Think of this as Volume 16, Number 6 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I've written since 1997. Enjoy.
Getting into power is exciting. Staying in power is harder.
When a set of political assumptions are new, a new Thesis has to compromise on principles, to the annoyance of the base. These compromises don't bring the other side closer – they push it away. This bit of sketch comedy from Monty Python sums it up:
First Man: (holding up a newspaper) You see this? Nixon's had an asshole transplant!
Second Man: Did you see the stop press, there? The asshole's rejected him!
In the face of this scorn Nixon became just what his enemies perceived him to be, a megalomaniac, an enemy of democracy – small d. Watergate destroyed the man but (and this is the important part) it didn't destroy his ideas. It didn't change his party's strategy. Democrats mistook the rejection of Nixon, and Ford's pardon of him, for a mandate. Rather than leaning into the conservative wind, as he had done in Georgia, Jimmy Carter let his liberal sails out, and his party was grounded on the Reagan era's rocks.
The present economic crisis, which our economy seems to be sailing out of, has elements of all past crises within it. As with 1972, it's a divide between political parties. As with 1936 it's the economy, stupid. As with 1900 the question is whether monopolies should be regulated for the common economic good. And to people on the ground it sure feels like a Civil War.
Stylistically, Barack Obama is more FDR than Nixon. Tactically, he's more like Nixon. He has compromised continually (to no avail) and only now is he pushing back with all the force at his command.
That's considerable. Politically, demographics are destiny. For the Nixon Thesis it was the suburbanization of America. For Obama it's youth and diversity. Young people and minorities are his base, and it's interesting that Republicans help make it so, pushing wars on the young and trying so hard to stem the brown tide. (Which even makes Asians a harder sell.)
Still, every crisis is fought with the weapons of the last one. Republicans are convinced that money and TV give them an advantage, no matter what they do or what they say. This President won with an Internet-based organization, and that nuclear political weapon has not been disarmed, or even equaled so far as I know, by Karl Rove's Crossroads group. The Internet efforts of the Republican candidates for President are, frankly, pretty sad. And this could prove decisive, in a close election.
How close it is depends on the economy, of course. People who know on both sides of the Atlantic do not see clear sailing ahead, despite recent gains against unemployment. But here, too, the President has some important weapons.
First, natural gas prices provide a tailwind, even if a short-lived one (gas will eventually find its world market price, once infrastructure is in place). Second, while young people have remained unemployed throughout this period, they haven't been smoking dope and watching TV – they've been getting an education. Young hires today are not only highly qualified, but their Internet skills mean they can remain so down the road.
So the validation cake seems baked, despite what the TV box may tell you. Old-line Democrats are energized against the people elected in 2010. New groups of Democratic-leaning groups are being threatened by a GOP that keeps running the 1972 playbook. The new medium is pretty thoroughly in Democratic hands, and events are going our way.
The question then becomes, what does the President do with validation? For that, look no further than the fever dreams Republicans are telling their own followers, then back off just a little. With a new wind at his back the President is going to sail with it, toward tolerance, multiculturalism at home and multi-lateralism abroad. Yes, we're going to become more like Europe, in that health coverage will be extended to more people and inflation will start to moderate, in contrast to our trading partners.
The War Against Oil, begun quietly, is going to become a more obvious economic force. Crossover, or grid parity, will come to more-and-more places as the decade goes on, and as it does, a new, sustainable economic boom will be born. Energy economics will change, from capital-intensive exploration to simple manufacturing.
For me it means more writing about economics, about business, about opportunity, and about history, a lot less about politics. It means more time for longer-form projects, more joy all around.
And I hope it will be that way for you, too.