Wednesday, January 5, 2011

More on Oedipal Politics

I’ve commented on the oedipal dynamic of Democratic Party politics before. My take, briefly, is that you understand a lot about recent Democratic politics by dividing prominent Democratic politicians into three generations each with its own set of ideologically formative experiences: the Grandparents (think of Henry Waxman or Nancy Pelosi) who came of age politically in the Vietnam and Watergate era; the Parents (think of the Clintons) who came of age politically (or were born-again) in the wake of the Reagan presidency; and the Kids (think of Obama and, say, Anthony Weiner) who attained political maturity against the background of the contested 2000 election, the Iraq War and popular disenchantment with the Bush presidency.

A lot about the recent left-ward lurch in Democratic Party politics is explained by the fact that both the Kids and Grandparents established their political identities standing against what they perceived as a lawless and politically exhausted Republican administration and being rewarded for it politically. That helped make them a lot more liberal and ideologically combative than the Parents, who came of age licking the electoral wounds they'd received at the hands of Reagan Republicans. A Kid like Obama couldn’t have pried the Democratic Party out of the hands of his Clintonite Parents without the help of liberal Grandparents like Ted Kennedy vicariously reliving the political glories of their youth.  The same generational dynamic figured prominently in the passage of ObamaCare. After Scott Brown was elected to the Senate in January 2010 Rahm Emanuel, the Obama administration’s voice of parental wisdom, advised Obama to settle for incremental health care reforms that could win a little Republican support. Instead, Obama took Nancy Pelosi’s grandmotherly advice and pushed ObamaCare through despite united Republican opposition.

Now, in the wake of the last election, the Grandparents are succumbing to political old-age and the Parents are reasserting themselves (think of the rumor that a confirmed Clintonite like William Daley will be Obama’s next chief of staff in this light). It remains to be seen whether an older and wiser Obama will start heeding parental advice and move the ideological ballast of the Democratic Party back to the right where it was during the 1990s.  If he decides to dig in his heels, he'll have a harder time standing his ground without much help from his doddering Grandparents.

Oedipal politics among Republicans generates no comparable ideological uncertainty. Consider Gerald Seib’s observation about how a new generation is asserting itself in Republican politics:
“The House of Representatives won't undergo merely a partisan change when the new Congress convenes on Wednesday. It will, in many ways, undergo a generational change as well.

“A new and younger set of Republicans lawmakers will move in when their party takes control of the House. Perhaps more important, the change also will empower a new and younger set of Republican leaders who will run the House—and who figure to be in positions of power within their party for years, if not decades, to come.

“Overall, the influx of 87 new Republican House members who will be sworn in Wednesday will lower the average age of House Republicans to 54.9 from 56.5 in the last Congress, a new Wall Street Journal analysis of ages in the new Congress shows.

“By contrast, Democrats in the House are moving in the opposite direction on the age scale. The 2010 election swept from office some of the party's younger members from moderate swing districts, and the result is a Democratic caucus that is both more liberal and grayer. The average age of a Democratic House member will rise to 60.2 from 58.”
If people like Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan and the Tea Partiers are the Republican Kids, then people like John Boehner, who came of age as an ideological bomb-thrower during the Gingrich Revolution, must be the  Parents.  And holdovers from the Reagan revolution like Mitch McConnell and Orrin Hatch are the Grandparents with their own dimming memories of their ideological rebellion against Nixon-Ford Republicans. Every Republican generation is noticeably more conservative and ideologically combative than the one that preceded it. Moreover, every one of them seems to have been rewarded politically for its acts of ideological rebellion.  Forty years of oedipal rebellion among Republicans has always moved the Party in the same ideological direction.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very nicely put. I have a feeling a Kid is not going to be let back into the White House for a good long time after the Obama is finished there.