Building on an essay by Jonathan Chait in The New Republic, Hugh Hewitt has a fascinating timeline of when, as he puts it, “the Democratic Party of Prescription Drugs finally died”. Chait believes it began in Florida in November of 2000; Hugh believes “the vitriol on the Left in 2001 was nowhere near where it was in 2003”. (Hugh’s post is also an interesting discussion of how information media and its tone can impact politics.)
I think Chait’s timing is correct, but there was a crucial extended timeout during that period caused by 9/11, which dramatically transformed the left, and ultimately, the Democrats as whole, as Hugh notes. It’s something that’s best explained by an essay Charles Krauthammer wrote for the Washington Post in August of 2004, during that tumultuous election year:
With apologies to Dr. Freud, I propose the Pressure Cooker Theory of Hydraulic Release.
The hostility, resentment, envy and disdain, all superheated in Florida, were not permitted their natural discharge. Came Sept. 11 and a lid was forced down. How can you seek revenge for a stolen election by a nitwit usurper when all of a sudden we are at war and the people, bless them, are rallying around the flag and hailing the commander in chief? With Bush riding high in the polls, with flags flying from pickup trucks (many of the flags, according to Howard Dean, Confederate), the president was untouchable.
The Democrats fell unnaturally silent. For two long, agonizing years, they had to stifle and suppress. It was the most serious case of repression since Freud’s Anna O. went limp. The forced deference nearly killed them. And then, providentially, they were saved. The clouds parted and bad news rained down like manna: WMDs, Abu Ghraib, Richard Clarke, Paul O’Neill, Joe Wilson and, most important, continued fighting in Iraq.
With the president stripped of his halo, his ratings went down. The spell was broken. He was finally, once again, human and vulnerable. With immense relief, the critics let loose.
The result has been volcanic. The subject of one prominent new novel is whether George W. Bush should be assassinated. This is all quite unhinged. Good God. What if Bush is reelected? If they lose to him again, Democrats will need more than just consolation. They’ll need therapy.
(That last sentence by the good Dr. K helps to explain a poll result such as this.)
Did I call 2004 tumultuous? With the chance for the left to control the White House and both houses of Congress, next year will make 2004’s campaign season look positively civilized in comparison.