Cast your mind back to 2009, when Democrats, coming off Barack Obama’s convincing victory in the 2008 election, had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and a more than ample majority in the House. Happy days are here again! Here comes pro-union card check, higher income taxes, amnesty and open borders, sweeping climate change legislation, and universal health care! It was around this time that James Carville, the impresario behind Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 campaign, confidently declared that Democrats were now set to rule for the next 40 years! He even published a book—40 More Years: How the Democrats Will Rule the Next Generation.
Carville had drunk the Kool Aid of the liberal-Hegelian conceit that demographics and “the side of history” had delivered Democrats into the Promised Land, from whose commanding heights it was Progress as far as the mind’s-eye could imagine. Well, that glorious 40 years quickly became a fast one-way trip to the wilderness, as it didn’t even last 40 months. All liberals got out of that heavily Democratic Congress was . . . Obamacare? And oh what a success that was. No card check for labor unions, no amnesty for illegal immigrants, only a slight increase in income taxes for the very rich, while climate change legislation went down in fossil-fueled flames, as U.S. oil and natural gas production soared. Obama resorted to trying to get some of these things through executive action, but much of that was stymied in the courts or reversed by President Trump, who came to office and said, “Hey look—I found Obama’s pen!” In the 2010 election, the Democrats got creamed, with Republicans achieving their strongest position on all levels in 70 years.
All this came back to mind watching the Democrats’ debate in New Hampshire last night, which occurred conveniently during cocktail hour out here on the Left Coast, so in fact I literally ate popcorn along with adult beverages while I watched the Democratic field show once again that it is running to be president of Twitter more than President of the United States.
And this brings me to the angst of James Carville, who gave an extraordinary interview to MSNBC that has been transcribed by Vox: “We’re Losing Our Damn Minds.” Read the whole thing if your schadenfreude medication is at full strength. Here are a few excerpts:
Sean Illing: Why are you “scared to death” about the 2020 election?
James Carville: Look, the turnout in the Iowa caucus was below what we expected, what we wanted. Trump’s approval rating is probably as high as it’s been. This is very bad. And now it appears the party can’t even count votes. What the hell am I supposed to think? . . . And now it’s like we’re losing our damn minds. Someone’s got to step their game up here.
Sean Illing: Give me an example of what you mean by distractions.
James Carville: We have candidates on the debate stage talking about open borders and decriminalizing illegal immigration. They’re talking about doing away with nuclear energy and fracking. You’ve got Bernie Sanders talking about letting criminals and terrorists vote from jail cells. It doesn’t matter what you think about any of that, or if there are good arguments — talking about that is not how you win a national election. It’s not how you become a majoritarian party. . .
Sean Illing: So your complaint is basically that the party has tacked too far to the left?
James Carville: They’ve tacked off the damn radar screen. And look, I don’t consider myself a moderate or a centrist. I’m a liberal. But not everything has to be on the left-right continuum. . .
Here’s another stupid thing: Democrats talking about free college tuition or debt forgiveness. I’m not here to debate the idea. What I can tell you is that people all over this country worked their way through school, sent their kids to school, paid off student loans. They don’t want to hear this shit. And you saw Warren confronted by an angry voter over this. It’s just not a winning message.
The real argument here is that some people think there’s a real yearning for a left-wing revolution in this country, and if we just appeal to the people who feel that, we’ll grow and excite them and we’ll win. But there’s a word a lot of people hate that I love: politics. It means building coalitions to win elections. It means sometimes having to sit back and listen to what people think and framing your message accordingly. . .
James Carville: I want to give you an example of the problem here. A few weeks ago, Binyamin Appelbaum, an economics writer for the New York Times, posted a snarky tweet about how LSU canceled classes for the National Championship game. And then he said, do the “Warren/Sanders free public college proposals include LSU, or would it only apply to actual schools?”
You know how fucking patronizing that is to people in the South or in the middle of the country? First, LSU has an unusually high graduation rate, but that’s not the point. It’s the goddamn smugness. This is from a guy who lives in New York and serves on the Times editorial board and there’s not a single person he knows that doesn’t pat him on the back for that kind of tweet. He’s so fucking smart.
Appelbaum doesn’t speak for the Democratic Party, but he does represent the urbanist mindset. We can’t win the Senate by looking down at people. The Democratic Party has to drive a narrative that doesn’t give off vapors that we’re smarter than everyone or culturally arrogant.
But looking down on people is now a core value for the left, but I’ll need to write a separate post about the serious basis of this. (For academic readers, go back and find John Wettergreen’s dense but profound 1977 essay in the Western Political Quarterly, “Is Snobbery a Formal Value?” Short answer: Yes, yes it is.)
But finally, this:
Sean Illing: Buttigieg seems to model the sort of candidate you think can win.
James Carville: Mayor Pete has to demonstrate over the course of a campaign that he can excite and motivate arguably the most important constituents in the Democratic Party: African Americans. These voters are a hell of a lot more important than a bunch of 25-year-olds shouting everyone down on Twitter.
So he’s not happy. Democrats won’t like Carville when he’s not happy. I wonder if Carville was watching last night, and if so whether there are any un-smashed TV screens left in his house this morning.