This election campaign was one of the longest and most vicious in recent memory. Everyone said it would be close, but despite the divisions in the country, it was more definitive than the election of 2000. And now that it is over, we can look back and try to assess why the Republicans won the Presidency and added to their leads in the Senate and the House of Representatives.
While any election is a referendum on the incumbent party, this election was as much about the ideas of the opposition in a time of war - a war that is unlike one that we have faced before. While the Cold War bore some similarities to the War On Terror in both the ideological nature of the conflict, as well as the diffuse nature of the actual fighting, there was not a constant fear that we could be attacked without warning and in any location. 9/11 did not change the world or the United States, but it did open the eyes of many to the dangers around us and to the war that had been waged against us for 20 years with no response from us.
The problem with the Democrats in the past three years was that they did not manage to come up with any ideas of how to wage this new war in order to win. The reaction of a sizeable part of the Democratic base to the war was to move to the radical left and decry all war, placing the blame for the violence and terrorism squarely on the U.S. Howard Dean embraced this movement and attempted to ride this wave of radicalization to the Democratic nomination. When Dean blew up after Iowa, the new Democratic nominee took up this standard mostly out of political necessity – there was a large, radical base which he needed to carry. But in doing this he ceded the middle; the party of Scoop Jackson and Daniel Patrick Moynihan became the party of Michael Moore and the hate-America Left.
The Democrats lost because they became a reactionary party – the party of the status quo in a time of radical change in the world. They lost their noble tradition of liberalism, of spreading democracy, and trying to make the world better, and replaced it with a timid isolationism.
And they lost because of their condescension to everyone who does not think like them. Intelligent people can disagree on issues, but by calling their opponents - other Americans - "fascists" and "terrorists" and “neanderthals” they destroyed civil debate. Bush won with the largest popular vote in history. Yet many of their base think that all those who supported Bush are just evil simpletons. (If you want evidence of that, go read the comments on the posts on Atrios
and Daily Kos
). If the Democrats continue to think and act like this, their influence and the influence of their party will continue to diminish and America will lose the key component of a vibrant Democracy – a loyal opposition.