“Victory has a thousand fathers,” said John F. Kennedy, “but defeat is an orphan.”
David Axelrod, netting the prize for the most shameless display of post-defeat spinning, added an additional father to Bob McDonnell’s victory in Virginia: Barack Obama.
McDonnell ran “not as a Sarah Palin Republican, but more as a Barack Obama centrist,” said Axelrod, according to liberal columnist E.J. Dionne.
Axelrod’s fanciful description of Obama as a “centrist” betrays what he denies: that hundreds of thousands of voters in major states once thought permanently blue did recoil from a year of radical, Obama-led change, both real and proposed.
Democrats console themselves with the spin that “local issues” drove the losses, as if a repudiation of local liberalism is less ominous than a repudiation of national liberalism. The “local issues” were liberal issues, questions of excessive taxation. Jon Corzine raised property taxes; Creigh Deeds proposed to raise transportation ones.
Had Corzine and Deeds won, Obama’s participation in their campaigns would have been cast as decisive. Since they lost, it is irrelevant. All is well, say White House aides, even as they secretly shake in their boots.
After Democrats lost in 1994, a stung Bill Clinton didn’t even bother to spin it; he just hired Dick Morris. But Democrats this year, at least publicly, are in denial mode, taking solace in a Democrat replacing a Democrat in California and a jumbled squeaker in New York. Nancy Pelosi summoned the energy for her trademark brittle smile and said Democrats “won” on Tuesday.
The media-driven expectation, after Republicans lose, is that the party will move not just to the middle but to the left. When Democrats lose, they aren’t even expected to move to the middle. No, they can keep up their prattle about the “civil war” in the Republican Party and the value of a “Big Tent” even as they dismantle the last remaining stakes of their own.
When has the Democratic Party establishment in recent years ever run the equivalent of a Dede Scozzafava? It is unimaginable. They can hardly abide moderate Democrats, let alone the Zell Millers. Pro-life Democrats can’t speak at their conventions, and while they claim to “reach out to independents,” mistreat the ones closest to them, as Joe Lieberman now knows well. Big Tent advocates of the left, heal thyselves.
But Tuesday’s results won’t make the Democrats any less ‘doctrinaire. A liberal defeat, as they see it, is a call not for less liberalism but a more vigorously stated one: Deeds failed to embrace Obama’s policies more tightly and espouse them more eloquently, they complain, for example.
The only party that Democrats seek to reform after a defeat is the Republican Party: How can we mau-mau the other side into running the most feeble candidates, de facto Democrats with an R after their names who will collaborate with our agenda rather than resist it?
Were the “purge of moderates” as “politically disastrous” for the Republican Party as Axelrod claims, he would stop acting like Olympia Snowe’s press secretary and encourage it. He should want Republicans to lose. But he knows that they won’t; conservative Republicans will win over the next few years and foul up Obama’s agenda.
Don’t listen to “Fox News,” Axelrod tells the media establishment; don’t listen to conservatives, he tells the Republican one. Why? Well, because Obama just shouldn’t have opponents apparently.
Democracy is proving inconvenient to “hope” and “change.” America stubbornly refuses to become the liberal utopia of Obama’s dreams; even progressive Maine couldn’t bring itself to endorse gay marriage. The Democrats’ claimed expertise on appealing to independents and moderates looks fairly hollow at the moment.
Were independents wedded to Democratic policies, their shift from Obama last year to Christie and McDonnell this one would be inexplicable. The much-touted youth vote also looks less ideologically significant one year later. According to pollster Charlie Cook, college students didn’t trouble themselves to vote for Deeds and Corzine because they have a strictly “personal relationship” with Obama. Unless he is running, they don’t care.
The only White House official who turned out to be an effective campaigner was Joe Biden. His much-mocked last-minute appearance for Bill Owens in the 23rd Congressional District race apparently helped, though his outreach to Republicans was typically bumptious: “I say to all those moderate Republicans, those decent-thinking folks who are pragmatic Republicans, ‘Join us. We welcome you.'”
Decent-thinking folks? A revealing phrase. So moderate Republicans are “decent-thinking” and conservative Republicans are not.
Conservatism itself is an indecent thought, according to Democrats, akin to a hate crime.
But Tuesday’s results will make it more difficult for them to maintain this arrogant, monopolistic attitude. All the faux-concern about the state of the Republican Party and the conservative movement masks their own problem: a polarizing presidency, stuffed with left-wing radicals, which is promoting legislation that leaves the American people cold and unafraid of alternatives.