In an effort to escape from her ordinary life in Kansas, Dorothy Gale dreams of a better place somewhere over the rainbow. Miraculously, a tornado bears down on she and Toto and they ascend to the wonderful Land of Oz. Voters reenact this dream from time to time during US elections. Consider the following:
- In 1992, Bill Clinton beat George H.W. Bush to become the 42nd President of the United States using messages of change and the economic morass of America as a foundation for his campaign.
- In 1993, the President and First Lady, Hillary Clinton, proposed the most significant overhaul of the American health care system ever devised. Unfortunately for the White House, Democrats, instead of uniting behind the original proposal, offered a number of competing plans of their own. By September 1994, the final compromise Democratic bill was declared dead.
- In less than one year, the tide turned against the White House and Speaker Newt Gingrich with his Contract for America in hand, took on every competitive and near-competitive Democrat in the country to sweep the midterm elections and take over the US House for the first time in 40 years.
Such are the forces of politics generated by shifts in public perception to find a better place beyond the rainbow. These shifts begin with the appearance of a new types politicians like Bill Clinton, a baby boomer, who embodied unprecedented benefits for a majority of voters. Clinton was immediately proposed as a natural replacement for a whole class of old guard political leaders, winning early converts with enthusiastic predictions of a new order. But the political market is fickle and generally conservative. It pushes back against new changes such as Hillary Care, preferring to stay with the status quo. Eventually this reversal of public trust creates change when the entire marketplace shifts its allegiance and wants to go home.
This sequence of events is often seen in midterm elections. Once the public moves to switch the old for the new, it wants to complete this transition as rapidly as possible. All the pent-up interest of the voting population is converted to a massive voting binge as we saw in 1994.
We’re not in Kansas Anymore
The rules have clearly changed. Political shifts that once took decades to emerge now take only one or two years. It began with the rise and fall of the Clinton White House, a historic shift in Congress, and George W. Bush’s reelection.
In the space of just a few years, not only was the Republican Congress on the ropes, but so too was President Bush. Concurrent with all of these shifts, virtually all of our communications from phones, to computers, to television were reworked into real-time, all-the-time access to information through cell phones, the Internet, and 24-hour news services.
The communications phenomenon has had an extraordinary destabilization effect on politics. All political leaders get their strength from public support. Their support at any time can now change in a matter of minutes as we have recently seen. A few examples include:
- Senator John Ensign of Nevada, went from being on the short list of 2012 Presidential contenders stumping in Iowa, to a scorned back-bencher as a result of an affair played out on twitter, the internet, and news channels.
- Currently, an investigative report uncovered and aired a story in-the-making that has the potential to bring down one of the most powerful men in our country, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Charles Rangel, for tax evasion.
Voters seeking a new order in 1992 have finally gotten what they wanted by a magnitude akin to an EF 5 tornado. The construction and access to real-time information has given voters greater power in American politics than ever. This is the power of information to move the public trust within minutes, rather than weeks, months or years.
Pulling Back the Curtain
Given all this, and given the redistribution of the public trust to information sources accurate or otherwise, it is imperative we pull back the curtain and view the coming elections based on this new political reality. Consider the following:
- In 2003, President George W. Bush landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln and declared victory in America’s war in Iraq. This premature declaration, coupled with the fact that there were actually no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, allowed the media to savage Bush’s campaign leading to his narrowly-won 2004 reelection.
- The very next cycle, Democrats retook control of Congress shored up with the backlash from the last presidential election and an unpopular war.
- Then, in 2008, Republicans dismissed the conservative wing of the party during the Presidential contest and nominated moderate Senator John McCain. The Democrats went even further left nominating winner Senator Barak Obama, a historic figure with rock star qualities who leveraged information and technology masterfully, to once again call for change and to fix to our economic downturn by stopping corporate greed.
When all was said and done, voters were in awe of the dazzling figure they elected to be President, again winning early converts with enthusiastic predictions of a new order. The reality; however, is much darker for pro-business advocates.
So far this year, the White House and congressional leaders have all but declared war on capitalism by taking over our banks and auto manufacturers; they are attempting to pass national healthcare by placing mandates and imposing fines on businesses and individuals; and, they are seeking to nationalize the energy industry in our country.
The tornado that is certainly building for the 2010 elections could be big one, blowing back the curtain even further. If the market forces of politics that elected Bill Clinton, overthrew a Democratic Congress and elected Barak Obama are any indication of what is to come, all of the pent-up interest and angst could be converted again into massive voter turnout in 2010. The result of which is as firm as what lies over the rainbow.
Trey Richardson is principal of Sagac Public Affairs, a national company providing communications, research, fundraising and management solutions to hundreds of political, non-profit and corporate organizations. Sagac is the leader in the political community for strategy and implementation of candidate, committee and PAC finance operations.