One Size Fits All
If anyone out there remains unconvinced that the political pundits pull pre-digested narratives off the shelf, I offer this piece by Ron Brownstein from 2005, in the wake of a couple of special elections:
Call it intelligent design or survival of the fittest, but between now and next November's midterm elections, the two parties are in a race to evolve. Each appears to have reached the limit of its strategy over the last year. The winner next year may be the side that best adapts to changed circumstances.
After Tuesday's election results, the threat is most visible for Republicans. From the federal intervention in the Terri Schiavo case to the unsuccessful attempt to add private investment accounts to Social Security, President Bush aimed his 2005 agenda mostly at the preferences of his Republican base...
Last week's elections demonstrated those numbers have consequences. Jerry W. Kilgore and Douglas R. Forrester, the defeated Republican gubernatorial candidates in Virginia and New Jersey, were routed in socially moderate, upscale suburbs. Their deficiencies as candidates obviously contributed to those results. But few Republicans denied that swing voters' disillusionment with Bush compounded the problem.
The days immediately after the Kilgore and Forrester losses demonstrated that elections have consequences too. GOP moderates, already anxious about the party's standing with swing voters, blocked conservative-driven tax- and budget-cut plans in the House and the Senate late last week.
If history is any guide, the GOP leadership eventually will beg, borrow and coerce the votes it needs. But the uprising, which forced the House leadership to withdraw its $54-billion budget-cutting bill, should send Republican leaders the same message as the Virginia and New Jersey results: On many fronts, the party has tilted its agenda so heavily to the demands of its conservative base that moderates feel alienated...
Democrats were understandably elated by the election results. But during the celebration, they may have missed a crucial warning sign in an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll last week: Amid all the bad news for the GOP, the survey found that more Americans credit Republicans than Democrats with offering a vision for the future. Key GOP strategists say that if that perception persists through next November it will restrain Republican losses, and they may be right.
The poll's findings partly reflect the inherent difficulty Democrats face in communicating to the public while Republicans control every lever of the federal government. But it also reflects the reality that Democrats have focused more on blocking Republican initiatives than defining their own.
Through the last year, Democrats have proved surprisingly disciplined at resisting many of Bush's plans. What they haven't done is coalesce behind comprehensive solutions to the problems most concerning the country.
Contrary to popular perception, the problem isn't a shortage of ideas. Consider the energy issue. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) recently offered an innovative deal in which Washington would relieve the auto companies of some of their retiree healthcare costs in return for the companies accepting higher fuel-economy standards. This month, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) unveiled an impressively comprehensive energy plan centered on a requirement that oil companies invest some of their record profits in renewable energy sources, or contribute to a federal fund that would.
But the Democrats' own divisions have prevented them from seriously promoting almost any idea more ambitious than a legislative jab. One fissure is between those who want to aim at swing voters and those who want to emulate Bush with an agenda intended to excite their base. The more important disagreement is between those who want the party to promote its own ideas and those who want to stay low while Bush is struggling.
The Democratic paralysis over Iraq crystallizes both disputes. Liberal activists and a growing number of Democratic House and Senate challengers are pushing to begin the withdrawal of U.S. troops. But almost all of the party's Washington leadership considers those proposals substantively and politically misguided and prefers to avoid a concrete alternative on the war.
Raising questions about Bush's priorities has worked well for Democrats in 2005. But if Democrats don't adapt to offer more answers about their own priorities, 2006 may not prove as rewarding as they expect.
Well, there you have it. The only difference, of course, is that unlike Bush, Obama didn't actually cater to his base, but is wrongly accused of it. And Bush was in his fifth year, not his first. But move a few words around and you have the exact critique we are seeing against Obama and the Democrats today.
Can anyone argue that the village just sees all electoral losses as a result of the losing party failing to be "centrist" and "bipartisan" enough? It doesn't matter what the real factors are that drove the electorate. As far as the gasbags are concerned, it's always because the voters were upset that the party in power went too far. Sometimes that might be true, of course, but sometimes it isn't. At the very least it can't always be true, can it?
This is how the establishment maintains its dominance. Politicians who listen to them are foolish.