JOHN HOOD: Conservatives Take on Democratic Triumph
The 2008 elections are finally over, with Democrats enjoying a thrilling night of decisive wins and historic firsts.
For the past eight years, Republicans have observed the Bush Derangement Syndrome and various paranoid delusions among Democratic partisans and liberal activists. They should not now succumb to the same temptations in response to an overwhelming Democratic performance.
Americans will be glad to see this long and tiring race concluded. They will be properly proud of the fact that their country, long bearing the scars of slavery and segregation, has elected an African-American president. They will be excited to see new faces in the administration in Washington, and are no doubt pleased that our 20-year stretch of having either Bushes or Clintons as presidents won't be continuing. They will wish Obama well and hope for the best.
We are all Americans.
Here in North Carolina, the Obama phenomenon played at least a modest role in electing Kay Hagan to the U.S. Senate and likely played a decisive role in electing Beverly Perdue as governor. Perdue faced a spirited challenge from Pat McCrory, one that she probably would have lost had turnout in Democratic areas not soared to unprecedented heights -- and the vast majority of those voters came to the polls to vote for Obama, not for her.
But in 2008, in this very Democratic year, Republicans appear to have gained a seat in the state Senate, held their own in the state house, kept their Council of State losses to one, won re-election for Bob Edmunds on the state Supreme Court, and held their numbers on the state Appeals Court.
In 2004, silly conservative pundits wrote off the national Democratic Party after successful GOP campaigns for president and Congress gave the party unified control in Washington. Two years later, those pundits were forced to backtrack, embarrassed. Now, there's a good chance that silly liberal pundits will do something similar.
But competitive politics will continue. Despite the drag of an unpopular incumbent president, a devastating financial meltdown, and a deteriorating economy, John McCain appears to have won 46 percent of the popular vote. Democratic gains in Congress were sizable but fell short of grandiose pre-election projections.
Essentially, what the 2006 and 2008 election cycles demonstrated, it seems to me, is the upper limit of Democratic political performance in today's North Carolina.
When the wind is strongly at their backs, Democrats will now elect state executives by solid but not overwhelming margins and maintain majorities in the General Assembly, though again not overwhelming ones. My guess is that North Carolina Democrats aren't likely to have the same institutional advantages going into the next two cycles, in 2010 and 2012. The party of George W. Bush will be the party of someone else by then.
Furthermore, though Republican politicians lost many races this year while espousing some conservative views, that doesn't mean that conservatism itself has lost the allegiance of a plurality of North Carolinians.
Polling before and after the vote showed that North Carolina remains a center-right state, with a clear preference for candidates who promise fiscal restraint and eschew liberal politics. In her last campaign ads, Perdue attacked McCrory on immigration and taxes, much as Mike Easley maneuvered himself to Richard Vinroot's right on taxes in the last competitive governor's race, in 2000.
Indeed, fiscal conservatism was on the ballot in North Carolina -- in 16 separate county votes on proposed sales, real-estate, and meals taxes. All 16 tax-hike referenda went down to defeat, often by huge margins. So since 2007, when the General Assembly gave counties authorization to raise sales or real-estate taxes, voters have rejected them 65 out of 73 times. You know, at some point this will start to look like a trend.
In sum, Democrats feel triumphant, and they should. Now they must govern. Republicans feel dejected, and they should. Now they must rebuild. And all of us should take a deep breath, recognize the many political differences that persist in our electorate, and resolve to enjoy some of North Carolina's lovely autumnal weather.
John Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation and publisher of CarolinaJournal.com.
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