The Nation's Pulse

Rationalization Summer

The left's unhealthy state of denial about the midterms.

By 9.10.10

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The evidence has become overwhelming: Democrats are headed for a colossal disaster in 2010. The enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats is enormous. Turnout in Republican primaries is exceeding that of Democrat primaries for the first time since 1930. A roundup of political scientists at the Huffington Post projected that Republicans would pick up anywhere from 22 to 52 House seats. And those dreaded words, "The Senate is in play," have been echoing across the blogosphere for the past two weeks.

Initially, leftists responded to the bad poll numbers by ignoring them or claiming the public would swoon for Democrats once their legislation took fuller effect. The stimulus would be seen as a success story after the economy rebounded this summer. ObamaCare would become beloved once the subsidy checks were in the mail.

None of that happened. Now that Black Tuesday looms less than two months away, the sledgehammer of bad news is finally starting to hit Democrats on the head. And it's everyone else's fault.

Washington Post columnist and Keith Olbermann sounding board Eugene Robinson is blaming the voters, whom he accuses of having a "temper tantrum." He writes, "The nation demands the impossible: quick, painless solutions to long-term, structural problems." Robinson claims this observation is nonpartisan and that he could have made it at any point during the last two decades. But by some stars-aligned coincidence, he decided to bring it up this year.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer Cynthia Tucker sees a nation in the throes of rage against minorities. "While some prognosticators were naïve enough to believe that Obama's election signaled the beginning of a post-racial era, it prompted something altogether different: a backlash against the browning of America," she declares.

Here's how her theory works: America was doing just fine for much of 2008 and 2009, having elected and supported its first black president. Then late last year -- around the time that health care reform was being debated -- white Americans suddenly woke up and realized they didn't have jobs and that there were more black people living in their neighborhoods. This led to the ascendancy of noted Tea Party white supremacists like Allen West and Marco Rubio. It also catalyzed Glenn Beck's Restoring Honor rally where Dr. Martin Luther King's niece was applauded wildly.

The liberal blogosphere is fretting that Republicans will clean up this year because progressives will stay home. If only President Obama had fired up a health care public option and spent more time groveling to unions, they reason, the country's mammoth progressive majority would be more jazzed. That's a tough sell considering the progressive left couldn't win a primary race in Arkansas that it poured millions of dollars into. Only 20% of Americans identify as liberal or progressive, according to a Gallup poll from a few months ago, compared with 42% who call themselves conservative. For all the talk about keeping the Democratic base happy, progressives actually compose a very measly group.

I'm no psychologist, but I'd like to ask this question: Is this massive rationalization mentally healthy? I'd always thought the first step to solving a problem is admitting that you have a problem. When searching for the key to their unpopularity, shouldn't the Democrats spend more time looking in a mirror?

It's not likely to happen. Perhaps the biggest problem is that the Democrats' most convincing rationalization is being promoted by almost every media outlet. We hear it over and over again: Democrats are going to lose because they haven't mended the economy. Thus can the lamentations begin. If only the Democrats had focused on jobs! If only the stimulus had been larger! If only we'd socked it to the rich harder!

Paul Krugman doesn't even write columns anymore. He just rearranges those three sentences and mails them to his editor.

Of course the economy is forefront on everyone's mind, with GDP growth sluggish and unemployment close to 10%. But voting trends are complex and usually driven by multiple causes. Is the economy really the sharpest nail in the Democrats' coffin?

Jay Cost of Real Clear Politics doesn't think so. Cost graphed the numbers and found that support for Democrats began to tank during the third and fourth quarters of 2009 -- right as GDP growth was picking up and unemployment was decreasing. That's when independents, who supported Obama by 8 points in 2008, began jumping ship.

So why on earth would voters start tarring Democrats over the economy right as it was picking up? That was the same time that the ObamaCare debate was dominating the news and the Tea Parties were taking shape. It was the beginning of a tidal wave of voter discontent over the president's swell-the-state progressivism.

The truth is that Barack Obama's agenda, with health care at its centerpiece, seen as both too radical and completely ineffective by the American people, did Democrats in.

The poll numbers have borne this out for most of 2010. Rasmussen found that 57% of likely voters think the Democrats' agenda is too extreme, compared to only 40% for the Republicans' agenda. Gallup found that a record plurality thought Democrats were too liberal.

I've written that progressivism as an ideology has trouble admitting that the majority oppose their ideas on principle. Progressives have dreamed up a fantasy where they are "the people" and conservatives are "the rich" and "the powerful" and "the top 2%." An informed middle class rejecting the left's economic ideas on substance is anathema to them. It causes their whole worldview to implode.

Thus there must be some other explanation. The voters must have fallen for "misinformation by the right-wing media." Maybe they've let themselves get distracted by social issues on which the left hasn't made enough progress. Perhaps they've become petulant and can't understand what's in their own best interest. It's also possible Obama wasn't as great a communicator as they initially thought. Or perhaps the Koch brothers are secretly running the country from an underwater lair. Or Glenn Beck is bribing everyone with gold.

The devastating reality is that 2010 will represent the most definitive rejection of progressivism in recent American history. But all we'll hear from the progressives is a continuing stream of unhealthy denial.

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About the Author

Matt Purple is an editor at Rare.us.