Thursday, November 09, 2006

Why (they think) they lost

We heard the first of it last night from the pundits, the idea that the Democrats had won because they fielded conservative candidates, and the corollary that America rejected the Republican Party because they not longer considered it conservative enough.

Untrue, of course. The Democrats fielded candidates who were all along the political spectrum, depending on where they were running (isn't that one of the points of democracy, that elected officials represent the views of the electorate in their districts?). Some were conservative (relative to the center of the party, not to the ultra-conservative radicals of the Republican Party), other were liberal, most were moderate, as befits a party which is center-leftish and not leftist. It's a party that really is a Big Tent, not one that only pretends to be one, as the Republicans do.

As for the corollary, that the Republicans lost because they are no longer conservative enough, Georgia10 nails it:
When you can't get an abortion ban passed in freakin' South Dakota, America isn't trending conservative.


I don't pretend to think that the American electorate has overnight become as liberal as I'd wish them to be, but they certainly can recognize when an ideology has failed (although it may take a distressingly long time for them to do so) and that it's time to give the other guys a chance. In that respect, those who characterize the election as anti-Republican instead of pro-Democratic are correct, but so what? In our system as currently constituted, those are the choices, it's a zero-sum game.

The Republicans had their chance and they did an amazingly bad job at running the country, a truly execrable one, perhaps among the worst spells of governance this country has ever seen, and they've now paid the price. That they would want to soothe their egos by placing the blame elsewhere is understandable, but it doesn't make it true, or even reasonable.

Simon Rosenberg calls it A day of reckoning for the conservative movement.

2006 will become known as the year American conservatism reached its peak, and our 20th century politics fought one [of] its very last battles.

That's pretty much what I had in mind back in the beginning of October when I wrote:

The 2006 mid-terms will break the back of the right and deal a near-death blow to the Republican Party as now constituted. I don't think it will shatter entirely, there may be (barely) enough moderates hanging on to by their fingernails who will be emboldened and will take back the party, but, at least for the time being, the right's control of the Republican party and, through it, their hegemony over the Federal government will be just a very, very bad memory. Bush/Cheney will still be in power, and still dangerous, but the tide will have turned and they will no longer be able to rule in the same way.

That seems quite prophetic now, especially considering that back in January I wrote:

Our entrenched ultra-conservative elements have actually taken over the government, and for years now have put all their energy into taking apart the liberal state they despise so, no matter the social or economic costs.

Fortunately, it seems as if the worm may be turning, and more liberal and rationalist elements may be poised for a comeback. Of course, I'd like to see some real progress in this year's mid-term elections to be certain, and there's plenty of ground that still needs to be recovered, but it really does feel as if we've already seen the high-water mark of the fundamentalist / ultra-conservative / anti-rationalist / neo-con resurgence.

Anyone know where the mantle of prophet is lying around? I'd like to try it on for size.

Update: Digby (as always):

This election proves that the Democrats are the mainstream political party. We just elected a socialist from Vermont and a former Reagan official from Virginia to the US Senate. We elected a number of Red State conservatives, true, but we are also going to have a Speaker of the House from San Francisco. We cover a broad swathe, ranging from sea to shining sea with only the most conservative old south remaining firmly in the hands of the Republican party. The idea that this is some sort of affirmation of conservatism is laughable. It's an affirmation of mainstream American values and a rejection of the Republican radicalism this country has been in the grips of for the last 12 years.


In an pollster post-mortem today, Chuck Todd said the Democratic Party has become a big tent party by accident. That is not the case. The fact is that over the last few years a rather imagination-limited, but well-funded, establishment waited for a chance to exploit Republican weakness as 9/11 began to fade, while a practical, visionary activist wing emerged to build a new political landscape. This is anything but an accident. It's been in the works since at least 1998 as the netroots kept the truth about Republicans alive while the media were writhing together in orgiastic Clinton/Gore loathing and Bush sycophancy. There would have been no big victory last night without it.

And regardless of our pragmatism, make no mistake: real fighting progressives are once again active players in this game, coming in with money and energy and ideas. As Perlstein's piece [in The New Republic] shows, this new group of energized progressives are not children, 60's hippies or fools. We are not asking for a seat at the table. We're not begging for a voice. Neither are we crazed ideological revolutionaries in the Gingrichian mold. We're simply progressive American citizens who are taking our seat and demanding our say after 12 long years of being shunted aside as if we have no place in this party or this country.

They can have their bizarroworld interpretations of events and they can crown a new crop of "boy geniuses" who played nicely by GOP rules. It doesn't matter. The Republican Revolution is dead. And the mainstream, progressive Democratic majority is silent no more.

Pragmatic progressivism, I like it -- and as we look forward to 2008, we should embrace progressive populism as our platform.

Update: Mark Schmitt, for one, doesn't mind the "Democrats won because they ran conservatives" spin:

The Republicans might get some satisfaction out of claiming that these new Dems are more conservative, but what do they gain from that? The fact is that they are Dems for a reason, and the reason is not the old "Daddy was a Dem, Grandpappy was a Dem" of the past, but the simple fact that even fairly conservative people cannot tolerate what the Republican Party has become. That's their shame, not something for them to brag about!

The fact is that the Democratic Party has been a centrist, moderate party for some time, in the sense that on balance the party’s governors, legislators and policy agenda fully represent the center of public opinion. (As shown, for example, by the fact that the viewpoint of independents was very much in line with that of Democrats.) But it was a damaged brand; it needed a remake of its image. This is a chance to do it, by showing that the party has in fact incorporated the center. Highly visible veterans, openly religious candidates, and social conservatives like Casey send a cultural signal, not an ideological one, a signal that this is a party you can be comfortable in. Sometimes you need to seem like you have changed just to make people understand what’s been going on all along.

The underlying story of this election, and one that the press will eventually understand, is that there are now two parties in this country: A constructive majority party of the center-left on one side, and on the other, a regionally based faction of the far-right party, now stripped of its last moderates, a remnant that is probably the most ideologically extreme minority party since the New Deal. The "conservative Dems" spin, even if wrong, helps move this understanding forward, and that's fine.

Tom Schaller does mind, and has the evidence to shoot this particular foresaken meme down.

Pull back the lens and what appears to be happening this year is a regional-ideological partisan correction in which Rockefeller-Ford Republicans are purged from the NE/NW Rust Belt, and prairie progressives pick off selected seats in the Far West. The regional realignment over the past 40 years, which slowly converted Dixiecrats into Republicans, has now entered its final stage, as voters north of the Mason-Dixon line and west of the Mississippi provide a countervailing response to the southern-led Republican majority.

This transformation is occurring at the Senate, House, and gubernatorial levels. Indeed, because Rust Belt Republicans will be replaced by progressive Democrats, regardless of the final 2006 results, both chambers of the 110th Congress will become more progressive among the growing shares of Democrats and more conservative among the shrinking ranks of Republicans.

Strangely enough, the TV pundits who spent a fair amount of time bemoaning the fact that the loss of Republican moderates like Lincoln Chafee would help increase polarization in Washington didn't seem to mind that the Party had been essentially taken over by the far right-wing, which had done everything possible to neuter those moderates and make them irrelevant. Nor did they speak up and suggest that those moderate Republicans might find a happier home in the Democratic Party (which would have been true).

No, they were obsessed back then with the idea that the Democratic Party is ultra-liberal and entirely out of the mainstream, and now that the Party has revitalized itself and forced itself back into power, they're similarly obsessed with the idea that the new Dems are conservative and that they're going to have problems serving under Nancy Pelosi. They forget (and many of them have no excuse for doing so, since they were around at the time) that the Democratic Party has a lot of experience keeping a coalition of sometimes opposing viewpoints together and working, which is why I don't expect any problems at all. To begin with, the new Dems aren't as conservative as the pundits make it, nor is Nancy Pelosi the arch-liberal they make her out to be.

Update: Ronn Zealot, in a comment on Tapped:

It has taken exactly one hour for me to get sick of the meme that Democrats have suddenly embraced conservatives.

Democrats have ALWAYS embraced conservatives - as well as liberals, moderates, Jews, Catholics, gays, straights, African Americans, Latinos, soccer moms, immigrants, union leaders and war veterans. And so on.

The Democrats embrace all points of view and occasionally LISTEN to their constituencies. The resulting cacophony is what makes Will Rogers' old line continue to resonate.

Contrast that to what the Republicans did with their constituents - blue-collar Reagan Democrats, Christian conservatives, military-minded people and the rich:

- The Reagan Democrats were betrayed by 25 years of economic stagnation and an attempt to take away the last safety net, Social Security.

- The Christians were betrayed by Foleygate and its coverup and probably weren't to happy to find out - via David Kuo - that the GOP considered them laughingstocks.

- The military-minded were betrayed by the senselessness that is the Iraq War.

In the end, the GOP hung by their true constituency, the rich. But there aren't enough rich guys to win an election.

Update: Kevin Drum contends, not all the persuasively, that the reason for the Republican's loss is simple: they pursued popular policies in Bush's first term, but didn't do so in his second term, and paid the price. But, really, the exit polling shows that only one of the Republican policies was a controlling factor in the election: Iraq, and the choice to go into Iraq was made and implemented in the first term, not the second. It may have been generally supported but it was never popular in the sense Kevin's using -- there was no widespread popular impulse to attack Iraq, rather there was acquiescence in the apparent necessity to do so based on the Administration's false evidence and propaganda push.

Update: Krugman:

[I] hope and believe that this election marks the beginning of the end for the conservative movement that has taken over the Republican Party.


Ed Fitzgerald | 11/09/2006 04:42:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


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