Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Zeitgeist and the Pendulum

By Carol Gee

Will the political pendulum swing with next year's elections? For those of us who occasionally border on "desperate" in our wish for significant political change, the current reality is of more than passing interest. What do we know about today's political climate? To be more specific, about the current political "zeitgeist," a fancier word used in this story about Obama and the Zeitgeist from which I quote:

Salit: Let me see if we can unpackage that a little bit. Would you say that Obama’s candidacy is based on a belief that there is a major sea change going on in American politics?

Newman: Or, if not the belief, the possibility.

Salit: The possibility. Okay. And with the right figure to galvanize it – and Obama believes he’s it – that, to use John McLaughlin’s term, there’s a “new political zeitgeist” in the country.

Newman: And a new base.

Voters desiring a major change hope the pendulum has swung as far to the right as it will, and has already reversed to its leftward direction. That possibility is what accounts for Senator Obama's emphasis of "change" themes. It is also why Senator Clinton is being forced to differentiate herself from the past at the same time as she emphasizes "experience."

Zeitgeist was a term that was popular back in 2004, according to my original Yahoo! search, which returned an interesting article. Titled, "American Political Cycles," it was written by Michael Alexander in November of 2004, at the website Safe Haven - Preservation of capital. The author explores the idea that a Liberal era in some ways began in 2001, as evidenced by going to war in Iraq and embracing very high levels of spending. To quote the author's intro:

The American historian Arthur Schlesinger Sr. (1888-1965) proposed a cyclical concept of American politics in which the political "spirit of the times", or zeitgeist, oscillated between "liberal" and "conservative" eras [1]. Although he never formally proposed a model to explain the cycle, Schlesinger suspected that the dynamics of political organization itself was responsible for the timing. A successful political party or movement takes about 15 years to define its agenda, mobilize its resources, implement its policies as best it can, and obtain the inevitably less-than-hoped-for results [2]. This movement proceeds through several fairly predictable stages: growth and vitality under a charismatic leader, a period of mature leadership, and then a gradual decline as supporters tire of the message. With decline, the baton of leadership passes to the opposition. The result would be alternating periods of ascendancy that should last about 15 years.

One of the clearest indicators of a pendulum swing is the number of Republicans retiring from Congress. Minority Whip Trent Lott is the latest. It is possible that they do not see their party ascending any time soon, and do not enjoy their minority party status. Public opinion polls are not reliable indicators except when tracked over time. And, of course, the course of events can change elections, as did 9/11 in 2004. Barring another terrorist attack on home soil, the other issue that could make a difference in 2008 is if the U.S. economy goes into a recession, giving Republicans the perfect excuse to continue to talk tax cuts to "spur the economy."

Which way do you think the pendulum is swinging as we head into 2008?


  1. Patrick Ruffini's 2008 Presidential Wire
  2. "Zeitgeist"at Wikipedia
  3. Zeitgeist, the Movie
  4. (Technorati - 2004) Site Tracks Political Zeitgeist
  5. Google Zeitgeist Special -- 2004 Election
  6. MSNBC's Willie Geist blog, "Zeitgeist"

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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  • "Barring another terrorist attack on home soil,"

    Don't give them ideas! Perhaps even a phony plot, revealed and thwarted at the last moment by the heroes of Homeland Security will do the job. Actually I'll be surprised if they don't try a stunt like that.

    By Blogger Capt. Fogg, at 9:20 AM  

  • Capt. -- nor would I. As each new low is revealed about these folks, I am rarely surprised and am beyond being shocked. The transparency is what sends me into chuckles sometimes.
    Thanks, for the warning.

    By Blogger Carol Gee, at 10:40 AM  

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