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Obama and the Upchuck Factor

by Christopher Chantrill
August 21, 2009 at 5:44 pm


AMONG THE most powerful psephological tools available to political strategists and commentators is the well-known Upchuck Factor. Never heard of it? I’m surprised.

The Upchuck Factor is, quite simply, the length of time it takes the US voter to decide that s/he’s “had enough” of the Democrats. And it looks like this year it is hitting a new record.

You may have been taught in school, for instance, that the American people loved Franklin Delano Roosevelt so much that they would have gone on voting for him forever. In fact the American people demonstrated in the mid-term election of 1938 that they were ready to upchuck him and all his works. The 1938 elections featured an 81-seat gain in the House of Representatives for the Republicans. Figure that FDR’s Upchuck Factor was 6.

What was the problem in 1938? It wasn’t that complicated. After six years of political bombast and war on the private sector—and after FDR gunned the economy into the red zone in 1936 with unprecedented stimulus—the economy collapsed in 1937 and the American people decided that they had had enough. They determined to upchuck the New York machine politics of FDR. But then along came World War II and saved his political skin.

The 1960s is another era in which we are taught that Americans loved their government. They basked in the sun of JFK and LBJ, and loved the exciting space programs and wars on poverty. But in fact, the American people decided they had had enough after six years of it. In 1966, well before the Summer of Love, American voters upchucked and gave the Republicans 47 additional seats in the House. Two years later they sent the very un-sunny Richard Nixon to the White House. Give the JFK/LBJ Democrats an Upchuck Factor of 6.

In the late 1970s President Jimmy Carter came into office promising that he’d never lie to the American people. Maybe he didn’t, but he wrecked the economy and this time the American people didn’t wait six or eight years before upchucking.

It was then that the voters’ digestion really started to go south. They vomited up Carter and the Democrats after four years in 1980 and elected a man that “everyone” agreed was little more than an amiable dunce. Things must have been really bad for the American people to go to that extreme. President Carter moved the Upchuck Factor to 4.

Now we come to the modern era. After twelve years of Reagan and Bush, Bill Clinton won the 1992 election for the Democrats, with the help of Ross Perot. Democrats thought that with Bill Clinton that they were really on their way. But they were wrong. The Upchuck Factor was getting stronger, and the American voters in 1994 recorded an Upchuck Factor of 2. They vomited up the Democrats in the first off-year election after 1992 and sent 54 new Republicans to the House. The distress among Democratic voters must have been extreme, but Post-election Stress Disorder hadn’t been invented yet, so the mental health problems of the liberal community went undiagnosed and unfunded.

Bill Clinton was the best gut politician of his time, so he managed to avoid defeat in 1996 by passing welfare reform and seducing naïve young soccer moms into supporting him for another term. But he didn’t do his party much good. An unimpressive George W. Bush managed to eke out wins against an angry, but unfocused Democratic Party in 2000 and 2004.

But now, after the solid Democratic win of 2008, it looks like the Upchuck Factor has shortened again. Now it is pegging at 6 months!

The ominous thing is that Americans are not expressing their indigestion at the ballot box in a mid-term election in their usual sensible way. Their gastric reaction to a single dose of Obama’s Chicago politics is so extreme that they are heading to the nation’s vomitoria already. They are spewing out their rage at politicians’ town halls and even in the street.

Let’s stop right there and clear away all the fun and frivolity.

This is the first time that the American middle class has taken to the streets in living memory.

Back in the 1930s street politics featured the workers in the Battle of the Overpass between Ford’s striking workers and its security guards. In the 1960s it was African American marchers being set upon by Bull Connor and the KKK. In the late 1960s and early 1970s it was elite liberal youths refusing to go to war. Now all of a sudden average middle-class Americans are organizing Tea Parties and street protests. The old politics of the liberal “teach-in” has been replaced by the new politics of the town-hall “shout-in.”

Liberals are beside themselves with rage. They are recounting how their parents lost their jobs during the McCarthy period, and telling each other that opposition to the president’s program is all about racism.

You can tell the Democrats are in trouble when a naïve hockey mom from Alaska can appear out of nowhere and wrestle the entire Democratic Party to the ground. After all, when it comes to “death panels” for grandma you have the American people on one side and you have “comparative effectiveness research” professionals and rational ethicists on the other. How come Sarah Palin could see that and the intelligent President Obama could not?

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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presented by Christopher Chantrill

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