Given the huge upheaval in the political landscape following Scott Brown’s upset victory in the Massachusetts senatorial race, I thought it was time to revisit what many in the liberal punditocracy were saying following Obama’s victory in 2008. There may very well have been some liberal commentators advising caution and restraint, least liberal ambitions and hubris lay the Democratic party low. However, I don’t remember any of them. What I do remember is numerous notables bandying about phrases like “the Republican Party is finished” and “permanent progressive majority.” Let’s exhume that commentary from its dusty vaults (some over a year old; very dusty indeed in Internet years) and see who might be dining tonight
in Hell on a generous, tasty helping of fricasseed crow.
For example, here’s The New Republic‘s John B. Judis in an article entitled “America the Liberal” published November 19, 2008 explaining how Obama’s election heralded a fundamental realignment in American politics:
If Obama and congressional Democrats act boldly, they can not only arrest the downturn but also lay the basis for an enduring majority. As was the case with Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, many of the measures necessary to combat today’s recession will also help ensure long-term Democratic electoral success. Many Southerners remained Democrats for generations in part because of Roosevelt’s rural electrification program; a similar program for bringing broadband to the hinterland could lure these voters back to the Democratic Party. And national health insurance could play the same role in Democrats’ future prospects that Social Security played in the perpetuation of the New Deal majority.
The Republican Party will be divided and demoralized after this defeat. And, just as the Great Depression took Prohibition and the other great social issues of the 1920s off the popular agenda, this downturn has pushed aside the culture war of the last decades. It simply wasn’t a factor in the presidential election.
If, however, Obama and the Democrats take the advice of official Washington and go slow–adopting incremental reforms, appeasing adversaries that have lost their clout–they could end up prolonging the downturn and discrediting themselves.
Or alternately, ObamaCare could doom that same realignment in less than a year after he took office. And of all the complaints about the Obama-Reid-Pelosi policy initiatives that Massachusetts voters voiced, I’m pretty sure that “going too slow” wasn’t among them. (Also, I think Sarah Palin and company might take issue with the assertion that the culture war “simply wasn’t a factor in the presidential election.”)
For another example, take Judis’ sometimes-collaborator, liberal demographer Ruy Teixeira, who has been predicting a “permanent democratic majority” for about as long as I can remember. In March 2009, his study “New Progressive America: Twenty Years of Demographic, Geographic, and Attitudinal Changes Across the Country Herald a New Progressive Majority” had this to say:
“At this point in our history, progressive arguments combined with the continuing demographic and geographic changes are tilting our country in a progressive direction—trends should take America down a very different road than has been traveled in the last eight years. A new progressive America is on the rise.”
Sunset seems to have come remarkably quickly for that “new progressive America.”
For the wisdom of another old Democratic party hand, let’s see what Robert Shrum (who managed just about every losing Democratic presidential campaign in living memory) had to say in The Week on September 22, 2009 about the political climate:
“After this summer of discontent, Republicans think they can ride a wave of bitter tea to electoral victory. Once the tide runs out, they will be left high and dry. After health reform passes, probably with the help of Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, Republicans will crawl out of their hole to assail it in the campaigns ahead as ‘socialism’ or worse.”
With such vaunted prognostication skills, I can’t imagine how Schrum’s campaigns could possibly have failed.
The day after the 2008 election, Dan Conley of prominent left-wing blog MyDD proclaimed the “Death of the Center-Right Myth”:
“The CRM is dead. Long live the New Liberal America.”
However, he tempered his prediction with this: “Liberalism succeeds when Americans feel their faith in government restored. It won’t happen overnight … it’s a process that will probably outlive the Obama administration.”
Not only did Obama not restore America’s “faith” in government, the project itself didn’t make it a fourth of the way through Obama’s term.
Here’s another MyDDer, Todd Beeton, on November 9, 2008, saying that Americans had come around to the Democrat’s views on the virtues of big government, saying “Republicans Should Keep Running Against Big Government & Higher Taxes: That would be awesome.”
Well, Mr. Beeton, it appears that Scott Brown took your advice. I don’t think he garnered the results you were expecting.
(Confession: I went looking for similarly clueless pronouncements among the more prominent ranks of the Daily Kos Kids, and wasn’t able to find them, possibly because in the weeks after the 2008 election they seemed completely obsessed with ranting against the unimaginable perfidy of Joseph Lieberman.)
Here’s a story called “Requiem for the Republican Party” by a Mike Whitney (a self-proclaimed Libertarian) on a site called The Market Oracle on May 6, 2009. It’s, um, somewhat less than oracular:
“The poor GOP isn’t really even a party anymore; it’s more like a vaudeville troupe scuttling from one backwater to the next performing the same worn slapstick. They’ve simply become irrelevant, a ‘non-party’ that no one pays much attention to apart from the occasional zinger on the Daily Show or Letterman. In truth, the GOP is so deeply-traumatized from their shocking fall from power, they’d probably benefit from a spell on the couch. Perhaps if they spent a few weeks in therapy, they’d see what a mess they’ve made of everything….The Republican party is finished. Stick a fork in it.”
I don’t think I’ll be taking stock-picking advice from Mr. Whitney anytime soon.
In the more obscure corners of the web, take a look at the retrospectively hilarious map that one Dan Chmielewski offers up from Gallup on a site called The Liberal OC. It features Texas as a “competitive state” and Oklahoma as a “leaning Democratic” state. You know, the same Oklahoma that had just gone for McCain over Obama by 66% to 34%. It also notes that Massachusetts is the second most liberal state in the union.
How quickly things change.
Finally, it should be noted that it’s not only liberals who believed Republicans would be losing for the foreseeable future. Take perhaps the most singular example of that rarest of species, the “Pro-Obama Conservative,” New York Times columnist David Brooks, who proclaimed that “Traditionalists” would lead the party to defeat until “Reformers” (i.e., people who act, talk, and think precisely like urbane, mannered moderates like David Brooks) finally took control. “The reformers tend to believe that American voters will not support a party whose main idea is slashing government.” Mr. Brooks further states (and this is a real quote, not an Iowahawk parody) that “They cannot continue to insult the sensibilities of the educated class and the entire East and West Coasts.”
Heaven forfend that sensibilities be insulted! Why if they continue to do that, all they can hope to achieve is seizing Ted Kennedy’s old seat! Their failure is assured.
Gentlemen, dinner is served:
Postscript: Some may consider all the above a blatant case of schadenfreude. Well, yes. But that’s not the only reason to post it.
First, when your political opponents say something amazingly stupid, you have to call them on it. There’s a small chance they might learn better, and a larger chance that the populace at large will start to discount their opinions once they discover just how demonstrably divorced from reality those opinions are.
Second, I wanted to demonstrate how easy it was, in the flush of victory, to make unwise, sweeping statements that are very likely to look quite foolish at some point in the future. Generally, statements about the “unstoppable” electoral rise of one political faction or another (or, to use that hoary old chestnut of the left, “historical inevitability”) are going to be proven wrong sooner or later. There are no permanent political victories in a democratic society. It is possible for individuals (or even, as the Whigs found out, entire political parties) to lose so badly they never recover, but the game goes on. In this light, extrapolating Scott Brown’s win to proclaim the inevitability of widespread Republican gains this November would be equally foolish and ill-advised. Such gains now look entirely possible, especially if Republicans, tea party members, conservatives, etc. are willing to put in the time, effort, and hard work to make it so, but they are by no means inevitable. Or, to paraphrase Instapundit: “Great win, kid. Now don’t get cocky.”