How many political prognostications hold up well nearly five years later? Give Republican Cassandra David Frum credit for seeing the landscape clearly in February 2008:
John Mitchell, Richard Nixon’s attorney-general, predicted in 1970: “This country is going so far right you won’t recognise it.” His prophecy was vindicated. Now its time is up: 2008 is shaping up to be the first decisive Democratic victory since 1964 – a 1980 in reverse...Think that increased receptivity to activist government may have something to do with middle class income stagnation, growing income inequality and decreased economic mobility? Nearly five years later, Ramesh Ponnuru offers a congruent diagnosis of the GOP's current weakness:
In 2002, equal numbers of Americans identified as Republicans and Democrats. In the six years since, Republican identification has collapsed back to the level recorded before Ronald Reagan. The decline has been steepest among young voters. If they eat right, exercise and wear seatbelts, today’s 20-somethings will be voting against George W. Bush deep into the 2060s. Most ominously, US polls show an ideological sea change: a desire for a more activist government, a loss of interest in the tax question and a shift to the left on most social issues (although not, interestingly, abortion).
The perception that the Republican party serves the interests only of the rich underlies all the demographic weaknesses that get discussed in narrower terms. Hispanics do not vote for the Democrats solely because of immigration. Many of them are poor and lack health insurance, and they hear nothing from the Republicans but a lot from the Democrats about bettering their situation. Young people, too, are economically insecure, especially these days. If Republicans found a way to apply conservative principles in ways that offered tangible benefits to most voters and then talked about this agenda in those terms, they would improve their standing among all of these groups while also increasing their appeal to white working-class voters. For that matter, higher-income voters would prefer candidates who seem practical and solution-oriented. Better “communications skills,” that perennial item on the wish list of losing parties, will achieve little if the party does not have an appealing agenda to communicate.To return to Frum's prescience: he saw what became Obama's opportunity in much the same terms as Obama did: as a chance to change the trajectory of U.S. politics. And his forecast in that regard takes at least a puff of air out of paeans to Obama as a great president:
The stage has been set for the boldest and most dramatic redirection of US politics since Reagan’s first year in office. Of course, there are no guarantees in politics. An inept president could bungle his or her chances. Unexpected events could intrude: a nuclear test in Iran, a major terrorist attack on US soil or some attention-grabbing political scandal. But given moderate luck and skill, the next president could join Reagan, Lyndon Johnson and Franklin Roosevelt as one of the grand reshapers of politics and government.Lamentable though he found it, Frum nailed pretty much Obama's whole agenda, excepting his hard-assed deportation surge:
The things that Mrs Clinton and Mr Obama want to do are likely to prove costly and counterproductive, if not outright disastrous. A greater government role in healthcare, higher taxes, tighter regulation, more social welfare, an increased flow of low-skilled migrants with amnesty for those already here, a cut-and-run from Iraq: these are not measures likely to improve US competitiveness or enhance America’s standing in the world.I've been reading Frum since the column cited here appeared. For a liberal like me, it's a little uncanny to witness the consistent, clear-eyed, courageous criticism of erstwhile allies, coupled with policy preferences that inevitably strike me as whacky. Would there were more like him, though -- and that the GOP would start to listen to his ilk.
Related: David Frum's seductive vision of the Moderate Mitt that might have been