Sen. Schumer purports in his all-knowing way to explain the political lay-of-the-land to Ben Smith of the New York Daily News. His diagnosis is that the Democrats are in better shape than the Republicans because the latter party hasn’t yet figured out that “Reaganomics is dead” and that the view “‘Government is bad, it’s out of touch, chop off its hands as soon as it moves.’ — is over.”
Schumer is off-base. Republicans concluded that pure government bashing won’t work politically during the Clinton years. Hence President Bush’s “compassionate” or “big government” conservatism.
Some conservatives argue that the Republicans struggled this year because they strayed too far from Reagan’s small government conservatism (see the responses in the link above, for example). I doubt that this is true either. Apart from fatigue with the party in power, the war was the biggest factor in the decline of Bush’s popularity and that of his party. The Republicans also suffered with moderates/independents/swing voters (or whatever you want to call the group of voters most responsible for the thumping) because they got no credit for their acknowledgement of government’s alleged positive capabiliites. I think this occurred in part because the war tended to blot out much of the rest of the landscape and in part because of MSM bias. For example, as I noted a few days ago, Bush got no credit for his big government prescription drug benefit plan. Key elements of the MSM (including the Washington Post and the New York Times) believe it is working well and, indeed, exceeding expectations. However, they chose to wait until after the election to report this. In fact, as Mickey Kaus points out, during the election, the Post told the opposite story.
Schumer says that the Dems have figured out that “New Deal democracy” doesn’t work anymore. That remains to be seen. Bill Clinton more or less figured this out, but it’s not clear that his style of pragmatism will carry the day within the party or (if it does) for how long.
If the Dems do have an advantage over the Republicans other than the war, it’s that they’ve been out of power for a while. The party in that predicament is usually willing to make concessions in order to appeal to moderates. By contrast, a party that is losing power often tends to think, at first, that the loss is due to an abandoment of first principles. But, again, it remains to be seen whether this incarnation of the Democratic party has the discipline to behave like a party in its position normally does.
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