Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Morning After

Gerard N. Magliocca

A young politician from the Midwest bursts on to the national scene with a stemwinder at the Democratic Convention. Despite serving only four years in Congress, he is nominated for President and becomes the leader of a popular movement that seeks to transform the role of government. He is denounced by Republicans as a dangerous socialist, and a backlash against his policies leads to a realignment against the Democrats that lasts for a generation.

I am, of course, talking about William Jennings Bryan. Is President Obama following in his footsteps? This analogy crosses my mind from time to time because I have a book coming out on the constitutional transformation caused by Bryan's failure. Up until now, my thought was that this comparison did not hold because Obama won in 2008 and Bryan lost in 1896. One can imagine, though, a counterfactual in which Bryan beat McKinley and then got clobbered in the next several elections, thus leading to the same realignment in favor of Republicans that ended up occurring. That could be the result over the next few years for the Democrats.

My view is that the 2008 election began a realignment process, consistent with the theory of "generational cycles" that I have articulated in some articles and books. Many new majority parties run into heavy resistance initially. For instance, Andrew Jackson dealt with an unruly Congress and a hostile Supreme Court for the first six years of his presidency. Lincoln thought he was going to lose in 1864 until Atlanta fell. And Ronald Reagan did not fair too well in the 1982 midterms. Thus, the returns from yesterday could just be a similar bump along the road for the Obama generation.

A problem with that conclusion, however, is that none of the Presidents elected in what we now think of as realignment campaigns got beaten so badly in their first midterm. Perhaps that is a sign that we are witnessing a realignment--just in the opposite direction. Maybe this is not the Obama generation. Maybe this is the Tea Party generation.

Older Posts
Newer Posts