Last Thursday, four Federalists, La Wang '12, the Scrivener, John Scrudato '11, and Kyle Hutzler and Benjamin Wilson '14 travelled to Boston to attend the Harvard Program on Constitutional Government's biennial post-election analysis. The event, moderated by Professor Harvey C. Mansfield, featured William Galston of the Brookings Institution and William Kristol of The Weekly Standard.
After introductory remarks by both speakers, the session moved on to the heart of the program: the extended Q&A with the audience. It should be no surprise that in politics, discussions of the past, no matter how recent, are considered useful only for their implications for the next election. Speculation was already rife for the 2012 presidential match-up.
In what time the panel did spend looking backwards, they concluded that the chief failure of the Democratic party was the Obama administration's insistence on pursuing health care legislation instead of focusing first and explicitly on unemployment.
The tea party movement, whose influence leading up to the elections had been so pronounced, was considered by Galston to be this era’s equivalent of the Goldwater insurgency. When asked about the movement’s anger, Galston did not believe, as did one questioner, that it was driven primarily by personal animosity towards the President, but believed that much of the anger could be attributed to the poor economy and health care debate. Both panelists downplayed the rhetoric surrounding this election as a sign of a dangerous rift in American society, although Galston did point out the dangers of higher rates of inequality.
As for the rest of President Obama’s term, both panelists considered that foreign policy, particularly in regards to the Middle East, would weigh heavily on the 2012 presidential race.
Looking ahead to the 2012 presidential election, both Galston and Kristol dismissed an audience member's question on the possibility of a repeat Clinton-Bush election, with Hillary and former Florida governor Jeb Bush taking up their families' respective banners. The panelists conceded it was possible that Obama would face a potential primary challenge from an explicitly anti-war candidate like Howard Dean or Russ Feingold (who Kristol joked he would be encouraging to run to sap the Democratic party’s internal cohesion) in the mold of Eugene McCarthy’s challenge of Lyndon Johnson.
Who will become the 2012 Republican challenger remained unclear and Kristol pointed out that unlike most Republican nominations, there is no heir apparent waiting to be crowned.
Despite talk framing President Obama already as a lame-duck, Galston warned that Republicans are too overconfident about the president’s weakness and, comparing poll numbers with Presidents Reagan and Bush, made clear that the president was in a much stronger position than would be suggested by the gravity of the economic crisis.
At 6.30, the assembly broke for dinner, where the Federalists enjoyed the company of three Harvard graduate students engaged in the studies of Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Russia.
Following dinner, the Q&A period resumed, where Garston and Kristol weighed the outlook for the economy in the wake of Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke’s second round of quantitative easing that was announced on Wednesday. The $600 billion injection into the economy smacks of ‘desperation’ to Kristol. Garston acknowledged the failed use of “Keynesian remedies for a non-Keynesian” recession, i.e. one that is outside of a typical cyclical downturn and is instead caused by a financial meltdown such as that experienced in 2008; the latter produce far weaker recoveries.
After the event, the Federalists briefly met Harvard University’s William R. Kennan, Jr. Professor of Government, Harvey C. Mansfield and Yale University Professor of Political Science Bryan Garsten, before beginning their return to New Haven, with no room to spare for the multitudes of Harvard freshmen desperate to flee the Crimson’s clutches.