Lessons of the Bush Era

A reader writes:

You had me, until: "...And in such thinking lies the seeds of years or even decades of defeat."

It hasn't for the Left, who have been shouting for eight years that the Republicans cheat, the Media is biased against them, and the Democrats aren't fierce enough to win, and have been methodically culling the center-left out of their party and going on to greater and greater triumphs despite it.

Or because of it. Maybe.

Maybe. I think American liberalism has reaped some benefits from the "angry" part of the angry left: The fiercely partisan mood certainly helped with fundraising and movement-building, neither of which the Democratic Party of the 1980s and 1990s was much good at. But Bush hating and base-mobilization alone couldn't deliver the Democrats a majority in 2004, and if you look at what the Dems have done since - in terms of messaging and candidate recruitment - it's involved a lot more ideological flexibility than the conservative stereotype of nutty netroots types purging the reasonable center-left would suggest. The iconic figure of the '06 midterm rout wasn't Ned Lamont - who lost in the end, after all - but rather Jim Webb, a Reagan Republican turned anti-Bush Dem. And the netroots' darling, John Edwards, didn't come close to winning the Democratic nomination this year; instead, it was the guy who kept the Kossacks at arm's length and kept talking about transcending party lines. At his most partisan, Obama sounds like a very conventional left-liberal, but he never sounds like Daily Kos.

But the more important point is this: Any lessons conservatives take from recent Democratic successes should come with the enormous proviso that the Dems have benefited from running against the least popular President in modern American history, and against a GOP that's been associated with an unpopular foreign war, a botched response to an immense natural disaster, and a succession of inside-the-Beltway scandals. In this climate, the Democratic Party could have put Kos himself on the ballot in '06 and '08 and still turned in a respectable performance. Whereas in a world in which George W. Bush hadn't invaded Iraq, or a world in which large stockpiles of WMDs had been found after he did invade, or a world in which the occupation of Iraq hadn't been mismanaged into a bloody botch for three long years, I suspect that the anti-Bush, anti-media, "takes the gloves off" fury of many liberals would have remained what it was circa 2003 - an embarrassing sideshow for a fumbling minority party, rather than the fuel for a liberal realignment. And while conservatives can be confident that a President Obama and a new Democratic majority will eventually overreach and create openings for the GOP, they'd be fools to anticipate anything like the series of disasters, political and otherwise, that George W. Bush has presided over. If Obama ends up where Bush is today, then conservatives can campaign any way they damn well please in 2012 and 2016 and be confident of victory. But that isn't likely to happen, and if it doesn't, the Right is going to need a strategy based on something more than base-rallying and media-bashing.