In a smart column today, Michael Barone
notes that the elite among the Democrat party--though mainly attracted to the big-idea, left-wing, and sexy issues like equal justice for terrorists, gay rights, and global warming policy--have always supported big government programs (even when they mean higher taxes and more expensive private-sector services for high income elites like themselves) because these programs are, "in the words of the late Sen. Pat Moynihan, 'boob bait for the bubbas.'" In other words, this is the price they are willing to pay for the right to rule.
If the election in Massachusetts last week signifies anything, the trouble for Dems appears to be that Bubba's not much of a boob man anymore. There are two demographic facts from this race which lend credence to Barone's assertion. The first has to do with a surge of high to middle-income suburban voters opposed to these intrusive and expensive proposals. The second has to do with the old standby constituent of Democrat politics: lower income and minority voters. Barone notes, "In a race where the Republican promised to be the decisive vote to kill
the Democrats' health care bills, working class and minority voters did
not rally to save them."
But "voters in middle-income suburbs -- some with many college graduates,
some with only a few -- who mostly work in the private sector" largely have been unimpressed with the offerings of Democrats since sleeping off their hope and change hangover. These voters, "took a
different view" of the boobs and baubles offered by the Democrats, Barone suggests, because in the end they lack the faith of their betters in the elite Democrat ranks. They lack faith either in the ability of experts to "re-engineer" institutions in workable ways or, perhaps, in their own ability to navigate through the muck once the abstract theories of their betters are in place. Although elites, confident in their own capacity to master and manipulate words to their advantage, may not fear the tangles of bureaucratic maze, people who do not pontificate or theorize for a living apparently believe that they have cause for concern. "They surged to the polls in far larger numbers than in
off-year elections and cast most of their votes, often more than
two-thirds, for Scott Brown."
This, combined with the lack of enthusiastic support from "working class and minority voters," ought to present a telling moment for Republicans contemplating strategy in 2010 and beyond. In the long run, it will not be enough to keep these middle-income Americans dissatisfied with the Democrats. Dissatisfaction will drive you to the polls . . . once. And it would be pathetic in the extreme to merely hope that working class and minority voters remain unenthusiastic Democrats. It would be cynical in the extreme to work to keep them so. Why can't they be enthusiastic Republicans? There is no logical reason for Republicans to continue running from this fight.
One place to start might be to stop with all the "Bubba" nonsense. How about, instead of all this talk of "Bubba v. the elite," Republicans move on to something a little more high-minded and focus their minds on the question of self-government and what is required for its perpetuation? Self-government requires habits and virtues on the part of all people--not just the elite--and, at least until now, Americans have always assumed that we are a people worthy of the assumption that we were capable of it. Do Democrats with their policy prescriptions now suggest something different? This is a fair and a serious question and it is one that Republicans should be asking. But they should also remember to remind voters of the virtues and the work that is required for self government. They may have to sacrifice some security and they may have to work harder for their bread . . . even as they earn the self-respect and confidence of the self-governed. Give Americans that fair choice and make sure that they understand the consequences. Republicans ought to remember that the GOP has always stood for (and they should continue to insist that it keep standing for) the notion that all Americans--regardless of education, race, background, or perceived disadvantage--can make themselves capable and competent judges of what is best in their own lives. The wisdom of an "expert" is no argument for his justice. And the justice of the American people is no guarantee of their perfect wisdom. It is likely that we cannot have both (or, really, either) in perfection. So which way do we, as a people, prefer to lean?
Further, why don't Republicans start talking about how much more success Americans are likely to have when they own it? Why don't Republicans start assuring voters who find themselves at sea inside a murky washtub of bureaucratic rules and regulations (passed for the ostensible purpose of making their lives better), that they can ACTUALLY make their own lives better by pulling the cork on this tub? Why don't we start talking about all of the great things Americans can do and have done (for themselves) and begin building the confidence of an electorate that, in the end and with respect to the greatest principles and traditions of our country, rarely disappoints. Eighty years of Progressivism won't be undone in one election cycle, certainly. But the self-perpetuating myth of American incompetence that has been the driving force of Progressivism's political success is beginning to unravel in the face of the astonishing incompetence and failures of their own experts. It is time for the opponents of Progressivism to remind Americans what it means when we recite the pledge for "Liberty and Justice for all."