Many argue the coalition that elected and re-elected Barack Obama represents a long-term shift in the electorate that will determine elections and public policies for generations. Some of commentators think conservatives have lost their relevance, and the Republicans are about to go the way of the Whigs.
It's an interesting theory, but of course it's wrong. Politics, like much in life, tends to move like a pendulum, shifting back and forth around equilibrium. While the liberal Democratic coalition is ascendant now, a few decades ago people were speaking about the decline of the Democrats. More recently, leftists took to calling themselves "progressives" to avoid what was seen as the pejorative term "liberal." And just over two years ago, the Democrats took a drubbing in the midterm elections. Today, with the real-time flow of unfiltered information via blogs, YouTube, Facebook, FB +1.91% Twitter, etc., and more Americans self-identifying as independents and able to shift their support rapidly to either party, lasting coalitions will be difficult to maintain.
But the primary reason today's liberal Democratic coalition will fade is because the very policies it pushes sow the seeds of its own destruction. The coalition can survive over time only by allocating slices of our nation's economic pie in a way that favors and placates its constituent members. But people, being human, will continually want larger slices of our economic resources, so continued success in placating those members, while at the same time adding the necessary new members, requires a continuing and ever-growing economy. A flat or shrinking economy will never generate the resources needed to feed the coalition.
Yet the White House and congressional Democrats are working to stifle economic growth. From their views on taxes and redistribution, to their policies on energy and regulation, liberal Democrats are standing in the way of the strong economy their coalition needs.
Instead of pushing policies that spur innovation and risk-taking, the left advances policies that discourage them. Instead of lower marginal tax rates and less complication in the federal tax code, we see higher rates and more complication. We see new taxes in ObamaCare and the partial expiration of the Bush cuts. California's new tax on millionaires brings the state rate to more than 13%, and the combined federal and state rate to almost 52%. The high rates are discouraging at least some wealthy taxpayers from staying in or moving to the state. As federal rates increase, such economic discouragement will be found across the nation.
Instead of policies that lead to the available and affordable energy supplies required for a growing economy, we see onerous new regulations on coal-fired electricity plants, foot-dragging in the permitting for oil and gas drilling, and a surprising lack of interest in the hydrofracturing process that has revolutionized the extraction of natural gas and worked to lower energy costs.
Instead of thinking of the government's role in the economy as one of providing the minimum rules for fairness, ensuring those rules are enforced, and then getting out of way, we see efforts to push federal bureaucrats—and their ever-expanding government programs, regulations and mandates—into more and more facets of the world in which we live and work.
The toll on the economy is real. According to a report by Sentier Research released last fall, inflation-adjusted median household income has fallen more since the end of the recession in mid-2009 (down by 4.8%) than it did during the actual recession (2.6%).
Without economic growth, other means are needed to mollify the coalition. So we see warnings of disaster if the left's policies are not pursued. We see over-the-top claims about the damage to be caused by having to cut federal spending in sequestration—by less than 2.5%. We see attempts to gin up phony wars against women and minorities. We see efforts to come up with even more groups that are labeled as "victims" in need of the federal government's help. The coalition is fueled by a growing sense of entitlement. But without robust economic growth, this very same sense of entitlement will drive the coalition's decline.
In the short term, the coalition can help delay this decline by picking the right standard-bearer in 2016. It is clear that at least some of the liberal Democratic coalition exists because of the historical nature of Barack Obama as the first black president. While a candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016 would bring her own sense of history and excitement to the coalition, Joe Biden, while a nice guy, would not.
Ultimately, the coalition will collapse under its own weight. Such shifts take time, and conservatives and Republicans can, and should, do what they can to hasten the collapse. They need to advocate more effectively a set of policies that will reverse America's decline—and do a better job of explaining the benefits for individuals, families and businesses that come when we have lowered tax rates instead of increased them; the benefit of the independence that comes from a smaller federal government instead of a larger one; and the overall well-being and safety our nation enjoys when our economy is strong.