Catch a Wave
With the election nigh, political junkies like yours truly have been scouring the news and chasing down tidbits to confirm the coming Republican tsunami–not just because it gives us a sense of security, but mostly because it’s just so damned entertaining to watch the punditry twist themselves into verbal pretzels trying to explain how the Conventional WisdomTM managed to get the Age of Obama so wrong. You remember, those headlines trumpeting how “We Are All Socialists Now” and how the Democrats had a lock on power for the next forty years? Well, it seems that Nostradamus took a little vacation after the 2008 election and can’t be reached for comment, leaving the rest of us mere mortals to interpret how the Hope and Change has, well, not quite worked out like the changers hoped.
National Review has an interesting and detailed analysis of that question, which makes for some good reading (and weeping, if you’re a liberal). For me, the money quote comes early on in the story:
The liberal journalist Peter Beinart noted that for decades Democratic leaders had treated the American public’s latent conservatism as a sleeping bear: The chief imperative was to avoid sudden moves that would rouse it. But the Reagan era was now over, and Democrats no longer needed to live in fear. That’s what Obama’s “yes we can” slogan meant to liberals: Yes we can move past both conservatism and Clintonian triangulation. Liberalism was living in its favored political tense: the future perfect.
Democrats could look at the political landscape with confidence, assured of three things. The country had decisively rejected conservatism and moved leftward. The idea of small government had been discredited by the financial crisis. And the president’s persuasive powers could get the Democrats through any remaining difficulties.
Now those assumptions lie in tatters. Republicans are unified and enthusiastic, independents favor government retrenchment, and Democrats have been reduced to scolding their base to stop whining and vote.
The problem, the article goes on to explain, is that the electorate hadn’t actually moved leftward as the Democrats assumed; in fact, it’s just the opposite: bailouts, deficits and massive government expansion have actually left a pretty nasty taste in people’s mouths–a crap sandwich topped with a generous helping of Congressional arrogance for not listening to voters when they were screaming at their representatives during all those town halls last summer. I’ll submit that it goes even deeper than that. Beyond the media bias, the less-than-thorough vetting of Obama, and the flash-over-substance packaging of a man who had never run a thing in his life, the Democrats have largely been done in because they believed their own Big Lie.
In other words, they fell for the line they peddled on George W. Bush.
For eight years, they frothed about how Bush was a rabid right-winger theocrat, out to steal grandma’s Social Security check right after he outlawed abortion and gobbled up little Johnny’s hot school lunch. Problem is, none of it was true. Now don’t get me wrong–I liked W. a lot. The man had guts and class, and made no excuses about protecting this nation after the attacks of 9/11. But he was no conservative, at least not in the sense that I understand it. While I loved his tax cuts, he also signed into law a huge expansion of the NEA, Medicare and agricultural subsidies. He approved steel tariffs and was on board with amnesty for illegals–hardly what you would call a Tea Party platform. And yet Democrats and the media caricatured him as this figure somewhere between John Birch and Genghis Khan, with a bit of vampire thrown in for all the Twilight fans. Day in and day out, same old same old.
And, somewhere along the way, they actually started to believe it themselves.
Ironically, in this they sowed the seeds of their own coming rout–assuming this election turns out the way everyone except Nancy Pelosi seems to think it will. That’s because they made a false assumption. In rejecting George W. Bush, voters were not rejecting conservatism; it was quite the opposite, in fact. Voters were rejecting his policies, which were largely unconservative. Obama was able to take advantage of this by campaigning as a moderate and an agent of change, but he completely misunderstood the public mood. Voters wanted him to govern as he had promised, but instead he delivered more of what they didn’t like about Bush.
It seems pretty simple in hindsight, but given the Democrat attitude toward the electorate, it’s doubtful they’ve taken the lesson to heart. To them, it’s less a failure of policy than bad marketing. They might have better luck if they bothered to know their customers–something Republicans would be wise to keep in mind when they win back their majority.