There is nothing like listening to progressive radio in the aftermath of a significant defeat for its pet causes to get a cheap education in civics. I write this while marveling at how the mid-day host on "Air America" assured like-minded callers that he didn't know whether voting machines had been rigged to ensure Republican victory.
To his credit, Ed Schultz also admitted that devious programming might not account for Republican gains in the House and the Senate. In his estimation, Democrats lost because too many people have been snookered by doubletalk about "God, Guns, and Gays."
Bush won on fear, Schultz said. True enough, in its way: fear of a Kerry presidency apparently gave the president even more votes than Reagan ever won.
But how would Schultz and his listeners explain John Howard's victory in Australia, I wonder? Surely the evil genius of Karl Rove does not extend to Oz, or to Afghanistan, which just certified Bush ally Hamid Kharzai as its first elected president.
Sadly, neither Schultz nor his callers seemed prepared to concede that perception rather than deception might explain electoral defeat for the Kedwards ticket.
Believe it or not, some Left-leaning bloggers are consoling themselves by invoking the ghost of Barry Goldwater. They want to follow his example of turning short-term defeat into long-term victory.
But the Goldwater example only works for progressives if you think political philosophies are interchangeable. Whoever puts the Democratic Party back together will have to do it with different raw material than Barry Goldwater had on hand.
All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Kerry together again. That's because Democrat stars like Barack Obama, Howard Dean, and Hillary Clinton have little more than money and charisma going for them. The Democratic base isn't what it once was. Jesse Jackson talks more to himself than to anyone else these days. Louisiana just sent an Indian-American to Congress for the GOP. And as James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal is forever pointing out in squibs about the "Roe Effect" (as first discussed by Larry Eastland in The American Spectator), abortion kills a disproportionate share of would-be Democrats.
Meanwhile, although "compassionate conservatism" spends too much taxpayer money, its implicit recognition of human dignity appeals to more people than calls for bigger government. Couple that with the explicit affirmation of human dignity in the RNC platform, and you've got a chance to run the table, as George W. Bush very nearly did, except for the defeat of Pete Coors in Colorado and the passage of the rotten embryonic stem cell research bond in California.
When progressives declare that "it takes a village," traditionalists invoke the (Catholic) principle of subsidiarity to focus down further than that and say "it takes a family." Smart non-traditionalists accept the progressive formula, but rightly suspect that a federal bureaucracy can't really be called a village.
Both of these objections must be taken seriously before Democrats can win the presidency again, and neither objection can be met by people who inflate judicial egos and dismiss their opponents as simpletons. In political reconstruction project as in other things, word choice plays an important role as the leading indicator of fidelity to, or variance from, reality.
Rule number one: The American electorate is not a mob, not a herd, and not a rabble: it's a pack.
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