The Wall Street Journal had a fascinating front page article yesterday on the 2008 Presidential Election: “An Epochal Battle: Iowa kicks off the most wide open race since ’80. Looking beyond the Reagan-Bush era” (subscription required).
Everybody knows the big issues: Iraq, the economy/housing bust, immigration and terrorism.
But what struck me when reading the article was that the American public seems almost historically unhappy with the solutions to these problems being posed by the two major parties. The percentage of US voters who feel the nation is headed in the right direction is as low as it’s been since 1992 (An Unsatisfied Nation). And the number of voters registering as Independent or third party has doubled since 1992 to 22% of the total (Identity Crisis).
What this does, in my mind, is set the stage, if not now then sometime not too far off, for a radical restructuring of the political landscape. In other words, it opens up the path for outsiders and third parties who can present a compelling alternative vision.
This is not unprecedented. As the issues facing the nation change, old assumptions and ideas can lose their sway. The Federalist/Anti-Federalist political parties that characterized the early republic gave way to a different, democratic dynamic when Andrew Jackson won the presidency in 1828.
When Ronald Reagn won the presidency in 1980, he essentially turned back the tide of big government that had carried the day since the Great Depression and FDR’s win in 1932.
This trend bodes poorly for conventional candidates without fresh ideas such as Clinton, Guiliani and Romney and well for new blood like Obama, Huckabee and Paul – if not this presidential cycle then soon.
One wonders what possibilities for American politics lay in the not so distant future – or even the present.