Can this become victory?

By Michael R. Allen
web posted November 1998

Certainly the elections held this month do not uphold the certainty that moderate market liberalism in Congress had been the American choice as a balance to the moderate fascism promoted at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The Republican Party had been seeking affirmation of their post-Revolution strategy, and nearly every pundit from George Stephanopolous to Pat Buchanan had anticipated at least a small expansion of the Republican majorities in the House and Senate. However, on the morning of November 4th House Speaker Gingrich's only public consolation was that every congressional committee chair would still be a Republican.

While the diminished strength of the Republican Party is an obvious certainty, the Democratic Party cannot be said to be vindicated for its insistence that one Kenneth Starr was going to kill all confidence in the Republicans. The Clinton impeachment inquiry played a very minimal role in the Congressional races and had no role whatsoever in the races for Governor. Those who would tout the inquiry as a major reason for Republican failure are using specious reasoning that has no relation with truth but is an attempt to convince the part of the public that is easily swayed that what the Democrats claim happened is what in fact happened.

The Republican response has been to mask the larger problems in congressional strategy: lack of strong message, incompetent leadership, and internal discontent. As the discussions begin about who is to lead the Republicans in the next term, especially in the House, the more strident conservatives will display their unhappiness and will not agree to elect the team of Armey and DeLay. Though two of the more public dissenters, Linda Smith and Mark Neumann, are not going to be in this next Congress others may be eager to voice their concerns.

Where Republicans did succeed their emphasis on size of government and market issues clearly aided them. The Bushes' victories in Texas and Florida followed campaigns that focused on issues like tax reform and educational choice - items that are modest steps in the direction of a free economy. Republicans who used moral issues in their campaigns, such as Governors David Beasley in South Carolina and Fob James in Alabama, along with North Carolina Senator Lauch Faircloth, failed to be re-elected by a voting public that is interested in economic issues.

Combining libertarian themes like tax cuts, gun ownership rights, and questioning of prostitution and drug laws with a populist tone, former wrestler Jesse Ventura gave the Reform Party its first major victory, the Governor's office in Minnesota. In Vermont, Libertarian Neil Randall (also endorsed by the Republican Party) became State Representative. The Libertarian Party ran its best slate of congressional candidates in years, receiving 29 percent of the vote in one race, and Party member and former Presidential nominee Ron Paul won re-election as a Republican with 55 percent of the vote in a better-than-expected victory.

Most Republicans who articulated pro-market positions were victorious. Those who did not, like Senate candidate Matt Fong in California, were rare. And Senator Al D'Amato of New York lost his re-election bid after he ran a campaign drawing attention to his support for federal intrusion into banking and the arts.

If neither Republicans or Democrats can claim victory after this election, market liberalism seems emboldened. Voters are not generally interested in politicians who want to manage social affairs, and for once have seemed to throw their support to those calling for less government and freer markets. Notice I do not use the terms "limited government" and "free markets." Those are issues which are not yet viable in practical politics. However, they are quickly becoming acceptable.

Republicans in Congress will have to pursue agenda items that expand freedom. The current leadership has fumbled on key issues by placing greater priority on having floor votes on meaningless issues like flag burning and drug-free schools than on educational tax credits and stopping national identification cards. The current leadership will only help the Democrats in the 2000 elections if it continues at its current pace.

The election produced a stalemate. To turn this situation into a victory, the Democrats and Republicans will have to consider adapting their politics to an electoral system that appears to be shifting towards an economically-driven one. If the recent election is an indicator, and one can not be entirely certain, those segments of the public not predisposed to ideology that bother to vote are predominantly voting for their own self-interest. The Democrats are not likely to ever offer economic-minded voters many choice goods, but neither can the Republican Party if it does not follow the trend set by its own candidates.

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