Why, why, why can’t liberal voters take midterm elections more seriously? That’s the question Michael Tomasky asks in his midterm postmortem at the New York Review Of Books and Marc Ambinder distills at The Week.
The answer, a cascade of self-comforting myths, won’t surprise anyone. We hear it often. Candidates might lose because they lack ideological purity. Or they might lose because their constituencies haven’t been sufficiently “educated” or motivated to turn out. But political parties never lose because voters have repudiated their policies. Never.
“Can it be true that the only way for Democrats to vote their true strength is to treat the opposing party just as poorly as the opposing party treats the Democrats?” asks Ambinder. (Everyone knows how soft Democrats have been on their arch rivals up to this point.) As the column is titled, “Why Democrats should treat Republicans like their mortal enemy,” you can probably guess where he falls on the question.
Republican voters, being older and somewhat wealthier and more likely to own property, are more apt to see politics as a continuing conflict of interests that roll over from one election to the next — they can always be convinced that some undeserving person is coming to take away what they’ve earned. Voters who are overall younger and have fewer assets are less likely to view politics in such stark terms.
… old folk and their bizarre attachment to property!
We can concede that Americans who’ve accumulated some level of wealth probably feel more incentive to take part in the political process and less inclined to support quixotic experiments that piddle wealth away. This reaction offers stability and a balance in American politics that tempers populism and drives the Left nuts. (Unexplored topic? Why do property owners feel compelled to vote against Democrats all the time? )
But with all that said, the assertion that Democrats view politics in less stark terms is an idea only a hopeless partisan could offer. How is a liberal going to get any more stark is probably a better question.
If Republicans win, we will have a tax system run by billionaires, a democracy run by tycoons, an environmental policy run by oil companies, and a health-care system that leaves millions to die. If you want to save Americans from perpetual poverty and women from the prying cold fingers of the patriarchy, whom are you going to vote for?
Why don’t these serious concerns roll over from one election to the next?
If you had to pick a party that has a political anecdote for every injustice of the world—serious or not—which one would it be? If you had to pick a party that believes government offers the best way achieve a moral and fulfilling life, which one is it? Isn’t the case against Republicans that they don’t care about the suffering of the average American? That they’re a party without ideas? Pretty stark, all of it.
We Don’t Negotiate with Terrorists
All of this springs from the biggest myth of the day: The notion that one party is far more extreme than the other. Ambinder claims that GOP “extremism” attracts a larger share of voters than liberal “extremism” does. He writes that the “GOP has become more openly conservative (and therefore closer to the real views of their base voters) in the past 20 years.”
By offering that Republicans have become “more openly conservative” the insinuation is that they’ve been batsh**t crazy but are only now being honest about it. It’s been generally accepted by the media that the GOP has gone full Bircher while the Democrats are still a reasonable left-of-center entity. By believing their own press releases, Democrats saw no more need to debate.
Never mind that the liberal consensus on social and economic policy is far to the left of where it was a decade ago. Never mind that only one of these parties unilaterally instituted reforms that sit outside the tradition of American governance. To a liberal pundit, a voter who favors low taxes or a balanced budget or traditional marriage is a fanatic. Is “I don’t like Obamacare” really a radical idea? That seemed to the leading get-out-vote issue.
Why Aren’t Americans Consumed by Liberal Political Concerns All the Time About Everything Always?
Tomasky says that the way to fix the Democrats’ problems is a “massive and very well-funded public education campaign” that implores voters to take into account the idea that every election is vital. Because we don’t have enough political education available to us today, apparently. Because there aren’t a bunch of 24/7 cable outlets and endless websites already ignored by most Americans. Because political parties don’t spend enough money. Because celebrities aren’t pestering us to head to the polls every two years.
Before commencement of national reeducation, I have a few alternative theories to throw in:
If a person stays home on Election Day it can mean one of two things: either they don’t care enough to vote or they’re actively avoiding the vote.
Maybe liberal alarmism isn’t really all that believable all the time. Has increasing over-the-top rhetoric made any of it more believable? Probably not. Perhaps liberal policies aren’t as profoundly beneficial to the young, poor, and minorities as partisans imagine. And Maybe some young voters realize that the GOP isn’t really going to push their grandmother over a cliff or steal their condoms.
No doubt, younger voters are attracted to many liberal notions in general. The idealism of big election with a charismatic leader who gets lots of attention and makes lots of vague optimistic promises is always going to be more appealing to large groups of people who don’t know anything about policy. But maybe they also want results.
There is probably an a more important reason.
It is not a new strategy for the GOP, or for conservatives. But it works better when the party, as it has done during the past several years, actively synchronizes its actions with its words — when the party that says that government is bad actively acts like government is bad.
That’s probably giving Republicans too much credit. More likely, it’s because words and reality aren’t synchronizing that so many people don’t care to vote. Maybe when a party tells us that government is always good but actively proves the opposite through its legislation and action people take notice.
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