Elections produce two things -- new elected officials and bogus conventional wisdom. Once they gain widespread circulation, erroneous beliefs about elections are difficult to reverse and can be nearly as important as who won or lost.
Okay, so right away you may be thinking what I was thinking, and I think we're both blameless. It's Rich Lowry, whose official title (I think; I didn't bother to look it up) is Some Guy at What's Left of the National Review. So we're both thinking, "Twenty-five years, not one but two "Republican Revolutions" which have produced several landfillsworth of hype and no legislation whatever that means anything, does anything, or accomplishes anything, and we're about to hear how Democrats really didn't win." But Rich is full of surprises here, perhaps befitting his position as America's Oldest Political Wunderkind.
Here are seven myths rapidly gaining acceptance among conservatives, liberals or both:
--Republican losses were in keeping with typical setbacks for a party holding the White House in the sixth year of a presidency. Conservatives reassure themselves that the "six-year itch" has cost the party in power roughly 30 seats on average since World War II, so this year's losses aren't remarkable. But as liberal blogger Kevin Drum points out, most of the big "itches" came prior to the past 20 years when gerrymandering got more sophisticated. Reagan lost only five seats in his sixth year, and Clinton gained five (although he had already suffered a wipeout in 1994). For Democrats to win 29 seats despite all the advantages of incumbency enjoyed by the GOP is a big deal.
--The conservative base, discouraged by the GOP's doctrinal impurity, didn't show up at the polls. This is the bedtime story conservatives are telling themselves to show that whatever ails the party will be cured simply by becoming more conservative. In 2004, however, conservatives were 34 percent of the electorate and liberals 21 percent. In 2006, the numbers were almost indistinguishable -- conservatives were 32 percent of the electorate and liberals 20 percent. The GOP didn't lose the election with its base, but with independents, who broke against them 57 percent to 39 percent.
Um, all right. I think we need to take that whole self-identification bit with a shaker of salt, since our elections have been close to 50/50 for some time, but, okay.
--Republicans lost because they weren't fiscally conservative enough. Another conservative illusion. A thought experiment: Which cuts in government would have, in and of themselves, increased the party's popularity?
Now, this is sorta the neck hair of your agenda peeking out over the Oxford collar of analysis, Rich. I heard plenty of complaints that Republicans weren't conservative enough, but I haven't really heard it limited to their fiscal conservatism, just their reckless spending. Which is really not a conservative issue at all, except for those of you who take "conservative" to mean "Double Super Plus Good With Chocolate Syrup", where I take it to mean "conservative", or at least it used to mean that. However, your response is acceptable, writ large: there wasn't much more fiscal conservatism to be had out there and still pay for all those wars we're winning.
--The GOP was too socially conservative for voters. This chestnut is trotted out every time Republicans lose an election. This time it is even less plausible than usual. Seven out of eight constitutional amendments banning gay marriage passed this year, often outperforming Republican candidates. That Democrats went out of their way not to antagonize social-conservative voters this year was one of the keys to their success.
South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin, Colorado, Idaho and South Dakota. Really, that's something less than a convincing cross-section of the country, and gay marriage bans have been notoriously easy to pass. You add the homophobe vote to the This Is My Side of the Culture War vote, and throw in the general hesitation to vote for sweeping changes in the legal landscape and you're home free. Equating that with "social conservatism" is an exaggeration. The Republican party is Jes' Right for the social "conservative" end of the political spectrum, but they're much to the right of most folks here in the Heartland. Come visit, sometime, Rich. Might learn something.
--The election was a great victory for conservative and moderate Democrats. If Democratic leaders gave their candidates leeway to take socially conservative positions, this year's new crop of Democrats still isn't a departure from the party's overwhelming liberalism. A few attention-grabbing, successful Democratic House candidates, Health Shuler of North Carolina and Brad Ellsworth of Indiana, are truly conservative. But only about five of the 29 Democratic winners in the House can be considered social conservatives. They will be lonely.
Correct as to the numbers. But I suggest that the social conservatives will feel all warm an' welcomed. You don't have to support draconian, hate-filled, intolerant legislation just because you're socially conservative. As opposed to being socially "conservative".
--The election was a decisive ideological rejection of conservatism. Liberal opinion writers love this one.
Bzzzzttt! I suppose we should have expected this, but could you possibly name one? Who said it was a decisive ideological rejection of conservatism? And so far as you know, did he eat all the mushrooms, or are there still some left?
--President Bush now must give up on the Iraq War. The rebuke to Bush was unquestionably an expression of voters' frustration with the progress of the war, but they are not ready to give up yet. According to pollster Whit Ayers, less than one-third of voters favor withdrawal. A late-October New York Times poll found that 55 percent of the public favors sending more troops to Iraq, a position now endorsed by the paper's liberal editorial board. Bush still has a window to take decisive action to reverse the downward slide in Iraq.
Ah, well, back to full-bore hallucination at last. I'm glad he saved that for the end. Still, at least partial credit on five of seven, which is pretty damned impressive.