Maybe Morris and McGann should retire to a quiet room until they stop hyper-ventilating. They’re asking you to believe that Obama and the Democratic Party owe their decisive victory in the 2008 election to a momentary lapse of ideological self-consciousness on the part of the electorate. On their view, American voters needed to elect Obama to remind themselves just how much they abhor doctrinaire liberalism. So I guess this is a center-right country that undergoes temporary bouts of ideological amnesia.“Barack Obama is destroying the Democratic party. It may not recover for a long time. In this, he most closely resembles a synthesis of the failed candidacy of George McGovern and the catastrophic presidency of Herbert Hoover. The damage he is doing to his party’s image and prospects closely resembles the harm Hoover did to the Republican Party, from which it did not recover for 20 years after he left office. And the extent to which Obama is discrediting the Left parallels the damage George McGovern did to his ideological confreres in 1972, when he went down to flaming defeat. . . .
“This is likely not the legacy Obama had in mind when, with his massive ego, limited competence, and paltry experience, he took over the White House. Americans, in a fit of national delusion, made what they now realize was one of their biggest mistakes.”
Morris and McGann have presented us with a testable proposition. Time will tell whether the mid-term elections inaugurate a durable electoral realignment of the kind that followed FDR’s 1932 victory of Hoover. You’ll notice, however, that this is at least the third time we’ve been sold this bill of goods in the last sixteen years. Newt Gingrich sold it in 1994, Karl Rove sold it in 2004 and all those liberal post-mortems about movement conservatism sold it after Obama’s election. I’m at a loss as to why we should now find Morris and McGann’s predictions any more credible than those earlier predictions look in hindsight.
It’s a little hard to believe that the ideological fickleness of the electorate explains every reversal of political fortune. I find institutional explanations centered on the increasingly decentralized structure of the political parties and the proliferation of information technologies that deprive them and other organizations like unions and trade associations of their traditional monopoly over the means of political organization a lot more plausible on their face. By the time Rove thought that Bush’s reelection heralded a durable Republican majority, Democratic insurgents like Howard Dean were already mobilizing previously unorganized constituencies around an agenda that attracted independents and exploited fissures in the Bush coalition. The process the Dean campaign started culminated in Obama’s prying the Democratic Party out of the hands of its establishment by persuading rank-and-file Democrats that he was a better antidote to Bush-fatigue than Hillary Clinton. Now the Tea Partiers are returning the favor and carrying what's left of the Republican establishment along for the ride.
Get used to it.