Over at TPMCafe Max


Over at TPMCafe, Max Sawicky notes and decries a possible parallel between 2006 and 1974.

’74 was the Watergate election, a mid-term which brought in a big crop of reformist Democrats, more than a few of whom are still around thirty years later. In retrospect, the ’74 midterm looks quite different than it must have at the time. It recemented the Democratic hold on Congress that would endure for two more decades. And it anticipated Democrat Jimmy Carter’s win two years later.

Judged from the perspective of thirty years on, however, ’74 and ’76 were more like speed bumps or momentary retrenchments in the conservative realignment of American politics which started at least as far back as 1966. It picked up steam again in 1978. Ronald Reagan was elected president two years later, etc.

Max says “Watergate ushered in a generation of Democratic politicians with little in the way of ideological commitment other than honesty. Not long after Watergate we got the Reagan revolution.”

I’m not sure that’s it precisely, though. Or perhaps the disagreement is one of cause and effect. A more economical answer, I think, is that the country was in the midst of a broad shift toward the right. The scandals surrounding Watergate upended the political dynamic in the country but not the ideological one. And as soon as those implicated in Watergate left the scene the broad pattern reasserted itself.

Of course, this may be an overdeterministic view of the past. A bunch of small changes could have made things turn out differently.

But it does at least suggest one point worth considering: the other side’s scandals can reshuffle the political cards temporarily. But it probably won’t be for that long if the scandals aren’t intrinsically connected to the bases of the afflicted party’s power or if their fall-out doesn’t catalyze a some deeper political and ideological reconfiguration in the country. Nixon’s dirty-tricksterism wasn’t at the heart of the rise of the American right in the late 20th century. So it continued on without him.