EDITOR'S NOTE: Every year the President gives his State of the Union address. And every two years, Americans get to deliver their sense of the state of the union by voting. So what will it be in '06? We asked several TCS contributors to predict what will happen on Tuesday; and then we asked them to say what should happen. Consider this the state of TCS thinking about American politics at the end of 2006.
ARNOLD KLING, TCS Contributing Editor and author of Learning Economics.
My prediction is that the margin of victory, in terms of total votes cast, will be small. So if the Democrats take both houses (my best guess), you might find that by adding fewer than 250,000 votes to Republicans in selected races you could undo the result.
I don't think that libertarian-leaning voters have a dog in this race. What I would like to see is the public express its disgust with both parties by staying away in droves on Election Day. My hope is that this encourages independent candidates, both within and outside the two major parties, to step forward in 2008. But I also think we need to look outside the political process and use philanthropy to strengthen the institutions of civil society against the politicians.
JOSH MANCHESTER, TCS Contributing Writer
The GOP will hold the Senate. The House is too close to call. Whichever party wins will have no more than a three-seat majority.
Sometimes in life it's useful to speculate on what is deserved or undeserved. This is not one such time.
The question sets up divisions between the parties, the bureaucracy, and the electorate. There's a war on and if we lose, we'll all lose together. So whoever takes the oath of office in January -- Democrat, Republican, or otherwise -- had better learn to work together and win this thing. If the Democrats gain one house of Congress, the President and Republicans should prepare to welcome them into the fight and rapidly build cross-the-aisle consensus. 'With malice toward none, with charity for all' should be on everyone's lips. Otherwise, the Republic will walk a trail of tears for a long time to come -- and possibly witness sorrows beyond imagination.
STEPHEN BAINBRIDGE, TCS Contributing Editor
For fans of limited government, nothing's better than divided government. Compare the average growth of per capita government spending when the GOP ran Congress and Bill Clinton sat in the White House (0.3%) or Ronald Reagan as President faced down a Democrat Congress (1.7%) with the boom times for big government when a single party held power under George Bush 41 (3.1%) or Jimmy Carter (2.9%). On Tuesday, the American should -- and will -- give fans of limited government a present by turning Congress over to the Democrats. In the House, the Democrats will pick up 23-27 seats. In the Senate, Dick Cheney is going to be very busy for the next couple of years, because the Senate will be divided 50-50 between the parties (assuming Joe Lieberman caucuses with the Democrats).
CRAIG WINNEKER, Editor, This Europe
Conventional wisdom holds that Democrats will recapture the House - giving them at least two years in which to get medieval on the Republican administration. I for one relish the prospect of Nancy Pelosi staring down George W. Bush in a contest of which deer is in whose headlights.
Democrats had a chance to snag the Senate, too, until last Thursday, when a Zogby poll showed them actually doing it. This was the guy who, on the afternoon of Election Day 2004, predicted a John Kerry landslide. Study hard, get good grades, and you, too, can become a pollster or even a political analyst.
It will all come down to turnout. Yawn. What an election-eve cliché. What it really comes down to is which party will be better able to suppress the potential voting activities of its opponent. One big question mark: will the clandestinely-gay-fundamentalist-Christian-dad vote be mobilized or discouraged by recent news events? I think when push comes to shove these guys will descend from Brokeback Mountain and swarm polling places. They'll probably give Conrad Burns another six years.
Then there is the biennial carping about how democracy suffers because so few Americans bother to go to the polls. I live in Belgium, where election turnout is always 100 percent; citizens are required by law to vote. Well, the electoral system here produces just as many nincompoops as the American one - and the most successful political party has its roots in the SS. So be careful how much turnout you wish for.
My prediction? Democrats "win" in a landslide, but Republicans manage to keep control of the House and Senate. How will this be possible? Not sure, really, but I'm hoping Vanity Fair will explain it to me sometime soon.
MARTIN FRIDSON, TCS Contributing Writer
Lacking any apparatus to improve upon established handicapping methods, I commend to TCS readers the Iowa Electronic Markets forecast. As of November 4, it gives Democrats a 79% chance of capturing control of House and a 33% chance of taking the Senate. The outcome should have only limited legislative impact, as lame duck George W. Bush is unlikely to accomplish much, even if his party retains its majority in both chambers. More important is the message that the election delivers to the politicians. However I may feel about the Republicans' policies, public opinion surveys indicate that voters have grown disenchanted with them since 2004. If the GOP does not receive some sort of rebuke at the polls, it will either reflect poorly on the democratic process or affirm that the Republicans did an extraordinary job of getting out the vote.
ILYA SHAPIRO, "Dispatches From Purple America" columnist for TCS
The conventional wisdom is that the Democrats will take the House and the Republicans will hold onto the Senate. Indeed, I've talked to political insiders, the man on the street, and everyone in between, and that seems to be the most reasonably foreseeable outcome to all concerned. I don't disagree, but the result we have all come to expect—which figures to be tighter as the Republicans recover from their scandals du jour and the John Kerry loses races he's not even in—may not be final until December... 2007.
As in all the post-Bush v. Gore election cycles, both parties have lined up armadas of lawyers ready to file writs at the drop of a chad. Thus, there is only one certainty in this election that nobody deserves to win: If either party's margin in the House is five seats or less—and if there are any close races in the Senate—control of Congress will be decided in the courts.
The irony of course, is that elections are now run more efficiently and with more integrity and sophistication than ever before—but the litigious atmosphere produced by Florida's dead heat in 2000 has poisoned the well of American democracy, perhaps irrevocably.
(Ilya Shapiro is a Washington lawyer whose last "Dispatch from Purple America" threw a Hail Mary from a rebuilding New Orleans. He will be spending election day in Sen. George Allen's legal war room—and doesn't expect to emerge before 2008's presidential primaries.)
RALPH KINNEY BENNETT, TCS Contributing Editor
Not being a political junkie, I do not look forward to election years with the same interest as many of my friends in journalism. But even given that, I cannot recall an election year which has left me so numbed. I have absolutely shut down all inputs. I tune out all the ads and neither listen to nor read the news and "analysis." I confess a great weariness with it all. If forced to predict an outcome, I confess bafflement. And yet, I find an ineffable something whispering to me that sees Republicans holding on by the skin of their teeth in both the House and the Senate. I fully realize that the whisper may be nothing more than a pathetic, flabby, disheartened sort of wishful thinking by one who shudders at the thought of "leadership" from the likes of that beady-eyed little pecksniff, Harry "Clerical Error" Reid. I am out of touch with the cities anymore, but from my rural perspective, there are a lot of my fellow citizens who are keeping very mum about Tuesday. They don't care much for the Hastertian Republicans wallowing in their majority. But they are leery of the Democrats. Afraid they will begin taxing again. Afraid of what they may do (or not do) about the war, and generally uneasy about the Pelosi Party's never changing I-know-better-than-you-how-you-should-live attitude. So, despite all the confident predictions of the pollsters and the delight of the Demo-sniffing media, we may come close to the wise hope expressed by my dentist when I was in for a check-up last week: "The best good people can hope for now is gridlock," he says. "That's what I'm hoping for - a gridlocked government that can't do anything worse or anything more."
PATRICK COX, TCS Contributing Writer
What I wish would happen is that Republicans would suffer a near-death experience, nearly losing control of both the House and Senate, thus provoking a mass GOP repentance with blood oath to slash spending, eliminate programs, privatize social security and permanently cut taxes. What I think actually will happen is that the voters, exhibiting the American wisdom of crowds, will turn to legislative gridlock, perceiving that divided government is better than consensus profligacy. The House goes Democratic. The Senate stays Republican. Bush remains Commander in Chief but Republicans learn that irresponsible Democratic military and foreign policies is not enough to guarantee their ascendancy.
MICHAEL M. ROSEN, TCS Daily's Intellectual Property columnist, is an attorney in San Diego.
Here in Southern California, you'd hardly know Republicans were in trouble. The Governator is gearing up for a crushing defeat of Phil Angelides (whose campaign event spawned John Kerry's "stuck-in-Iraq" disaster). The GOP is poised, for the first time in years, to retake several statewide offices, along with defeating some ill-conceived initiatives and passing some good ones. But the nationwide outlook is deeply worrying. Sadly, like most of the talking heads, I believe that the Democrats will take the House--very narrowly--but will fall a seat or two short of taking the Senate (I think Corker will win and either (or both) Talent or Allen will win as well). Yes, the dread words "Speaker Pelosi" are becoming a reality.
As for what I'd like to see happen, I'd be thrilled to bits if the GOP retained narrow control of both houses. This result would embody a gentle but firm rebuke to the elephants by the American people but at the same time an acknowledgment that empowering the Dems at this tenuous moment would be too risky. Any worse result will be harped upon for what it clearly isn't: the great success of liberal ideas (instead, it's largely conservative distaste for elected Republicans that will drive them from office).
But most of all, I can't wait for Wednesday. I find myself getting swept up in the minutiae of these races like a rabid sports fan. When the moment you wake up, you rush to the computer (before saying good morning to wife and kids) to check RCP's latest -- does Rasmussen have Perlmutter up 10 or 12 in the Colorado Seventh? How are Stabenow's fav/unfavs? And how badly is Harris getting pummeled in Florida? -- you know you have a problem...
MAX BORDERS, TCS Contributing Editor
The economy is strong. We haven't been attacked in over five years. On pretty much every major metric, the US is doing well. Still, there are dozens of issues: stem cells, minimum wage, social security reform, gay marriage, CAFTA, farm subsidies, and on and on... And people only have one vote, if they vote. So it's never been about "the issues", but one or two issues a voter cares about at the time, in a cluster of lesser issues. We know that partisan activists will get out to the polls. The rest of us are the targets of commercials. So for us - if it's worth it to us to stand in line at all - we will do so based not on very detailed knowledge of either party's platform, their Congressional voting record, the strength of the economy, our apparent security, or (again) the issues -- but on a master narrative. The master narratives of '06 are our "failure in Iraq" and "Republican excess." And let's be honest: complicit in crafting these narratives has been a media determined to see the elephants run off. So my prediction? It won't be a sweep, but the Ds will do very well. And the loudest vote of all - the non-vote - won't get counted, but it will say a lot about just what Americans think of the whole exercise.
FREDERICK TURNER, Author of The Culture of Hope and Natural Religion
I think the Republicans will squeak by with small losses in both houses, mainly because "better the devil that we know" and "it's the economy [which is in good shape], stupid".
Whatever the outcome, there will be gridlock, which is usually good for the nation. Politically speaking, victory would be a tar-baby for either party in the present atmosphere, as the gains the nation is making will be invisible while its tasks and image will be rather dispiriting for some time yet.
MELANA VICKERS, TCS Contributing Writer
The Dems will win biggish in the House, not in the Senate. The Republicans have taken a drubbing on Iraq, and rightly so. The war can't be prosecuted for much longer with dwindling public will, and the party's politicians have squandered that will by failing to show a path forward that the public wants to follow. The path needs to lead out of Iraq, with Iraqis taking charge, the U.S. taking its lumps for a less than stellar performance, and working aggressively -- with more trainers and advisors, but a clear drawing down of troops -- to give the Iraqis the best shot at success possible. The path forward needs to make clear it's their (admittedly rough-looking) future, not ours. Instead, there's no clarity on whether the Republican Party favors staying and meddling in Iraqi domestic politics, increasing troop numbers or diminishing them, taking sides in a civil war/partition, or holding its breath in the hopes that somehow things will change. The Dems look even worse, though, not just because they offer no clear path out of Iraq but because they're wobbly on the war on terror, distracted as they are by civil liberties issues and petty criticism. With the party's defense-related talent being limited to John "stuk in irak" Kerry, voters with Iraq and the war on terror foremost in their minds won't make the mistake of choosing this even-weaker team.
MARIAN TUPY, Cato Institute Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity
It appears that on November 7, the GOP will lose the House and possibly the Senate. That is good news. The GOP has abandoned the idea of a small government in favor of huge spending increases and growing disregard for American civil liberties. Hopefully, the GOP defeat will strengthen the Goldwater/Reagan wing of the Republican Party and reconstitute the link between small government conservatives and libertarians that was broken by George W. Bush. Other good aspects of the GOP defeat include government gridlock and greater government transparency. The government may grow less once George W. Bush rediscovers his veto pen and strikes down Democratic legislation. Similarly, the Presidency needs to be held to account over the Iraq War and other poor decisions made by the Executive over the last few years.
PEJMAN YOUSEFZADEH, TCS Contributing Writer
In trying to predict the results of the midterm elections, we have to weigh the overriding voter sentiment against the Republicans against Republican advantages in terms of money and incumbency. Jay Cost does so here and believes that any Democratic majority in the House will be kept to a minimum. His discussion of GOP strengths not picked up by the polls is interesting and stimulating. It should figure into any analysis of how the midterms are shaping up. Mike Allen sees the financial advantages as well and notes that Republicans are not in a position where they might be taken by surprise the way Democrats were. He notes as well that the absentee ballots are thus far tracking favorably for Republicans and that the get-out-the-vote program is proceeding as strongly as ever. That having been written, I think that we are going to see a closely divided House and Senate, with the Senate perhaps being equally divided, meaning that Vice President Cheney will have to spend a lot of time in Washington. I might rejoice in this, as do a lot of Republicans who are unsatisfied with the way in which the current Republican leadership has abandoned small government principles, but I would rather see Republicans correct themselves while in power than throw themselves out with the naive belief that a few years in the wilderness is all that it will take before the electorate will be convinced to take the GOP back to its bosom. After all, the structural conditions exist whereby the Reagan Revolution can be continued. It's a pity that Republicans have chosen to ignore those conditions and that the small-government stance Republicans have traditionally stood for may suffer at the hands of a party that (a) never believed in small government and (b) never offers to kick itself out of power the way so many Republicans appear to right now.