Michael Kinsley in Slate:
It seems to be time once again to play Kick the Democrats. Everyone can play, including Democrats. The rules are simple. When Republicans lose elections, it is because they didn’t get enough votes. When Democrats lose elections, it is because they have lost their principles and lost their way. Or they have kept their principles, which is an even worse mistake.
Democrats represent no one who is not actually waiting in line for a latte at a Starbucks within 150 yards of the east or west coastline. They are mired in trivial lifestyle issues like, oh, abortion and gay rights and Americans killing and dying in Iraq, while the Republicans serve up meat and potatoes for real Americans, like privatizing Social Security and making damned sure the government knows who is Googling whom in this great country. Just repeat these formulas until a Democrat has been sent into frenzies of self-flagellation, or reduced to tears.
There is always a pick-up game of Kick the Democrats going on somewhere. But something about the Alito confirmation—the pathetic and apparently surprising inability of 45 Democratic senators to stop 55 Republicans from approving anyone they want—seems to have made the game suddenly a lot more popular.
The official illustration of the Kick the Democrats movement is a map of the United States, showing huge swaths of red with just a few tiny accents of blue. Of course this gives an unrealistic advantage to big states with few people. But then so does our electoral system. The deeper flaw is the assumption that everybody in red states is red and ditto the blues. A map showing red and blue people, not states, would look a homogenous purple. John Kerry got 43 percent of the vote in states that went for George Bush, and Bush got 45 percent in Kerry states. Liberals are not nearly so rare and so culturally isolated as the official map would suggest. This is little comfort to Democrats when it comes to the math of winning elections. But it does suggest that endless self-flagellation about their values and beliefs may not be the best strategy for turning things around.
This is not an argument for complacency. Obviously the party that has lost the White House, both houses of Congress, and now the courts needs some new ideas and new energy. But it seems undeniably true to me—though many deny it—that the Republicans simply play the game better. You’re not supposed to say that. At Pundit School they teach you: Always go for the deeper explanation, not the shallower one. Never suggest that people (let alone “the” people) can be duped.
Nevertheless, I’ve been impressed all over again the past couple weeks with the Republicans’ skill at political stone soup—making something out of nothing. In this case it’s a remark by Hillary Clinton comparing Congress to a plantation. Near as I can tell, the alleged objection to “plantation” is—by analogy to the Holocaust—that any metaphorical use of the word is an insult to the real slaves and their descendants. This particular stone soup would be overheated even if the ingredients were fresh and sincere. But the fuss is obviously cynical, coming as it does from people (talk-radio jockeys, the editors of the Wall Street Journal—you know the type) who usually stalk the microphones in order to denounce excessive sensitivity and its smothering effect on political debate.
What’s especially impressive is how the get-Hillary campaign was not even slowed by the discovery that Newt Gingrich had used the same metaphor back when he was somebody. A hilarious op-ed this week in the Wall Street Journal explained that while Hillary’s remark was “pandering” and patronizing (“Must blacks have their slave past rubbed in their face … ?”), Gingrich “had the good taste to cast himself as a slave who would ‘lead the slave rebellion.’ ” Well, each to his own good taste, I suppose.
But that metaphor of a corrupt plantation seemed more familiar than just one of Newt’s old ravings. And indeed the Wall Street Journal editorial page has used it more than once. In 2001, for example, the man who now runs that page, Paul Gigot, wrote (in reference to Sen. Joe Lieberman) about “how…the black liberal establishment can punish a Democrat who strays from their plantation.” The previous year, an editorial about the Massachusetts congressional delegation actually carried the headline “The Liberal Plantation.”
And then (just to show what a little Googling can do), there was a small 2001 item in the Wall Street Journal’s news section about Vice President Cheney spending the weekend shooting quails at the “plantation” of a rich Republican contributor. Hillary Clinton uses the word “plantation” while Dick Cheney actually goes to one. But that’s the Democrats for you: all talk and no action.
It occurs to me one of the differences between Democrats and Republicans is that Democrats actually care about the consequences of their actions, whereas the Republicans are more interested in the short-term — i.e. winning — rather than what the results of their actions might be. If the Democrats are too easily hobbled by their long view and spend too much time analyzing their navel lint, recent events show that the Republicans not only can’t see what’s coming down the road (viz. Secretary Rice’s comment that the State Department had not thought about what might happen in Palestine if Hamas actually won), they have no idea what to do when shit happens. Nor do they care. They blame it on the last guy and leave it for the next one to clean it up.
In a way, I’m envious of the Republicans. It must be nice to have short-term memory loss and blackouts. As Ernie “Coach” Pantusso noted on Cheers, “Makes a nice break in the day.”