May 25, 2005

Fallacy of Wishful Thinking (tip to QandO)

Howard Fineman thinks that Republicans may have reached their zenith in the latest generational cycle of US politics. His analysis is silly and I can't chalk this poor critique up to anything more than wishing it to be so.

First of all, the Republicans, compared to the Democratic victories of the past, are barely in power. They've only had the House since 1994, while the Democrats held it straight for decades before that. Moreover he compares LBJ's 1964 victory - when he trounced Goldwater 61-38 and took over 90% of electoral votes - to Bush's victory in 2004, which Bush won by 2 and a half points. If this is the high-water mark for conservatism, then it's not very high.

Americans haven't had decade after decade of Republican rule as they did with the Democrats. We're not going to see the exhaustion factor because the Democrats are still a far more viable opposition in the House than the Republicans were for most of the mid-20th century. Part of the reason the Democrats fell was the laziness of a pseudo-monopoly and the exhaustion of seeing one-party rule in Congress.

But far more critically, the Democrats fell as their ideas withered and the Republican ideas matured. Republicans created think tanks and interest groups, the libertarians formed critiques and white papers, the religious conservatives formed PACs, the economists expanded their proposals, etc. The Republican resurgence was a serious renewal of ideas that took decades to build, test and exploit.

The Democrats, far from mimicking this work for a renaissance of socialism, are putting their energy into two areas: special interest groups that are little more than vessels of abortion (they used to be feminist, now they're just pro-abortion), and interest groups that do little more than run anti-GOP ads, anti-GOP rallies and do voter turnout. Turnout is important, but what do you do with the power after you win? Unless the Democrats can challenge the Republicans idea for idea, they're doomed to lose. The Democrats have an idea deficit, and that's why they are not fated for any sort of Phoenix-like rise back to power.

What do the Democrats want to do with security policy? 'More! They'd be the bestest, most secure ever! They're WAY better than Bush!' That's about the extent of their agreement. Are they going to repeal the Patriot Act, put a stop to Camp Delta and end the War on Terror? Are they going to ramp up domestic efforts, create a civilian Homeland Security corps and start nationalizing bridges and tunnels? Nobody knows, because any of these might reasonably be heard from Democratic partisans. No agreement, hence not a lot for voters to sink their teeth into.

What do the Democrats want to do to fix Social Security? 'No! NO! Nonononononono!' Well, that's productive. The few Democrats in Congress who've advanced ideas have been cut out and ignored by both media and the Democrats. The left doesn't even acknowledge anything needs to be done, so they refuse to get down with a plan. They're not even on the map with this issue.

Are they going to capitalize on some simmering issue with the electorate and ride it on in? I doubt it. One issue where they could peel off Republicans is immigration, but the Democrats have no idea what to do with immigration. Bush undercut them with a pro-immigration plan in 2003 and they didn't have a serious challenge either direction. About all they know is they didn't like the Minuteman Project. Oops. guess they won't peel away antri-immigrant voters. They'd have to risk their stand with Hispanics anyway.

Surely they have some ideas of what to do, right? Well, not really. Their response to vouchers is that teachers unions should have more members and money ('smaller class sizes') which doesn't mean vouchers couldn't happen at all. Their response to free trade is that there should be more protection for labor and the environment, but they don't know what this means and this is clearly just an excuse since Australia has even stronger labor protections than we do but they opposed an FTA with them. Their response to the war in Iraq was that we should send more troops but that we're spending too much money on Iraq.

Had Kerry defeated Bush, it would not have been a harkening call for Democrats to rally back to their spot as the US' natural majority. It would have been, as they say in SCOTUS lingo, 'limited to the facts.' It would have meant that Random Democrat defeated a viciously opposed President Bush, and had generally few real signs for the course of the future. The Democrats don't have the ideas and policies to rally them back to long-term leadership. They can't come back into real dominance without a platform consisting of several popular principles and real credibility in at least two or three broad policy areas.

They definitely haver some strengths and some residual credibility that sustain them at their current level, but they don't have the ideas to even withstand Republican onslaught, let alone push the GOP back down. If stem cell research was going to be a major issue that defeated the GOP, it would have happened already. The fact that guys like Fineman can only really cite stem-cell research as a way in which Biblical conservatives go too far shows that there isn't nearly enough for Democrats to campaign back to power on.


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