This summer and fall, the Democrats are playing defense — and that makes sense. A rotten economy puts the majority party on the defensive, and retirements combined with the big victories in 2006 and 2008 means that we are mostly trying to hang on.
But it doesn’t get the base energized very well. “Let’s try not to make our losses too big” really doesn’t inspire the faithful.
So let’s try looking at it another way — what if the Republicans DON’T take back the House and Senate this year? What might that mean?
They have waged all-out war on the Democrats, on Obama, on American institutions of governance, on the economy, on common sense, on decency, on facts, and even on the Constitution. They have their entire noise machine going full throttle. And by far most importantly, they are massively helped by the greatest recession since the Great Depression, a recession they created and for which the voters are now blaming the Democrats. This should be a piece of cake for them. So what if Nancy Pelosi still holds the gavel in January?
Put another way, we can think of this election as an opportunity — simply by virtue of maintaining control, we can begin the work of destroying Movement Conservatism in this country. Not conservatism, surely; no one should want that. Nor the Republican Party; no one should want that, either. But the Conservative Movement — the nexus of shadowy (and not so shadowy) institutions, fake think tanks, insider pressure lobbies, 527s, Wednesday Morning Groups, astroturf organizations, talk radio gasbags, media echo chambers — that has done more to poison the political culture of this country for the last 3 decades, might show itself, much like the Soviet Union in the late 1970’s, to be superficially powerful but rotten at the core.
Consider the issue from the perspective of a conservative. The Democrats have elected the first Black president, enacted universal health coverage, restored New Deal regulation in the financial sector, put together the biggest domestic spending bill in decades, openly supported gay marriage and made it stick — and even then, with all of the financial resources and institutional infrastructure, in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression, the Movement still cannot engineer a political victory.
Perhaps — just perhaps — conservatives might begin to consider that the Movement they have placed so much of their hope on might not be the way to go. Perhaps — just perhaps — they might consider that actual argument based on actual facts might be a useful method of reaching the electorate.
Politicians often talk about bipartisanship, but how are you to achieve it? Not in the first run through reason, or through compromise. You do it by beating the crazies like a drum until they realize they simply cannot continue to survive as a political force until they recognize that reality exists.
No, I wouldn’t bet on it, either. But if the GOP does take back either or both Houses of Congress, the Movement will see it as vindication. If it fails, perhaps someone on the other side of the political spectrum will realize that it is time to change course. Political scientists call this a “realignment.” I favor the disease analogy: it might just be time to let the fever break.