If you want to know why Republicans trounced the Democrats on Tuesday, read this piece by Glenn Greenwald. Skip the part about the on-air fight between Glenn and Lawrence O’Donnell over what O’Donnell said or didn’t say on Scarborough’s show. It’s both amusing and appalling, but the truly important stuff comes when Glenn takes on O’Donnell’s specific argument about why the Democrats lost so massively. O’Donnell perfectly articulates the conventional wisdom among inside-the-Beltway types; namely, that voters rejected Democrats because the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress were too liberal; too far to the left — that Tuesday’s election was a resounding rejection of progressive ideology; that the Democrats misread what the public wanted in 2008; that they tried to do too much; that Americans want less government, not more; that they want the government to get out of their faces and stop telling them how to live their lives and just let them make their own decisions.
O’Donnell — in standard cable TV form — basically had one simplistic point he repeated over and over: exit polls show that only a small minority of voters (a) self-identify as “liberal” and (b) agree that government should do more. There are so many obvious flaws in that “analysis.” To begin with, exit polls survey only those who vote; it excludes those who chose not to vote, including the massive number of Democrats and liberals who voted in 2006 and 2008 but stayed at home this time. The failure to inspire those citizens to vote is, beyond doubt, a major cause of the Democrats’ loss (see the first reason listed by CBS News for why the Democrats lost: “The Democratic Base Stayed Home“). … O’Donnell’s fixation on those who voted, while ignoring those who chose not to vote, necessarily excludes a major factor in the Democrats’ loss.
But more important, voters don’t think the way that cable TV personalities think. Voters don’t run around basing their vote on this type of vapid sloganeering: who is a liberal? who is a conservative? who wants big government and who wants small government? It’s true that the word “liberal” has been poisoned and it’s thus hardly surprising that few people embrace it as their political identity. But, as I documented during the segment and O’Donnell steadfastly ignored, large majorities support positions routinely identified as “liberal,” including the public option, greater restraints on Wall Street, preservation of Social Security and Medicare, etc. They can say they are not “liberal” but their specific views on substance prove otherwise.
But far more important still, what voters care about are not cable-news labels, but results. Democrats didn’t lose because voters think they’re too “liberal.” If that were true, how would one explain massive Democratic wins in 2006 and 2008, including by liberals in conservative districts (such as Alan Grayson); were American voters liberal in 2006 and 2008 only to manically switch to being conservative this year? Was Wisconsin super-liberal for the last 18 years when it thrice elected Russ Feingold to the Senate, and then suddenly turned hostile to liberals this year? Such an explanation is absurd.
The answer is that voters make choices based on their assessment of the outcomes from the political class. They revolted against the Republican Party in the prior two elections because they hated the Iraq War and GOP corruption (not because they thought the GOP was “too conservative”), and they revolted against Democrats this year because they have no jobs, are having their homes foreclosed by the millions, are suffering severe economic anxiety, and see no plan or promise for that to change (not because they think Democrats are “too liberal”).
People like Lawrence O’Donnell predictably don’t understand this because none of that is happening to them. In their world, what matters are facile, superficial political labels and trite, McGovern-era Beltway wisdom: Dems have to Move To the Center. But voters are rejecting Democrats because of their perceived policy failures, not because of cable news bumper stickers. …
People aren’t running around thinking: who is a liberal and who is a conservative? They’re running around thinking: we have no jobs and no economic security, and thus will punish those in power. …
People are suffering economically and Democrats have done little about that. Beyond that, they failed to inspire their own voters to go to the polls. Therefore, they lost. By basing their power in Congress on Blue Dog dependence — rather than advocating for the views of their own supporters and implementing those policies — they failed, and failed resoundingly. Building their party around a large number of muddled, GOP-replicating corporatists not only creates a tepid and failed political image, but far worse, it prevents actual policies from being implemented that benefit large number of ordinary Americans. Democrats repeatedly refrained from advocating for such policies in deference to their Blue Dogs, failed to do much to alleviate the economic suffering of ordinary Americans, and thus got crushed. Anyone who thinks that Democrats lost because they were “too liberal” — rather than because Americans are suffering so much economically — is wildly out of touch, i.e., is a multi-millionaire cable TV personality who has spent decades wallowing in trite D.C. chatter.
All emphasis is Glenn’s.
I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that conventional wisdom tends to carry the day, even in quarters where you do often find thoughtful commentary:
In the end, I think O’Donnell clearly had the better side of the argument here. Greenwald couldn’t seem to accept the fact that without the Blue Dog Democrats, there would not have been any Democratic majority in Congress and thus no health care reform, no stimulus, no financial industry reform. Greenwald strikes me as the liberal version of something that you see on the right as well. It’s the same mentality that led people to support Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, for example, even though it was clear that there was no possibility that she could win the election. Letting the perfect be the enemy of the good is, it seems, a common mistake in politics regardless of one’s political beliefs.
This makes no sense at all. If the Blue Dogs were so essential to Democratic success, why did so many of them lose their jobs on Tuesday? Americans voted their empty pockets, drained bank accounts, and foreclosed homes on Tuesday. Did the Blue Dogs’ emasculation of health care reform, financial industry reform, and stimulus legislation persuade voters that the Democrats were creating jobs for unemployed Americans, or holding Wall Street accountable for wrecking the economy or helping them stay in their homes? Perhaps Democrats would have been better served NOT to have defined “the good” as “whatever those Blue Dogs want.” Honestly, I don’t get what Mataconis is on about here.