Nobody Likes a Loser
What happened to all those netroots bloggers who spent so much time and money trying to help Democrat Ned Lamont pull out a victory against incumbent Sen. Joe Lieberman in Connecticut? Apparently they found better things to blog about tonight.
At 9:16 p.m. on MyDD.com, blogger Matt Stoller posted simply: “The MSM is calling it for Joe.” About the same time on DailyKos, Markos Moulitsas said: “The White House celebrates Joe Lieberman’s victory. So do war mongers.” At conservative-leaning Instapundit.com, blogger Glenn Reynolds notes: “Huh. Pro-war Lieberman — targeted by antiwar types on that issue — wins. Chafee — who was much more anti-war — loses.” It’s a giddy night for Democratic bloggers, who will no doubt expound at length later about why Lieberman won and why he shouldn’t have.
Meanwhile, the AP has been analyzing exit poll data for Connecticut and found that more than half of those surveyed didn’t think Lamont had the right experience to serve as a senator. The wire service also reported that Lieberman: “drew strongly from Republicans and people who identified themselves as regular churchgoers…Some unaffiliated voters who cast their ballots Tuesday cited Lieberman’s experience in their decision, while others said they respected his willingness to break ranks with the party line on issues about which he feels strongly.” –Amy Schatz
The True Ideological Battle
By ARTHUR C. BROOKS
November 7, 2006; Page A12
In their 2004 book, "The Right Nation," John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge chronicle America's rightward tilt. "If American politics is a seesaw, it is an unevenly balanced one. Imagine Dennis Hastert at one end of the seesaw and Nancy Pelosi on the other end, and you have some idea about which party is sitting with its legs dangling in the air. In the war between two Americas, Hastertland has been winning."
Until today, that is. This midterm election, in the view of many optimistic liberals, will be a forceful repudiation of the inevitability of American conservatism. A victory after so many years of losses will mark the beginning of the end to the country's nightmarish reactionary drift. According to Howard Dean, "The American people are fed up and want to change course. Democrats are offering the American people a new direction." But will it really be the dawn of a new day for the American left? After a cold look at the evidence, liberals might decide to take the champagne off the ice. The victory, assuming there is one, will hardly be glorious, and long-term trends are still distinctly right wing.
Some doomsday scenarios envision a 45-seat shift in the House of Representatives and a substantial Democratic majority in the Senate. These predictions, when looking at the actual data, are probably unrealistic. My colleague Danny Hayes, a political scientist who studies polling, says that the most reasonable picture has the Democrats winning 20-30 seats and taking narrow control of the House, while failing to win the Senate. This assessment is consistent with what most mainstream pollsters are predicting.
No bloodbath -- but still major progress for the left, right? Not really. We are in the midst of a deeply unpopular war, and an electorate in a foul mood. A Washington Post-ABC News poll last week found that more than 30% of likely voters planned to cast their ballots on Nov. 7 for Democrats specifically as a sign of opposition to George Bush. Congressional Republicans are hardly helping their own cause, between corruption and sexual misconduct. And the Republican Congress has so alienated authentic conservative voters with its porky profligacy that lots of Republicans will probably stay home.
By all rights, the Republicans left in Congress after this election should be able to pool to work in one minivan. Instead, they are probably facing a 10% setback in House seats -- hardly a disaster by midterm election standards. What's more, many of the Democrats at the vanguard of today's political "revolution" are not exactly left-wing zealots. Robert Casey, who leads incumbent Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, opposes abortion rights. On issues of gun control and immigration, Senate candidate Harold Ford of Tennessee sounds like a Republican. James Webb, who seeks to unseat Virginia Sen. George Allen, actually used to be a Republican. The lesson is that Democrats can win modestly if the Republicans implode, and preferably if they look more or less like Republicans. This is hardly a mythic victory for the American left; indeed, the larger cultural picture -- in which the election is but a minor political datum -- remains strikingly bleak for American liberalism.
Consider the effect of religious faith, which endures as the most important cultural fault line. On the whole, America is fundamentally religious, with 85% of people expressing allegiance to an organized faith and a third attending a house of worship weekly. Secularism is an exotic taste -- except on the political left. According to the General Social Survey, liberals are a third less likely than the rest of the population to worship regularly, and less than half as likely as conservatives. The percentage of self-described liberals who say they have "no religion" has more than doubled since the early '70s.
This cultural trend represents a growing political liability for the left. Only about one in four Americans currently say they believe that the Democratic Party is friendly toward religion, according to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. The practical impact of this belief is nicely described by author Stephen Carter in his book, "The Dissent of the Governed." He describes two black evangelical women who change their affiliations from liberal political groups to conservative Christian organizations, explaining that "they preferred a place that honored their faith and disdained their politics over a place that honored their politics and disdained their faith." These women are part of a real trend among religious Americans: According to the National Election Surveys, religious Democrats are more likely than any other group to change their party affiliation. Between 2000 and 2002, they were nearly four times more likely to do so than secular Republicans.
There's certainly more to ideology than faith, of course. Another major cultural force is immigration, which -- as liberals hope and conservatives fear -- has the power to counteract the conservatizing effects of religion. "Today we march, tomorrow we vote," was the slogan chanted earlier this year by Latinos demonstrating in the streets against Republican-led immigration crackdowns. The warning made the blood of many conservatives run cold. It shouldn't have; the political mobilization of Latinos may actually expand the cultural dominance of the American right. According to the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey in 2000, while American Latinos are about as likely as non-Latinos to say they are politically conservative, those not (yet) registered to vote are significantly more conservative than both voting Latinos and the population at large. In other words, a growing, more politically active Latino U.S. probably means a more conservative U.S. as well.
This counterintuitive fact is good news for the cultural right. But can Republicans capitalize politically on this pattern? Some doubt it, given the party's perceived hostility to immigration and apparent willingness to overlook the racial insensitivity of Sen. George Allen's "macaca" remark about an Indian-American man at a recent campaign event.
So much for religious folks and immigrants. What about young people? Maybe the left can, like it always has, look to the culture of youth to jumpstart the progressive movement. But even here, things are going conservatives' way. The left's traditional edge among young adults shrank from 1974 to 2004, as the percentage of adults 18-25 who labeled themselves political liberals fell by 12%, and the percentage saying they were conservative rose by 143%.
Waning youth support for the left may be partly due to the adroitness of conservative causes. But it probably also has to do with liberal inability or unwillingness to build an authentic youth grass-roots movement. A new and hotly debated book by Columbia University sociologist Dana Fisher documents the fact that most liberal political groups have dismantled their grassroots operations since the mid-'90s and subcontracted their activism to a small group of for-profit and nonprofit companies. In other words, the Republican canvasser at your door is a volunteer and true believer. But the kid asking for your signature and contribution for the local Democratic Party is probably a paid employee. This may be evidence that the left can no longer build grass-roots support to maintain itself, or that it has cut corners and sent its support-building mechanisms ideologically offshore. Either way, it bodes ill for progressive causes.
These are just three examples of the cultural patterns that continue to strengthen the right in America. Many more can be found in fertility patterns, the effects of education, and elsewhere. They tell us that conservatives have much to smile about, no matter what happens today at the polls. Reasonable people will disagree as to whether this is grounds for celebration or a call to fight. Either way, however, it is undeniable that the true ideological battle in America goes far deeper than a midterm election.
Mr. Brooks, a professor at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Public Affairs, is the author of "Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism," to be published this month by Basic Books.