I usually like Matt Bai’s work. And there is a lot to like in this story. But a large part of it is that Bush’s extremism finally caught up with him, and that voters are pretty bright after all.
Hogwash. This kind of thinking perpetuates some of the worst memes out there in political thinking.
(edited for length)
Daschle seemed to have lost patience with George W. Bush and his entire administration. He talked with very little prompting about the way the president refused to compromise on legislation, bullied their own party’s senators and ignored leaders of the opposition. Daschle said he hardly ever spoke to anyone at the White House. I asked him whether he thought this kind of arrogance would eventually come back to hurt Bush’s presidency.
I put the question to him another way: in all his years in politics, I asked, had he ever seen anyone act so imperiously and not eventually lose power as a result? Daschle shook his head. “No,” he said. “I never have.”
That exchange was on my mind as I stood in the offices of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on election night, watching young aides with markers erase and replace the latest election numbers on a white board, effectively wiping away what remained of Bush’s influence in Washington.
Presidents serve for a maximum of eight years. Bush got all eight. That’s not losing power. For six of those eight years, he has had a Congress that has done everything he has asked and never put up any serious barriers to his goals. That’s not losing power. And now, for his last two years, he will have more trouble getting things done that require congressional assent. That’s not losing power.
Articles like this miss the big picture. Bush was rewarded, not penalized, for his extremism. For staking out a policy, for doing whatever it took to make it reality, he achieved his policies. Even if you hate everything he did, you must admit it worked. In nearly every case, being more extreme has helped him, not hurt him. The fact that 25% of his regime will be a bit tougher for him does not mean the last six years never happened.
If this election was about the cost of arrogance, though, then it should also be viewed as a vindication of the much-maligned American voter. Since Bush’s disputed victory in 2000, many liberals have been increasingly brazen about their disdain for the rural and religious voters; one popular e-mail message, which landed in thousands of Democratic in-boxes in the days after the 2004 election, separated North America into The United States of Canada and Jesusland. The populist author Thomas Frank won widespread praise for his thesis that unsophisticated rural types had been manipulated into voting against their economic self-interest, while the celebrated linguist George Lakoff posited that conservatives had rewired the brain synapses in these unsuspecting voters. Two eminent liberal political scientists, Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, wrote a more scholarly book, arguing that Bush could govern as an extremist without paying a price, because Republicans had gamed the electoral system and deceived voters.
But this election, in which conservative incumbents in states like Kentucky and Indiana went down to defeat, should discredit such alarmist (and elitist) theories. As it happened, despite all these neurological and structural impediments, ordinary voters proved perfectly capable of recognizing failed governance when they saw it, and seemed plenty capable of defending their own interests.
The voters, particularly the rural/religious/conservative ones, have been wrong in the last three elections. They were wrong to vote Bush over Gore in 2000. They were wrong not to hand Congress to the Dems in 2002. They were deranged to vote for Bush over Kerry in 2004. They were wrong. After being hit with a sledgehammer for six years, they decided that all things considered, they didn’t like that ol’ sledgehammer. Heck of a learning curve.
As the GOP likes to say, elections have consequences. And they have. Six years of Bush rule has done so much damage to this country, and indeed the world, that I can hardly stand to think about it. It’s nice that the grownups finally got one branch of government back, but it’s a little late. This election is not a vindication of the ordinary voter. It is a condemnation of their appalling track record until now.