three-ring circus.”
It is not good enough for the Republican Party machine to seek out these values voters and try to get their vote, only to ignore them once the election is over: “Republican leaders in Congress during this term apparently never understood, or they forgot, why Ronald Reagan was so loved and why he is considered one of our greatest presidents. If they hope to return to power in ’08, they must rediscover the conservative principles that resonated with the majority of Americans in the 1980s – and still resonate with them today. Failure to do so will be catastrophic. Values Voters are not going to carry the water for the Republican Party if it ignores their deeply held convictions and beliefs.”
Concludes Dobson, “To quote Dr. Ken Hutcherson, ‘When Republicans act like Democrats they lose and when Democrats act like Republicans, they win.’ And therein lies the lesson of ’06.”
These comments of course do not tell the whole of the story, but I think they offer a fair evaluation of why there was such a big turnaround. Believers always need to be careful that they are not co-opted by any political party. We have an obligation to vote, to be informed, to support candidates, and even get involved ourselves. But no one secular political party will ever fully represent all our values and beliefs.
Hopefully the Republicans will take a good hard look at themselves, and seek to be honest about where they went wrong. After all, the presidential election is only two years away.