Can GOP's local success translate to the federal level?
Republicans are doomed. Conservatism is over. President Obama is conducting a mop-up operation at this point.
That's the basic consensus in places like New York City, Washington, D.C., and other citadels of blue America.
And let's be fair: The GOP has its troubles. Long-term demographic trends; often-irrational animosity from Hollywood, the media and academia; and a thumbless grasp of the culture on the part of many Republicans all create a head wind for the party and the broader conservative movement.
But here's the weird part. That's all true of presidential politics, but less so when it comes to state politics or even other federal races. In 2010, the GOP had its best performance in congressional races since 1938.
In North Carolina, a state that is supposed to represent the trends benefiting Democrats, the GOP now has veto-proof majorities in the state House and Senate. Last November, North Carolina became the 30th state with a GOP governor.
There are a lot of possible explanations that are not mutually exclusive. Obama is more popular than his party. Mitt Romney was less popular than the ideas he had such a hard time expressing. Presidential electorates are different.
No matter the merits of these observations, they don't fully explain why Republicans are doing so well on the policy front. In states as diverse as Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Nebraska, Michigan, New Jersey, Texas and a half-dozen others, Republicans have been implementing impressive — even miraculous — reforms.
In pro-Obama Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker beat back a historic attack from organized labor. And Michigan — Michigan! — recently became a right-to-work state.
Americans tend to see federal and local governments differently. At the local level, people seem to have a better grasp that it's their tax dollars at work. They are far more sensitive to tax increases and more easily outraged by spending boondoggles. They understand the importance of sustainable economic growth.
At the local level, this fact benefits Republicans, although state-level Democrats tend to be more fiscally responsible as well.
Meanwhile, what gets Republicans elected at the local level gets them in trouble at the federal level. We've come to see the federal government as some sort of mystical entity empowered to right all of the wrongs in society. If there's a problem, there “should” be a federal response, the costs or feasibility of that response be damned.
And Democrats are better at talking about government in spiritual terms. They talk about the federal government doing things we'd want God to do if God dabbled in public policy. They use the logic of religion, which holds that there is a unitary and seamless nature to all good things, and therefore no good thing government does should come at the expense of some other good thing government might do. And, worst of all, they castigate anyone who opposes more spending on, say, “the children” or “the environment” as morally retrograde and “against children” and “against the environment.”
The challenge for Republicans is to convince the American people that the government isn't magic, and that all of its money is your money, its debts your debts. I don't think the GOP is doomed, but America might be if Americans remained unconvinced too much longer.
Jonah Goldberg is the author of the new book “The Tyranny of Clichés.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Kaboly: Steelers fill biggest needs by drafting defensive players
- Kennywood Park opening day ends early because of disruptive crowd
- Bird flu ravaging commercial flocks remains mysterious
- Penn State tight end James, a South Allegheny grad, goes to Steelers in 5th round
- Excitment builds for start of marathon
- Steelers notebook: Harrison will play fewer snaps this season
- Coroner called to Hempfield car crash
- Rossi: Pittsburgh could show NFL a draft party
- Scaife bestows ‘game-changing’ legacy of giving to region, nation
- Pirates’ anemic offense fails in extra-inning loss to Cardinals
- Fire in Wilkins high rise apartment building causes evacuation of hundreds