The French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr (1808–1890) famously said that “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” This epigram is a perfect description of the American electoral process.
Americans elect a new president every four years. Members of the U.S. House of Representatives have a two-year term. U.S. senators are elected for six years. That means that every two years all House seats and one-third of the Senate seats are up for grabs. Although the president is limited by the Twenty-Second Amendment to just two terms, there are no term limits for U.S. representatives and senators. Over the past fifty years, the reelection rate for House incumbents has not dropped below 85 percent. And only six times has it even fallen below 90 percent. The percentages are lower in the Senate, but Senate races still overwhelmingly favor the incumbent. Since the election of 1982, the reelection rate for Senate incumbents has ranged from 75 to 96 percent.
Over the last twenty-odd years, it seems, on the surface, as though some radical changes on the national level have taken place. In the election of 1994 — for the first time in fifty years — the Republicans gained control of both houses of Congress. They have held on to control of the House ever since, except for the last two years of George W. Bush’s presidency and the first two years of Barack Obama’s presidency. Republicans likewise controlled the Senate until the election of 2006, except for a brief interruption in 2001 and 2002 because Sen. Jim Jeffords switched his party affiliation from Republican to Independent. They regained control of the Senate in the 2014 election. For more than four years during George W. Bush’s presidency, the Republicans had absolute control of the Congress and the White House. For the first two years of Obama’s presidency, Democrats held the same.
On paper, Bush and Obama couldn’t be more different. But after enduring eight years of each one, it is evident that nothing has really changed under their respective administrations as far as the federal government is concerned. Certainly nothing for the better. In fact, almost every one of Bush’s bad policies was continued by Obama. Republicans and Democrats likewise appear to be different animals, but during this same period, what has really changed? The national debt has continued to increase. Federal regulation of almost every area of commerce and life has not abated. Tens of thousands of Americans are still incarcerated for nonviolent crimes. The United States still has the world’s largest prison population per capita. The federal budget continues to increase. Budget deficits are still the norm. Social Security and Medicare continue to be insolvent. The United States is still engaged in numerous overseas military interventions. Senseless foreign wars are still raging. Hundreds of U.S. military bases still encircle the globe. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops continue to garrison the planet. U.S. foreign policy continues to be reckless, belligerent, and meddling. The welfare state continues to redistribute wealth. The warfare state continues to bleed Americans dry in order to line the pockets of defense contractors. The war on poverty continues to impoverish those who have to pay for it. Americans increasingly live in a police state. The government continues to take from those who work and give to those who don’t. Money is still being taken from American taxpayers and given to corrupt foreign governments. The size and scope of the federal government continues to increase.
Americans have now endured yet another election cycle. Many promises have been made; many assurances have been given; many changes have been proposed. And many changes will undoubtedly take place. But what kind of changes will they be? If they are not changes in the direction of more liberty and less government, then they are the wrong kind of changes. That is why the change America needs is libertarianism.