Once liberal Democrats lose power they suddenly value moderation. The dangers of ideological politics now worry them terribly. The same liberals who told Bill Clinton to barrel toward universal health care and homosexuals in the military are telling George Bush to govern "from the center." Liberal partisans who appeared ready to bring confetti and balloons to Paul Wellstone's memorial are newfound champions of bipartisanship.
Radical liberal Bill Moyers is nostalgic for the days of Dwight Eisenhower, because he was "moderate in the use of power." Republicans under him were for the most part a "reasonable lot," writes Moyers. But not anymore: "That brand of Republican is gone. And for the first time in the memory of anyone alive, the entire federal government -- the Congress, the Executive, the Judiciary -- is united behind a right-wing agenda for which George W. Bush believes he now has a mandate." Moyers is frightened at the prospect of lower taxes, pro-life laws, and more respect from the government for religion. Never mind that these were the very policies in place at the time of Dwight Eisenhower's presidency. Moyers usually warns the Republicans not to go back to the 1950s. But the election has left him so turned around he's developed a respect for it.
Even as liberals lose power, they continue to present themselves as authorities on its proper exercise. Sure, the people took power away from them, but liberals still know exactly what the people want. And surely it can't be George W. Bush conservatism? No, no, the nation is as open to the liberal agenda as ever. Bush's political success was purely "tactical." As Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen put it, "the GOP won with money and tactics -- a great get-out-the-vote effort and, yes, the lift provided by Bush's personal popularity. The victory, though, was no knockout -- just a match won on points." Democrats can stay the course, says Cohen, because the elections' "results do not mean that suddenly the country wants right-wing judges, privatized Social Security, government support of organized religion or, for that matter, a foreign policy with a chip on its shoulder just spoiling for a fight."
Liberals don't see election results as ideological mandates unless they win. If liberals win, the people have made a profound statement about their views and values; if conservatives win, the people were just snookered by a Republican-rigged system or a personally charming Republican president. It is nice to see the Republican victory bringing out Gore Vidal's Marxist paranoia: "The same people own the media that own the White House that own the Congress that own the oil fields. They all work together to give a false view of the world to the American people."
Moyers is equally delusional: "Don't forget the money. It came pouring into this election, to both parties, from corporate America and others who expect the payback. Republicans outraised [D]emocrats by $184 million dollars. And came up with the big prize -- monopoly control of the American government, and the power of the state to turn their ideology into the law of the land. Quite a bargain at any price"
Republicans should never be ideological, of course. That is a privilege reserved only for liberals. While they demand "moderation" from the Republicans, they demand less moderation from their own leaders. Why didn't you guys run as real leftists? is the universal lament
"The Republican Party's historical hostility to the rights of women and the welfare of immigrants, its favoritism toward big business and big contributors, Richard Nixon's unwavering willingness to trade integrity for victory and Ronald Reagan's cheerful indifference to the disenfranchised: all conspire to leave liberals nowhere to go," writes Anna Quindlen. "So the Democrats took us for granted, too. They did it by refusing to take clear, strong, unapologetic positions on issues, to spell out how they were different from the other guys on the economy and national defense."
But help is on the way for Quindlen, Moyers and company. Their party has found just the right leader to lecture George Bush on moderation and balanced government -- a San Francisco liberal named Nancy Pelosi who wanted Gary Condit re-elected.