Magazine article The New Yorker

The Harder Part

Magazine article The New Yorker

The Harder Part

Article excerpt


In the two decades between 1968 and 1988, Democratic candidates lost the Presidency five times out of six. This miserable run forced the Party to move closer to the electoral center on issues from welfare and crime to the role and the scope of government in postindustrial America. In 1992, Bill Clinton, calling himself a "New Democrat," broke the spell and initiated a two-decade period in which Republican candidates for President failed to prevail five times out of six. (The Supreme Court prevented the country from definitively establishing the result of the 2000 election.) President Obama's reelection in 2012 devastated Republicans. They reacted, as Democrats had, by asking themselves what went wrong. They wrote earnest opinion pieces, organized soul-searching retreats, formed high-minded study groups, and launched reformist efforts such as the Growth and Opportunity Project, which published a scathing report about the dire state of the Party.

On November 4th, it all seemed to pay off. Political offices around the country, from governorships and state legislatures to Congress, are now decisively red. Even given the Republicans' advantages in electoral geography and turnout, their sweep should be more chilling to Democrats than the Tea Party triumphs of 2010, because it came in a period of partial economic sunshine, with Republicans statistically less popular than Democrats. The Party that has spent the past six years doing everything in its power to prevent the President from stimulating growth, boosting wages, improving infrastructure, controlling health-care costs, and regulating Wall Street was rewarded with clear majorities in both houses. The only prize left is the big one in 2016.

Republican leaders, determined to prove that they can build as well as destroy, have made a mighty effort not to seem high on victory. "There will be no government shutdowns," Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader-elect, promised. Cory Gardner, the Senator-elect from Colorado, warned, "If Republicans don't prove that we can govern with maturity, that we can govern with competence, we'll see the same kind of results two years from now, except it will be a wave going back a different direction." Senator Rand Paul, a potential candidate for the Presidency, said, "You know, I think the gridlock is going to end." He sounded like a patient trying to talk his way out of rehab.

There are reasons to be skeptical that the Party has really turned a corner on its chronic obstructionism. Within ten days of the election, McConnell was sounding like himself again. After China and the United States announced common goals for reducing greenhouse gases, he accused Obama of sending "a signal that he has no intention of moving toward the middle"--a place, apparently, where the two parties agree on limitless carbon emissions from coal plants, like the ones in McConnell's home state, Kentucky. The House Speaker, John Boehner, concurred: "The President intends to double down on his job-crushing policies no matter how devastating the impact."

The recent, utterly alarming report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change got through to the Chinese leadership, but not to the G.O.P.'s. The probable next chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is James Inhofe, of Oklahoma, who has called global warming a "hoax. …

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