As the year 2004 winds down, it’s fair to continue asking the question: what did the opposition party learn from its national electoral defeat?
Those hopeful that the Democrats are willing to listen, stand up, and take “Red State” America seriously have at least three “wise men” on their side to cheer their hopes, the Washington Times editorializes today. Most notable is former Congressman Tim Roemer of Indiana, a possible candidate for the Democratic National Committee chairmanship. According to the Times, Roemer “had a strong pro-life voting record in the House” and has garnered support both from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid AND House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Interesting.
How this sort of thing would go over with the cloistered liberal elites in academia and elsewhere is less certain. I don’t think many Berkeley or Boulder profs will be hailing Roemer as a wise man. Witness a Dec. 28 column in the Rocky Mountain News by University of Colorado Law Professor Paul Campos, who lauds Thomas Frank’s books One Market Under God and What’s the Matter with Kansas? as though either of them had just hit the shelves of bookstores nationwide. No matter. Campos and others are searching for rationalizations to explain the results of the 2004 election – the rejection of John Kerry and the Vietnam-era anti-war and welfare-state politics his coalition represented.
In one compelling section of his column, Campos writes:
If not for insufferably arrogant government liberals, with their love for high taxes and burdensome regulations, not to mention their support for labor unions and the shiftless poor, every American deserving of wealth – that is, every hard-working American – would already be living in Mission Hills, or some place like it.
That, in an only slightly simplified form, is the message Republicans from Ronald Reagan onward have been selling so successfully for decades now. Frank calls this “market populism,” and in One Market Under God he strives to explain how a message so ridiculous on its face could have been so successful.
What’s the Matter With Kansas? tackles a related issue: How the Republican Party manages to hold together a coalition made up of, to put it as tactfully as possible, snake-handling fundie freaks and those who accept Milton Friedman as their personal lord and savior.
Such endearing terms. The Campos/Frank national electoral strategy probably wouldn’t involve too many stops in “fly-over country.”
To be fair, the law prof doesn’t necessarily endorse Frank’s theses. But his column ends with just the wrong sort of question to ask for Democrats who are looking to get themselves off the mat:
In any case, whether one agrees with his conclusions or not, Frank asks exactly the right question: How did a nation that enacted the New Deal and the Great Society come to want to transform itself into the equivalent of a Country Club Christian Church?
Looking ahead to 2005, I sense a bit of turmoil within the ranks of the Democratic Party. Where it leads will be an interesting development to follow.