Jacob Heilbrunn

The Republican Landslide

It's not even going to be close. The GOP is going to win a blowout election in the House--70 seats or more--and may enjoy a majority in the Senate as well. This election has all the earmarks of a crushing Democratic defeat. Voters won't be voting against the Democratic party so much as against President Obama--the man who personifies government overreach to an angry and aroused electorate.

What will be the consequences? The most interesting question will be if what's currently seen as on the fringes will, in fact, become mainstream. One initiative would be to push for repeal the 17th amendment. It was a progressive measure passed in 1913 that ended the appointment of Senators by state legislatures. The progressive argument was that the legislatures were often the handmaidens of corporations and that direct elections were the way to go. Now tea party supporters are arguing that it's time to go back to the Constitution. A number of books, including Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism, have laid the intellectual scaffolding for condemning the Progressive era as un-American (a stance, incidentally, repudiated by the Weekly Standard's Matthew Continetti, who has correctly noted that, whatever your take, progressivism was not in itself opposed to American traditions). According to Keith Johnson in the Wall Street Journal,

W. Cleon Skousen, a big influence on John Birch Society members 50 years ago and the contemporary tea party, pitched the idea starting in the 1980s. Libertarians like Rep. Ron Paul (R., Texas) have long supported the notion. Former Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, a Democrat, presented a bill in 2004 to repeal the amendment; it did not attract a single co-sponsor.

Repeal proponents argue that returning to the Constitution's original blueprint would give states the ability to kill federal legislation they don't like by recalling their senators.

Another target is the Sixteenth Amendment, which established the income tax. Eliminating the income tax would be another major step toward returning America to the pre-progressive era. It would be a repudiation of Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and FDR. It would, in effect, reverse an entire century of liberalism. The stakes could not be higher. Writing in the New Republic, Thomas Edsall notes,

With resources shrinking, the competition for them will inflame. Each party will find itself in a death struggle to protect he resources that flow to its base--and, since the game will be zero-sum, each will attempt to exporpriate the resources that flow to the other side... if you thought our politics had grown nasty, you haven't even begun to consider the guliness of the politics of scarcity.

The 2010 election isn't simply about passing a referendum on Obama. It's also about American identity. Will the relentless expansion of government continue? Or will the tea party supporters be able to stage a takeover of the GOP and transform it back into its original incarnation--the avatar of small government, low taxes, and fiscal rectitude?

For Obama a Republican takeover would also offers big possibilities. He could present himself as a true progressive, upholding the traditions of his party. But so far, he hasn't shown much inclination to do so. The GOP is on the march. And if current events are any indicator, it may continue marching right into the White House in 2012.