By David Keene - 11/01/10 11:05 PM EDT
Democrats in denial have been looking for good news for weeks in the waves of poll data flowing into their campaigns. Today, as millions of Americans make their way to the polls, Democrats are approaching their moment of truth.
The hundreds of millions of dollars spent by both sides this year haven’t made that much difference. Democratic pollster Peter Hart observed this spring that public attitudes toward the president and Democrats in Congress seemed to have hardened far earlier than in past election cycles and wondered if they could do much to change them.
At first, liberals believed that as the campaign progressed, Americans would reward Democrats for passing comprehensive healthcare reform. They seemed confident that their bold embrace of Keynesian-style spending would lead to an economic recovery, for which voters would also reward them, while lingering woes could still be blamed on George W. Bush.
As it became clear that even those voters willing to blame Bush weren’t buying what Obama and his friends were selling, Democratic candidates around the country began putting distance between themselves, their president and their congressional leaders. They reminded each other that whatever voters might think of the president and Congress, all politics would remain local.
Finding themselves on the wrong side of the issues, Democratic leaders decided there was only one way to win. Their candidates had to get personal and nasty by going negative everywhere. Consultants and party leaders pointed out time and again that the election would come down not to a simple referendum on Democratic performance but to a choice between two human beings. Thus, all they really had to do was persuade voters that their opponents were flawed; that Democrats are by definition a little wiser, a tad more competent and slightly saner than their ethically challenged Republican opponents.
This logic fueled the most personally negative, mean-spirited campaign run by a major party in modern political history. Republicans running for everything from county clerk to the United States Senate have been vilified as crooked incompetent lunatics hell-bent on destroying the country. The Democratic campaign has been run as if the party’s messaging was contracted out to Alan Grayson.
Indiana Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels told me it had gotten so bad in Indiana that a small-town Hoosier pharmacist running for a State Assembly seat was being accused by his Democratic opponent of “shipping jobs to China.”
All of this from the party of Barack Obama, who just two years ago promised to rise above partisanship and unite us all, but last week ended this campaign demanding that his enemies be punished. His lack of a willingness to cut even those Republicans foolish enough to support his initiatives any slack was little noticed, but on display in Louisiana, where in October he chose to unleash his first television ad on behalf of a Democratic House candidate. The Republican he chose as the target of this first ad was Rep. Joseph Cao, the only GOP House member who voted for his healthcare bill. That’s something other Republicans who might be tempted to cooperate with the great unifier in the future ought to keep in mind.
Democrats today will pay for the president’s overreach, his party’s failure to listen and the cynicism of a national campaign that ignored the real problems facing the country while trying to manipulate voters who are tired of being manipulated by politicians who don’t take them seriously.
Voters are not as stupid as Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) seems to think, as boring as Vice President Biden finds them or as incapable of analytical thought as the president believes. They don’t pretend to have all the answers, but they know what they don’t like and they can see and are perfectly prepared to reject those who treat them as if their views don’t count for much.
The Republicans are winning today because President Obama and his allies dismissed the concerns of the men and women who elected them in favor of an agenda that had little support outside the confines of Washington. There’s a real lesson here that the beneficiaries of their mistakes will have to learn lest they suffer the same fate the next time voters get a chance to assess the job performance of those they elect today.
Keene is chairman of the American Conservative Union and a managing associate with the Carmen Group, a Washington-based governmental consulting firm.