Originally Posted by Preacher
Let ask you a question about this entire issue (voting against, instead of for).
It seems to me that during the cold war, the issue of national defense was at the forefront of every election. Thus, whoever the president is, there was a belief that if the unthinkable happened, the president would order nuclear retaliation.
Today, we have no such overarching fear. Thus, secondary issues have become primary in elections, and the fear of making the opponent look weak or unable to govern is not an issue in the post-cold war America.
Or is it simply the fact that with all the press coverage, with all the games that are played... Good, strong candidates simply don't want to get into the national spotlight... thus leaving it to people who seek the position out of weakness... such as a drive for power, drive for credibility, or a drive to fill an internal need of some kind.
Preacher - As usual, insightful observations and a good question. I agree that national defense was always a front burner concern in the "postwar/Cold War" elections until 1992, although it sometimes was social issues (1968) or payback for a particularly bad Administration (1976) that turned certain presidential elections. Cynics would argue that because the defining principle of the Republican party was "anti-Communism," once Communism went away the GOP thought it could not win on domestic issues, prompting the decision to take the legitimate threat of Al Queda and conflate it into an eternal "war on terror."
As for the negative nature of current campaigns, nastiness is not unique to political contests of our era. However, while political realignments start with voters voting against an incumbent party (Hoover in 1932/Carter in 1980) they are cemented by voters deciding they want to vote for the new incumbent rather than simply against the other party (FDR in 1936/Reagan in 1984). When parties are closely balanced and cannot take major risks, elections turn on more trivial concerns. When parties have power to burn or nothing to lose is when ideological breakthroughs are developed by the majority (New Deal) or minority (1964 Goldwater campaign) party.
While events are ripe for the incumbent Presidential party to be trounced in an extinction level event election in 2008, for politics to then proceed to a more positive state based on then voting in subsequent elections for the new incumbent party, IMO the Democrats will need to nominate someone who is a break from the past and address broad issues of economic angst that incorporate such matters as trade with China, immigration, and perceived economic inequality. I think those various symptoms of profound economic uncertainty will combine in future years to be an issue that will dominate politics for some time to come as the U.S. adjusts to no longer being the only big dog in a multi-polar world. In response to the point raised by GBMelBlount, protecting the economic well being of citizens can be just as important as military defense and is not a new concern (GBMelBlount - if you doubt me on this, check out the debates between Jefferson & Hamilton on the role of the federal government in promoting economic growth - Hamilton won that debate). It all depends what you regard as "national security."
With regard to who that realigning candidate may be, suffice it to say it will not be Hillary Clinton. So in answer to your question, I think political discourse will be petty and divisive until a new majority is nailed down by a President with the clout to deliver voters who, like Reagan and FDR, positively adopt his views. Peggy Noonan thinks we may be some time off from that; the only current candidate I see who might
cobble together a realigning majority starting in 2008 is Obama. However, I still cannot figure out whether he is (to use a Texas put down), all hat and no cattle.