Wednesday, October 20, 2010

An Ideological Retreat

I have no reason to doubt the conventional wisdom that Democrats are going to lose, and lose big, in the coming election. Yet that still looks to me more like a symptom of continuing electoral volatility than the beginning of an enduring realignment. Don’t take my word for it. Listen to election guru Charlie Cook contemplating available polling data: “What this means,” he observes, “is that we will likely have our third wave election in a row this year, and the bigger this one is, the more likely that there will be a countervailing wave in either 2012 or 2014."

Let’s assume that Cook’s right about Democratic prospects of regaining electoral ground in coming elections. Does that mean that liberals will hold their ideological ground in the war they’ve been waging with conservatives for the allegiance of the mean voter since Reaganites took over the Republican Party in the 1980s?  Not at all inasmuch as it may turn out that the only way for Democrats to hold their own electorally is to surrender ground ideologically.

We’ve already seen plenty of evidence that things are headed in that direction. It never dawned on most liberals six months ago that Democratic congressmen who were celebrating the passage of ObamaCare as the crowning achievement of their political careers would be trying to pretend that it never happened on the campaign trail.  The spectacular unpopularity of Nancy Pelosi is still more impressive evidence that Democrats will be staging an ideological retreat. Here’s Gallup:
“Independents in particular have become more negative about Pelosi, with her favorability dwindling nine points among this group since May, to 21%. Nearly 6 in 10 independents (58%) now view her unfavorably, compared with 86% of Republicans and 22% of Democrats. . . .

“Pelosi's image has gone from bad to worse in recent months, with independents, in particular, growing more critical of her. Her resulting 2-to-1 negative to positive image presents a challenge for congressional Democrats as they try to convince voters to send them back to Washington for another term. While President Obama may be of some benefit on the campaign trail in terms of firing up the Democratic base to turn out, Pelosi's subdued favorability among Democrats and highly negative image among independents suggest she is a far riskier person for Democratic candidates to be associated with -- something Republicans who are using her in ads against their opponents have already concluded."
Think about that.  When it comes to marshalling liberal legislation through the byzantine corridors of the House, Pelosi's the most accomplished Speaker of the House since John McCormick.  And she had a smaller Democratic majority, and a less popular and politically adept president, to work with.  Her success had made her, more than any other national political figure, the personification of doctrinaire liberalism.  So her spectacular unpopularity must mean something about the ideological leanings of the mean voter.

I’m betting that if Democrats keep or regain the House in 2012, it will be partly because Pelosi has surrendered the Speaker’s gavel. Any takers?


Osama Von McIntyre said...

With all due respect, I couldn't disagree more.

What people know about Pelosi is what they hear, and what they hear is Fox News and Republican campaign ads. She is an inside player--she has never sought the spotlight like Gingrich did when he was speaker. Not one in 5 could tell you who she is, and not one in 20 could tell you about a bill she sponsored, or a specific tactical move she's ever made.

So what she is is an emblem.

It is my sense that were the economy sailing, her approval rate would in the 70s. In other words, it's independent--much like Obama's--of much that's specific.

And, while I'm still feeling snarky, I disagree about the necessity of liberals to stage an "ideological retreat." Most people are not particularly ideological--at least in the sense that buy deeply into the ideological predispositions of the left or the right.

The right belives in something, for better or worse, and the left doesn't appear to: it is ideologically skittish, and always willing to undercut its own positions for short- to medium-term advantage.

For us raised in the pre-internet, pre-blog era, the Democrats used to stand for something: it was the party of the "little guy." The Democrats were the ones that stood up for the interests of the working man. Partly due to demographics, and partly due to cultural changes, it is now the party of the "other': the democratic constituency is foreigners, homosexuals, poor.

What the liberals need is an ideology, clearly stated, and a consistent, principled stand for the core liberal concerns: economic opportunity, and civil liberties. Without this, it looks like a party of opportunists, whose primary interest is power: that, I think, is what the public finds distasteful about the current Congress.

Ron Replogle said...


I think that, more than any Democratic politician I can think of, Pelosi has "an ideology, clearly stated, and a consistent, principled stand for the core liberal concerns: economic opportunity, and civil liberties." Moreover, she's been remarkably effective at translating it into public policy--without her healthcare reform probably would have died after Scott Brown's election. But the mean voter isn't buying what she's selling.

Osama Von McIntyre said...

I don't disagree that the mean voter isn't buying what she's selling. But you--and I--are political nerds, and we know what she's selling. If her views were broadly known and understood, I could begin to buy your larger thesis.

But they don't.

John Boehner has the exact same approval rating as Pelosi, according to a Gallup poll released today. What is the larger meaning of that???

Osama Von McIntyre said...

Oh.. my.. goodnesss....

It seems almost as though you didn't read the post that you're responding to.

Nobody said that Fox news is "poisoning" your mind, or that controlling your thoughts. I did say that the average voter knows very little specifically about her, her positions, or her manoeuvres (which is backed up by polling). Not you specifically (except to the degree that you decided to call yourself "mean voter.") In fact, I said that I don't buy what she's selling...

This is not a partisan point: Boehner's low ratings are equally not based on specific policies or positions: but more on generally partisan orientation, and personal reaction to the individual as seen on the news. (As an example, I see Boehner on TV, and he makes me think of the lush that closes the bar every night. Granted, I am a liberal...).

I have found this blog incredibly interesting, while nonetheless disagreeing with a good portion of Ron's points. I don't think that people are rushing to embrace the Republicans this cycle because they've been won over to conservative ideology: I think the 2012 election will be as volatile as the 2006, 2008, and 2010 elections.

Fact is, we have two entrenched political ideologies (and parties) that don't really map very well to the way people think and feel. So, for the time being, I think we'll just keep voting out whichever party is in power.

Mean Voter said...

Sorry, my comment fell off somehow. And I do appreciate your point Mr. Von Mc.

What I was saying was that it isn't always the case that Fox News is making people think the way they think. I don't know but I think conservative people tend to watch conservative shows and same for liberals. In any event, I don't watch those shows, but I do try to educate myself as to what is going on on the political landscape.

As to your point that Pelosi's ratings would be sailing if the economy was in better shape, that's kind of a no-brainer. So would Obama's. So would Bush's if the Iraq war was over when that Mission Accomplished banner was raised.