Are we witnessing long-term change, or just a brief flash?

Filed under: Hazlehurst |

“Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?
A nation turns its lonely eyes to you
What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson
‘Joltin Joe’ has left and gone away?”
— Paul Simon
“The future will be better tomorrow.”
— Dan Quayle

On Nov. 4, Democrats in Colorado Springs — and, I guess, everywhere in America — were partying as if it were 1964, leaving Republicans the dazed and demoralized denizens of a new political dystopia.
Forty-four years after another Arizona Republican was crushed by his Democratic opponent, Barack Obama completed his unlikely ascent to the presidency.
And how unlikely was it?
Less than two years ago, bettors on the English political betting site, intrade.com, put the odds on Obama at 50-1. That put him in the company of such luminaries as Dennis Kucinich and Ralph Nader, and way behind Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Mitt Romney.
According to the jowly, middle-aged lib’ruls who write about such things, Obama’s victory is just the beginning. The American political landscape has been permanently and irrevocably altered.
Forget Obama’s powerfully charismatic persona, say the pundits. The election was driven by the country’s changing demography, harnessed by new communications technologies. Latinos, African-Americans and young people turned out to vote — and transformed both the electorate and the election.
As the Democratic tsunami rolled across the country, it spared only those Republicans who represent overwhelmingly conservative districts — like Colorado’s 5th (congrats, Rep. Doug Lamborn). Moderates such as Chris Shays in Connecticut, John Sununu in New Hampshire and Gordon Smith in Oregon were tossed into the dustbin of history.
So what happens next?
The conventional theory says that the GOP will wither away, doomed to minority status. It’ll become a Southern party of gunnies, taxophobes, pro-life demonstrators, unreconstructed geezers, antigovernment cranks and closet racists.
Right-wing activists will be the party’s gatekeepers — rejecting any would-be candidates who deviate from party orthodoxy. America will move ahead to a new dawn, to decades of democratic dominance.
Barack Hussein Obama = Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Under this theory, Obama’s victory will, inevitably, be followed by a landslide during November 2012. Come 2016, Obama’s heir(ess) apparent will be elected by a similar margin.
That’s fine — but reality is slippery and unpredictable.
Absent his decision to intervene in the Vietnamese civil war, Lyndon Johnson would have run successfully for re-election during 1968.
Absent Watergate, Richard Nixon would have remained in office.
Absent Ross Perot, George H.W. Bush would have been re-elected.
Absent the devil with the blue dress off, Bill Clinton wouldn’t have been impeached.
Absent Clinton’s misbehavior, Al Gore would have been elected.
Absent Osama bin Laden, George W. Bush would have been a one-term president.
And absent Iraq and the economic meltdown … oh, never mind.
For Republicans to prevail, they can either move to the center, where electoral majorities are laboriously created, or rely upon Nassim Taleb, whose “Black Swan” anti-theory seems to explain much of American political history.
Taleb says that we are so pattern-driven that we believe that the past can be explained, and the future predicted, through rational analysis. That’s fine, he says, but “Black Swan” events periodically explode our carefully constructed perceptual systems, leaving them in ruins.
The discovery of black swans in Australia two centuries ago ended the popular myth that swans could only be white.
And this year’s economic meltdown? Of the tens of thousands of men and women worldwide who make their living as economists, fewer than a dozen predicted it — so says economist James K. Galbraith, who was part of the clueless majority.
Obama may be a wise, capable man, but history doesn’t play favorites. He may be this generation’s FDR — or be tossed out after a single term.
As we pointed out last week, consider the unfortunate Dick Wadhams, still clinging to his job as state Republican chairman.
Two years ago Wadhams was The Man, given the sweet job of managing George Allen’s shoo-in campaign for re-election to the Senate. Allen — tall, ruggedly handsome, smart and smooth as silk — also was the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination come 2008.
But the wheels came off when Allen referred to one of his opponent’s campaign workers, who was videotaping a campaign event, as “macaca over there.” The word “macaca” was quickly revealed to be an obscure racist pejorative, derived from the word macaque, or monkey.
Allen claimed he had made up the word, backtracked and apologized — but lost the election.
Goodbye Senate, goodbye White House, goodbye George, goodbye Dick, goodbye power.
And it all started with the word “macaca”… a black swan.
John Hazlehurst can be reached at John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com or 227-5861.