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With Defeat Looming, Democrats Retreat Into Fantasy

How do Democrats mollify the progressive soul? They invent an alternative universe.

With prospects of Republicans recapturing the Senate a chilling reality—though certainly not a given—I’ve noticed a number of pundits, including, the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson, embrace some conventional self-soothing myths about our political situation. Each one means to reaffirm liberal intellectual and moral superiority and rationalize events that aren’t exactly going according to plan.

Republicans Scaremonger. Democrats Appeal to Reason

It is inconceivable voters could be unhappy with Democrats’ recent body of work or the content of their message. A GOP victory will sit atop a mandate-free edifice of anxiety, hate, rage, and lies. “Republicans are conducting a campaign of atmospherics,” Robinson explains. “Be afraid, they tell voters. Be unhappy. Be angry.”

Is Robinson referring to the campaign to persuade voters that plutocrats have the ability to steal democracy by drilling into the collective subconscious of America and forcing all of us vote for Republicans? That kind of atmospheric? Or is he talking about the condom-thieving vote-stealing white men whose detestation of entire genders and races is so fervent that it leads them to a career in reactionary politics? You know the type. The kind of scum that still supports slavery. Or maybe, when Minnesota becomes a desert because we haven’t pumped enough subsidies into windmills conservatives will be happy? After all, “civilization as we know it today would be in jeopardy if the Republicans win the Senate,” says the rational, idea-driven leader of the House Democrats.

Sure, only one party has a laser-focus on the issues that matter.

Only One Party Is Irrationally Rigid

In a recent POLITICO piece sifting through potential bipartisanship measures after the midterms, Norm Ornstein ascertains that trade policy (please retard your excitement) is the most feasible low-key legislation Washington can hope to pass, because Republican “activists will not go ballistic over a signing ceremony conducted by the Socialist Kenyan president.”

So biting! You hear this sort of thing often, of course. I’d say believing GOP obstinacy is driven exclusively by fantasies and bigotry is almost as inane as believing in a Manchurian candidate. But if you think there’s gridlock now, wait until Republicans are driving policy. Should Republicans win, I do look forward to a slew of Ornstein columns lamenting the Democrat minority’s filibustering and sabotage of progress. Though I suspect some others, less fair-minded pundits, might recalibrate their position to celebrate the power of obstructionism as a worthy pursuit in defense of Progressive aims. Because, let’s face it, this has never been about a mucked-up process. It’s about what policies are stuck in the muck.

Only One Party Is ‘Serious’

Robinson complains that Republicans are swaying voters with unserious policy goals, including the repeal of Obamacare. We hear this endlessly. Even if the GOP captures the Senate and manages to pass one of the numerous House bills that repeal all or parts of Obamacare, he argues, the president (who, Robinson doesn’t mention, isn’t serving for life) will surely veto. Consequently, the GOP is fooling its very stupid base with frivolous and absurd positions.

Perhaps. Democrats also have slate of ideas—higher tax rates on the rich and environmental restrictions, for instance—that have about equal chance of seeing the light of day. This doesn’t seem to dissuade liberals for a number of reasons, I imagine. First, they are laying the groundwork for future battles. Second, they are utilizing issues for political purposes during an election season. Nothing new there. Treating one set of unpassable policies as set of judicious suggestions and another set—say, building a pipeline or reforming Obamacare—as the hopeless ravings of lunatics might make you feel reasonable, but both exist in the same political reality. Both are equally unserious.

Only One Party Can ‘Govern’

What’s most depressing about this election? There is no vision for governing, says The New York Times.

Robinson, too, is sad over the GOP’s lack of a “plan for America.” Because if only Republicans had more ideas to offer, liberal pundits and the press would be giving them an honest chewing over. (You remember how seriously Paul Ryan’s budget was treated?) Robinson says liberals crave a robust opposition party, if only because it will help sharpen their own thinking.

We’ve heard this bit of concern trolling often: where are worthy partisan foes, the Reagans and Buckleys, so we can volley ideas to-and-fro before reaching some reasonable consensus. Hey, not every party can churn out fresh policy ideas like the minimum wage, tax hikes, and “equal pay.” Not only have Democrats failed to offer any coherent “plan,” in large numbers they’ve distanced themselves from the Progressive vision that only few years ago was going to resurrect America society into something better and fairer.

In a fine illustration of Jonah Goldberg’s argument that liberals treat their positions as if they were free of ideology, Ezra Klein can’t comprehend why politicians we send to Washington are always uninterested in solving the problems—or, more specifically, the issues he’s identified as critical to our future. After an era of extraordinary action, he writes, we’re now entering an era of extraordinary inaction.

First of all, two forces slamming into each other is not inaction. But what if people aren’t interested in being governed in such dramatic ways any longer? Maybe Americans are increasingly uncomfortable with the notion of politicians planning so much of their future. Or, at the very least, more voters might have come to the realization that politicians aren’t up to the task. Maybe Obamacare killed for decades the idea of big centralized governance? I find the prospect heartening. A real breakthrough. A plan. Left punditry, though, frames this kind of healthy American skepticism about state power as “cynicism.” And if people lose faith in the decency of hyperactive government, the nation is plunged into “malaise.”

Parties often fool themselves after setbacks.  The GOP will, as well. No doubt, we’ll soon have a barrage of post-election autopsies that will get to the heart of the matter. You know the drill. Democrats don’t lose because of policy positions, they lose because of turnout, poorly run campaigns, or GOP voter interference. Democrats win elections on the strength of the electorate’s evolution on issues. Republican wins are always “structural.”

Not that any of it matters, because even when the GOP wins it really loses anyway.

Follow David Harsanyi on Twitter.

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