So, it's no surprise that it was (unappreciated genius) Democrat pollster Pat Caddell who came up with the idea, and sent it to Jimmy Carter just before his inauguration in 1977:
"The old cliche about mistaking style for substance usually works the reverse in politics. Too many good people have been defeated because they tried to substitute substance for style; they forgot to give the public the kind of visible signals that it needs to understand what is happening...Essentially, it is my thesis governing with public approval requires a continuing political campaign."
There's a certain virtue to the permanent campaign, keeping Americans on the same page and from each other's throats, not entirely different from FDR's unifying fireside chats. Although it didn't help the dour Carter, whose temperament was as ill-fitted to the role as his dopey sweaters during the energy crisis, the permanent campaign was tailor-made for Bill Clinton's personality: it was said that if there was one person in a roomful of supporters who didn't dig Clinton's act, Clinton would spend the entire evening getting him or her to come around. The permanent campaign probably saved Clinton from the Hounds of Impeachment.
Indeed, the permanent campaigner Bill Clinton had won the presidency largely because a reasonably good fellow and president, George HW Bush, after a creditable stewardship in the job, rather saw campaigning even during an actual election campaign as demeaning to his record.
Enter George Dubya Bush, whose worthy political skills lay somewhere between style and substance. It can scarcely be denied that, for good or ill, he brings more substance to the job than either of his predecessors, and enough attention to campaigning to get elected twice (which his father failed to do), although not enough permanent campaigning to keep us from each other's throats, as Clinton in fact did:
Although there was quite a bit of anti-Clinton vociferousness from the GOP side, the polls did not support his removal from office over his technically grave but ultimately harmless violations of the law. And so, the "loyal opposition," the GOP-controlled Senate and specifically John McCain and Bob Dole, put the fix in and kept the impeachment trial down to a bare minimum and a dull roar. They let Mr. Clinton skate, and that was a good thing.
Subsequently, McCain and Dole got Clinton's back on his Kosovo adventure and whipped their party into line once we had troops committed. That's how a loyal opposition functions.
Fast forward. Not that I'm a fan across the board of John Zogby, but it seems reasonable that his latest poll reflects the truth about our current state of the union:
The survey also contained troubling news for Democrats. While high-profile Democrats in Washington, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, spar with GOP adversaries, 58% of self-described Democrats said they think their leaders should “accept their lower position in Congress and work together with Republicans to craft the best legislation possible.”
With only 6% saying Democrats should fight the GOP congress tooth and nail. (And that's just Democrats who were polled.)
So, at one of the more dangerous crossroads of our history, a president who mostly doesn't give a hang about convincing the American people of the rightness of our course as a nation, and an opposition that mostly doesn't give a hang about working for the betterment of the country if it will cost them partisan advantage.
We no longer have the permanent campaign, nor a loyal opposition. The 90s were the good old days in their way, and now they're gone, leaving the American public to BMW: Bitch, Moan, Whine. That's the way it is on this, the first of March, 2006.