George Orwell noted in World War II that British intellectuals tended to assume that whomever was winning the war at any particularly time, their gains would be permanent. (See also: Kent Brockman immediately volunteering to join the League of Gentlemen Space Ants.)
That’s also a trend that American intellectuals and politicians tend to ride as well. As Victor Davis Hanson wrote last year, attempting to explain the left’s rather short memory of its vitriol during its years in the wilderness from 2001 until 2008:
We don’t see the word “hate” used in mainstream publications like The New Republic and the Guardian, as it was during the Bush years. (Even worse, really unspeakable things were done to Bush in novels and films.) “You lie” is about on par with the past statements of a Rep. Pete Stark or a Howard Dean (“I hate Republicans”), or the booing Democrats at the 2005 State of the Union. The extremists at the demonstrations are in smaller numbers so far than those who turned out against Bush and the Iraq War. A senior figure like John Glenn or Al Gore has not called the current president a Nazi or brownshirt.
A better explanation than right-wing racism for the Left’s exasperation is that in the Bush wilderness years, the Left assumed permanent political marginalization, adopted an ends-justify-the-means strategy of street rhetoric against Bush, then found themselves unexpectedly as the establishment, and now are appalled that anyone might emulate their own past emotional outbursts.
Upon recapturing the White House in November of 2008, the MSM’s hype machine began assuring everyone that the Permanent Democratic Majority has arrived. A certain amount of this was to reassure themselves, but it was also to scare conservatives into submission, which lasted until Rick Santelli showed up on CNBC in the spring of 2009 and grass roots conservatives quickly began to rediscover the meaning of the word “athwart.”
This past August, as the midterm battles began to heat up, Rob Long explored “The Five Stages of Grief: The Left Wing Now Gets Angry,” at Ricochet.com:
It’s all part of the Kubler-Ross model, the Five Stages of Grief. Now they’re turning to Stage Two: Anger. Angry at the voters, at Fox News, at Obama himself.
Next up: Bargaining. I’m not sure when that’s going to start — probably a few weeks after Labor Day. But as always, what we’re all waiting for is Stage Four: Depression.
And here we go, Charlie Cook writes this week at National Journal:
Here’s a theory: House Democrats know their chances of recapturing the majority they just lost in two years aren’t good and have decided, “What the hell.”
Because of this, they show no desire or need to compromise with President Obama or Senate Republicans on a tax deal and are going to go out of power with their guns blazing.
These House Democrats are ignoring the reality that this was pretty much the best deal they could get, given that they just suffered the worst midterm House losses in 72 years. They are ignoring the fact that there are plenty of things in the package that would help a great deal of poor-, working-, and lower-middle-class families, not to mention that the package is a godsend for those with unemployment benefits that are about to expire. These Democrats prefer to focus on the fact that the package has goodies for the hated rich and business owners.
I actually don’t believe that House Democrats have given up on 2012, but rather that they are simply going through the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross stages of grief.
It’s safe to say they are working through some deep issues and haven’t made the turn into the new politics of 2012. For the longest time, it seemed that it was the president who was detached from reality, but it is now apparent that the White House folks have read, studied, and contemplated the midterm election returns and exit polls, a process House Democrats have yet to do.
Cook runs the number for them, and cautions:
With a few exceptions, the footprint of the House Democratic Caucus is a shadow of its former self and now made primarily of districts that they couldn’t lose if they tried.
In the new Cook Political Report ratings, only 15 Democratic House members are facing competitive races for 2012 with 28 more in “watch” situations.
Having lost independent voters by 18 points and ‘65 and older’ voters by 21 points, their support is reduced down pretty much to the base.
If they decide not to seek the support of independents and moderates, and small town and rural America, then they can stay cohesive and harmonious and won’t have to worry about gavels or the business of governing.
The shift by Obama in recent weeks suggests he has figured out the new political reality. One wonders how long it will take House Democrats, and perhaps Senate Democrats, to figure that out as well.
(And speaking of the Senate…)
But it’s easy, as British intellectuals did over far more existential stakes during Orwell’s time, and their American counterparts do today when fighting warfare by other means (to borrow from Obama’s earlier — and likely still ongoing — attempts to invert Clausewitz), to assume that your gains or losses are permanent.
In other words, as the Professor is wont to caution the GOP: don’t get cocky.