Overreaching -- an immutable law of politics

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By Rob Witwer

As in physics, politics has a handful of immutable laws. One of these is the Law of Overreaching, which states that the party in power will inevitably overreach.

Majority parties tend to act as though the entire population shares their core agenda. The problem with this, of course, is that for the most part no majority is possible without the support of a sizable number of voters who aren’t affiliated with either party.

Take the 2008 presidential election. Barack Obama won by a popular vote margin of 52 percent to 46 percent. If only four of every 100 voters had switched their votes, John McCain would have won the popular election.

Polls show that those voters tend not to be ideological. To the extent they’ve voted before, they’re likely to have supported members of both political parties. Not only that, they usually hold out until the end of the election cycle to make up their minds.

They didn’t hold out because they were waiting to see which of the two candidates — Obama or McCain — would push the most left-wing agenda. If they were so inclined, they would have been with Obama much earlier.

Yet the president and the majority in Congress are governing as though each and every voter who put them in place is as ideologically rigid as the left wing of their party. Both the stimulus package and the proposed health care reform are opposed by a majority of Americans, yet Washington refuses to listen to the voices of concern.

Based on the president’s speech last week, it looks like the majority party is about to double down on its strategy of pushing an aggressively ideological version of health care reform. I hope I’m wrong about that, because it isn’t good for America when reasonable voices of dissent are ignored.

There is a corollary to the Law of Overreaching. If a majority party habitually exceeds its mandate, the next election provides voters an opportunity to present that party with an equal and opposite reaction. It’s called the Law of Electing a New Majority.

Rob Witwer, who grew up in Evergreen and currently lives in Genesee, is a former member of the state House of Representatives.