Sunday, January 24, 2010

As the Pendulum Swings

"Oppressive government is fiercer than a tiger."

In his 1978 book, The Way the World Works, Jude Winniski makes the following observation: "The electorate, being wiser than any individual in society, is society's most precious resource." The political model he embraces holds that the collective voter is wiser than any of its individual parts. In other words, the voters know exactly what they are doing.

Consider the 1976 election he cites in Massachusetts, the only state to vote for George McGovern over Nixon in '72, a state that historically sends liberal representatives to Washington. Massachusetts voters were presented with nine, single-issue referendum questions. Despite the fact that President Carter carried the state by a large majority that same year, on each of referendum questions, a majority of voters sided with the "conservative" position. They opposed a ban on handguns, rejected a constitutional amendment that would have permitted a graduated state income tax, rejected a measure to require returnable bottles for beer and soft drinks and opposed a state power authority. Additionally, they supported the principal of a refinery and deepwater port for the state. Each of these measures passed by a two-to-one margin. (18)

And now they have elected Scott Brown to the Senate. The same state President Obama carried by 26 points in 2008, Brown carried by 5 points. In November, Virginia elected a Republican governor by 18 points. Only the year before, Obama won the state by six points. The same reversal occurred in the New Jersey governor's race. Obama took the state by 16 points in the fall of 2008, in the fall of 2009 the democrat candidate lost by 4. The pendulum swingeth.

Wanniski's prescience is spine tingling. He reminds us "that the emergence of keener politicians can happen overnight." The reason? "Decadence occurs in a political society only when the politicians themselves lose their way, which occurs most readily when they come to believe that a set of ideas exists which must be forced on an unwilling electorate for its own good." (17)

Thanks, Massachusetts. We owe you. Once again.

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