Extremism wins, ideas lose: The irony of the spineless Democrats

November 5, 2014 Originally published on SFGate

It appears we have consensus!

Not that anyone cares, what with all the Democratic moaning and the Republican leering, liberals across American once again licking their wounds in a sort of dumbfounded, how-could-this-happen disbelief, as Republicans grab gobs of dumb power on waves of nothing but contempt, hostility and a derisive lack of a single fresh idea.

Nevertheless, everyone seems to agree: Democrats were destroyed, once again, by the party’s own infamous, downright astonishing ineptitude at executing (mostly) very good ideas.

A failure of nerve. A lack of ideological spine. A toothless mismanagement of a largely admirable agenda that, despite some terrific successes, never fully made it off the runway.

We feel you, dude

We feel you, dude

Call it what you will. But the president certainly didn’t help, with his weird tone of detached apathy, his failure to grow some serious backbone to push back against GOP obstructionism and trumpet the party’s successes from day one, all combined with a sort of pathetic lack of follow-through on maintaining the wild, youth-led enthusiasm he so rightfully earned in the beginning, and again in 2012.

And Republicans? Simple. They won (again) because of their utter mastery at hurling empty propaganda, and their utter hatred of President Obama.

Let us emphasize this point fully and clear: Hate won. Ideas lost.

Don’t take my word for it. Republicans admit as much themselves. They widely acknowledge they forwarded not a single new idea, promised not a single fresh approach to governing. Far from it. In nearly every race in the country, Republicans ran on one campaign slogan and one slogan only: Obama is horrible.

And it worked. It worked shockingly well. As with every mid-term, turnout was abysmal, young (liberal) voters stayed away, and those who did turn out were the Republican’s most favorite chattel of all: older, fear-addled white conservatives who lack much in the way of critical thinking skills. Bingo!

Do you have any idea how much this man detests you?

Do you have any idea how much this man detests you?

Can you pity, for a moment, the poor Democratic party? For the horribly ironic bind it finds itself in, over and over again?

See, the party’s most fatal flaw is also its most appealing trait: It lacks the murderous cruelty and savage bloodlust of the Republicans.

Whereas the GOP has zero qualms about flinging outright lies (birthers, science deniers, creationists, et al) to get what it wants, not to mention an ever-present air of racism, sexism and a dark mistrust/hatred of everyone from Muslims to the entire African continent, Dems have no such arsenal, and no skill to use it if they did.

Republicans will say and do anything to win, and are utterly ruthless about how they go about it; enacting a smart, fair policy agenda is almost nowhere on their priority list. Dems are the exact opposite: terrific agenda, lots of policy, but morally unwilling to play dirty, to murder their own grandmother in cold blood and blame it on the GOP, to make it go.

This is why there is no Democratic equivalent of Fox News or Rush Limbaugh, no endless drumbeat of hate speech pounding across the flyover states 24/7, no incessant wails of fear, racism, hatred of Other. Liberal ideology prohibits such harsh machinery. The Dems are the party of the smart, the city, the college-educated, the critical thinker. Nearly every major metropolis votes blue, and every significant college town, and scientist, and artist, and creative entrepreneur.

New logo of the Democratic party, good through 2016 (at least)

New logo of the Democratic party, good through 2016 (at least)

The general truism remains: The smarter, more compassionate and more attuned you get, the more liberal you become. The more fearful, suspicious and egocentric you get, the more conservative you become.

So then, consensus: Extremism and odium won; intelligence and compromise lost.

For now, anyway. Some say this is just a typical mid-cycle backlash, a blip, part of an all-too-common Democratic surge/crash cycle that Obama had hoped to mollify, and failed. Badly.

Some say wait until Hillary takes over in 2016. Which is amusing given how, aside from her gender, Hillary brings the exact same gnarly set of political baggage as those who came before.

Still others say that, despite this red surge, the country is still turning leftward overall, as demographics shift, women and minorities become more dominant, and older white males gasp their last. What with a lousy voter turnout and most of that from older whites from the red states, this election is a very poor indicator of overall direction.

One thing is certain: It’s going to be a very ugly couple of years. Fumes of Bush, off-gassing of Cheney, sour fragrance of Rove permeates the air. Obama just got much grayer, though all is not necessarily lost.

Want a silver lining? A bright beacon of hope? I can think of two:

One (echoing John Judis’ excellent point at New Republic): if voter turnout this election had been what it was in 2008 or 2012, Dems would have done much better. Women, minorities and young people, who generally lean more liberal, barely showed up. Which means potentially good news for 2016. If the Dems don’t screw it up.

And two? Well, that would be right here at home, California.

This state, the 8th largest economy in the world, is sort of a marvel. Governor Brown, who is 76 years old, just won again, in a landslide. Democrats have near-total control. And with the exception of a brutal drought, under Gov. Brown and just a handful of years after our state was the butt of a debt-ridden, downward-spiraling, Schwarzenegger-sized joke, the state is largely flourishing.

Brown is frugal, deeply intelligent, compassionate. The state legislature, increasingly un-gridlocked and free of trying to combat Republican cruelty and obstructionism, moves with a rare sort of ideological ease. Here, ideas can actually become reality. Agenda items evolve. Some surprisingly progressive proposals make it through. It ain’t perfect and we have our own pile of issues, but considering this state’s mammoth budget, stupefying economy and wildly complicated demographics, its ongoing success is nothing short of miraculous.

Is California a bright model of progressivism, wonderfully imperfect proof of what Dems can do when acidic conservativism and obstructionism aren’t a factor? Just might be. One thing is certain: At this particular moment, as Mitch McConnell’s flying monkeys swarm into D.C., cackling and smashing the furniture and ruining everyone’s day, our calm, liberal bubble has never looked better.

Mark Morford

About Mark Morford