The "Dems: Victory or Irrelevance" Meme

George Will's Washington Post column is largely fluff but the zinger at the end is the new Republican uber-meme:

Sinclair Lewis's "Elmer Gantry," like most of his novels, is dreadful as literature but splendid as a symptom. Published in 1927, the year Charles Lindbergh flew the Atlantic and Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs and the American craft of ballyhoo was being perfected, the novel was a cartoonish blast of contempt for tub-thumping evangelists who were doing well for themselves while pretending to do good works to redeem this naughty world. Gantry succumbed to temptations of the flesh and the real estate market. The modern twist to the fall of Foley -- public protector and private predator of children -- is the warp speed with which it moved from exposé to therapy: Foley, who has entered alcohol rehab, says he takes "responsibility" for what he has become as a result of abusive priests and demon rum.


Their story, of late, has been that theirs is the lonely burden of defending all that is wholesome. But the problem with claiming to have cornered the market on virtue is that people will get snippy when they spot vice in your ranks. This is one awkward aspect of what is supposed to have been the happy fusion between, but which involves unresolved tensions between, two flavors of conservatism -- Western and Southern.

The former is largely libertarian, holding that pruning big government will allow civil society -- and virtues nourished by it and by the responsibilities of freedom -- to flourish. The Southern, essentially religious, strand of conservatism is explained by Ryan Sager in his new book, "The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians, and the Battle to Control the Republican Party":

"Whereas conservative Christian parents once thought it was inappropriate for public schools to teach their kids about sex, now they want the schools to preach abstinence to children. Whereas conservative Christians used to be unhappy with evolution being taught in public schools, now they want Intelligent Design taught instead (or at least in addition). Whereas conservative Christians used to want the federal government to leave them alone, now they demand that more and more federal funds be directed to local churches and religious groups through Bush's faith-based initiatives program."
Yes, yes. Good, good. We all already know that. Republicans allowing that maybe, just maybe there are cracks in the GOP monolith. This, of course, allows them to argue later that even if they are defeated electorially in the comming election (or elections) that it's only part of the party ideology that the public didn't like. It wasn't a rejection of Conservatism, just of one particular flavor.

A small, but somewhat important point that could forshadow the direction the GOoPers move should they find themselves out of power.

The important part of Will's column is the last paragraph:
After the 1936 election, in which President Franklin Roosevelt shellacked the Republican nominee in all but two states, a humorist wrote: "If the outcome of this election hasn't taught you Republicans not to meddle in politics, I don't know what will." If, after the Foley episode -- a maraschino cherry atop the Democrats' delectable sundae of Republican miseries -- the Democrats cannot gain 13 seats, they should go into another line of work.
This is the meme that the Republicans desperately want the media and the public and Democrats to internalize. If the Democrats do retake the House, the damage to Republicans is that they've lost the House. This is pretty straight forward and whether or not the "Dems must win or they will become irrelevant" meme has been accepted, the outcome is the same.

If the Democrats come up one or two seats short of control, this meme is tremendously destructive for Democrats. Instead of a huge recalibration of power and a rebuke of the direction that Republicanism has taken the country, the midterm elections - in which Democrats picked up seats - signals the 'Whig-ification' of the Democratic Party.

Now, I'm inclined to believe that if the Democrats don't take control of the house, its their own mistakes and ineptness that will cost them control but saying that Democrats should "find another line of work" if they don't (and by extension abandon governing to the Republicans) is stupid.

It took the Republicans years - decades - to build the system they have now. If in the years before 1994 conservatives had given up on their party (as many lefty bloggers threaten to do) do you think the GOP would be where it is today?

We need to learn from conservatives.

We need to build machinery for dissemination of our message. We need to build the party nationally, not just in 13 states. We need to grow candidates by supporting and encouraging Democrats to run in local elections.

That is going to take years. Just as failure to take the House won't doom the party to irrelevance, taking the House won't usher in an era of enlightened Democratic rule.

Failure to retake the house would be a disappointment for Democrats but we can't let the Republicans raise expectations (or lower them, depending on your point of view) to the point that they've defined victory such that they almost automatically win.

Don't fall into this trap. Don't spread this meme.

1 comment:

Michael Mealling said...

The other thing the Republicans did during that period was actually sharpen their ideology into something coherent. They took a critical eye to their previous policies and essentially started over from scratch. Sometimes you have to admit that its not how you're delivering your message but the actual message itself....