Liberal reflections on the causes of the Republicans’ defeat at the polls

The previous post described some conservatives’ reflections after their defeat at the polls.  Liberals have also given some thought to the matter.   Here are a few of their more creative suggestions.

So far most conservative analysis sticks with traditional explanations for defeat, like “insufficient purity” and “inadequate candidate and campaign staff.”  Ann Coulter’s latest article gives us both:

They adored McCain at the Times! Does anyone here not see a cluster of bright red flags? … According to Brooks, the reason McCain lost was — naturally — that he ran as a conservative. If only presidential candidates would spurn polls, modern political history, evidence from campaign rallies, facts on the ground and listen to the wishful thinking of Times columnists!

If McCain lost because he ran as a conservative, then how come I knew McCain was going to lose before Brooks did? About the same time Brooks was touting McCain’s uncanny ability to attract independents, I was writing, accurately: “John McCain is Bob Dole minus the charm, conservatism and youth.”

Rush Limbaugh spoke more explicitly during his 24 October show: ”Good Riddance, GOP Moderates.”   (For more on this subject see What happens to the Republican Party after the election?)

A few liberals attempt to help by suggesting that conservatives adopt a stronger explanation.  Those quoted below provide creative variants of the Dolchstoss, the post-WWI German myth of betrayal.  McCain’s reputation as an honorable man makes the standard “stab in the back” myth difficult to sell, so they devise a story to reconcile these two otherwise incompatible plot elements.

I’ve finally figured it out. John McCain long ago realized that the Republican Party is a festering carbunkle on the buttocks of America, and has set out to destroy it from within. And he’s done a masterful job of it. After he succeeds, he’ll explain it all to a bewildered but grateful America and be ever remembered as the bravest and boldest of heroes.

   — Chuleton, a commentposted at Prof Brad Delong’s blogGrasping Reality with Both Hands, 13 October 2008.

In the same thread Piotr proposes another possible inspiration for McCain’s actions:  the patriotic poem of “Konrad Wallenrod” by Adam Mickiewicz, set in 14th-century Lithuania. Mickiewicz wrote this in 1828, during the Polish uprisings against their Russian rulers.  It tells the fictional story of Walter, a Prussian, who sought refuge in Grand Duchy of Lithuania, where he was reared among the people’s mortal enemies, the Order of Teutonic Knights, who becomes the order’s Grand Master by impersonating a Teutonic Knight Konrad Wallenrod and deliberately leads the Knights to military disaster.  (description from Wikipedia).

Piotr’s speculation is, of course, absurd, relying on McCain reading 14th century Polish poetry.  More likely is that McCain read the Lensman series of books by E. E. “Doc” Smith, more particularly Second Stage Lensman (1953).  For those of you lacking a classical education, here is the Wikipedia entry — or (better yet) the plot summary from the back cover.

Kim Kinnison had the incredible assignment of infiltrating the inner circle of Boskone. His job was to become a Boskonian in every gesture, thought, and deed. He had to work himself up through the ranks of an alien enemy organization, into the highest echelons of power — until it was he who would be issuing the orders that would destroy his own civilization!

Interpreting this in today’s context will take much thought.  Boskone is evil incarnate.  In today’s world does that represent radical leftists, such as the “social Marxists” William Lind warns about (e.g., here).  Or some more subtle and malign entity?  We can only watch to see what explanation gains traction among conservatives.

A broader perspective

Zic, in a comment at Matthew Yglesias blog (28 October 2008), looks at the Republican Party’s history as an success — fulfillment, even — which also removes its reason for being.

Republican Party was born with the end of slavery, perhaps it will die with the election of the first African-American president.

The future of the GOP depends to a large extent on the narrative this nation adopts to explain its 2008 electoral defeat — and define its future.  Almost anything becomes possible during a period of stress like that America now enters.


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    8 thoughts on “Liberal reflections on the causes of the Republicans’ defeat at the polls”

    1. Fab, consider a simpler reason that the republicans were defeated at the polls: “Fill in the Blanks: An Important Lesson from Robert Prechter“, 12 November 2008.

      “When social mood waxes positive, as reflected by persistently rising stock prices, voters desire to retain the leader who symbolizes their upbeat feelings and who they presume helped cause the conditions attending them. When the social mood becomes more negative, as reflected by persistently falling stock prices, voters decide to throw out the incumbent who symbolizes their downbeat feelings and who they presume helped cause the conditions attending them. The political policies of the incumbent and his challenger are irrelevant to this dynamic. The key is a desire for change per se, not any particular type of change. The standard presumption has no explanation for reconciling the relationship between these phenomena.”
      -– The Elliott Wave Theorist, November 1999, reprinted in Pioneering Studies of Socionomics

    2. FM, would you happen to have link to article arguing that dolchstoss as myth notion? I have always thought that they got royally screwed, the blockade, starvation, massive reparations, ruin, then WW II of course which was a quasi inevitable result.
      Fabius Maximus replies: Wikipedia, of course.

    3. Can not remember the exact phrasing, but is it not the case that people do not elect governments, they sack the existing. It was too easy to label McCain as more of the same. Maybe the real question is why did they choose McCain to run as the candidate? Did they assume that he was the obvious choice to beat Clinton? When Obama was confirmed as the candidate the Republicans did not know what to do, they grabbed Palin in some sort of knee jerk reaction.

      Essentially, did the Republicans lose because they convinced themselves they could not win against Obama?

    4. Keith, McCain won his primaries with anywhere from 20-26% of the vote. That means that three quarters of Republican Primary voters DIDN’T vote for him. The social conservatives went for Huckabee. The free-marketeers went for Romney. Some of the national security hawks split off to Guiliani. The libertarians went for Paul. (BTW, McCain never made up with Paul at the convention and thus threw away some potential votes).

      McCain won the nomination because his opposition was so divided. The only thing uniting Republicans this year was disgust with Bush, and many voters, including Republicans, saw McCain as Bush III.

    5. The reasons the Republicans lost are, in my eyes, really, really simple.
      1. They were running in the shadow of Bush’s disastrous presidentcy.
      2. Republicans never really acknowledged the problems that most people are actually concerned about, such as the economy. Instead, they described people worried about the economy as ‘whiners’.
      3. Republicans focussed on attacking Obama with paranoid, and often racist-seeming smears. Examples include his supposed close relationship with William Ayers, his alleged connections to Islam, and whether or not he was “really a US citizen”. These smears worked with a certain sector of the public, but actively alienated the majority culture.

      Are you saying that liberals have actively convinced the conservatives to adopt the Dolchstoss legend in this instance? If so, then no, I think the conservative movementarians have decided this all by themselves. It’s the normal reaction of an Authoritarian movement to a defeat.

      Finally, you can decide that people who want gays in the millitary are “Social Marxists” if you want, and disagree with them all you want. Frankly, though, I think the use of this term might tend to color your own analysis of the situation too pointedly. I can think of plenty of people who would not describe themselves as “Marxist”, yet support the full inclusion of gays into the millitary. I say this as a Socialist/Leftist.

    6. A political science prof. at MIT has the following thesis. He says that elections are not won by ideology but by organization. The candidate with the best organization wins. That means the one who has the best voter lists; the most people manning the phones; the most people pounding the concrete. In 00 and 04, it was the republicans that were better organized. This time, it was the democrats. If the dems had adopted the 50 state strategy in 04, things might have been different. Too much credit is being given to ideology and not enough to organization.

      All this talk of left and right, liberal and conservative mean nothing to me anymore. I think either they have lost their meaning or have as many definitions as there are people who use the terms

    7. The GOP field this year was pathetic. The most promising candidate, arguably, was Mitt Romney — a successful moderate Republican governor of a liberal state who lost the nomination for a number of reasons to include transparently disavowing his belief in the moderate policies he had pursued and endorsed in Massachusetts. McCain was also an attractive candidate who could appeal to the country’s political center, but he also chose to reinvent himself as a hard-right son of the traditional Republican “base” — discarding his broad independent appeal in the process.

      Right-wing pundits continue to proclaim that we are a “center-right” nation but the evidence suggests otherwise. McCain had no chance against a smart candidate who kept his cool, did not pretend to be what he was not, and exhibited campaign management skills that put the lie to all those GOP charges that he lacked experience. The more McCain sounded the “maverick” theme, the more hollow it rang. As some pundit said, early on, you’re not entitled refer to yourself as a true maverick unless your name is James Garner.

    8. Sorry FM, insofar as giving ‘Liberal’ insight into why the Dems won / Reps lost, this post seems much more a continuation of the prior Conservatives (Ann Coulter & Rush vs. McCain, ‘not conservative enough’).

      As an ex-Libertarian Republican, it’s clear to me where we’re going: pro-life anti-promiscuity / anti-gay marriage (like Pres. elect Obama!) ~ family values; anti-tax, anti-entitlement, anti-earmark … anti-corruption, altho in the coming deflation not so strongly anti-spending.

      The few elite Reps (who like Romney) vs. the much larger number of voting Christian Reps (who liked Huckabee) shows that the Rep votes are with the Christian populists. Like Sarah Palin.
      (Will be rival or partner or both to Huckabee?)
      Among the elites, there are pro-life / pro-choice divisions.

      Among the Christians (including Catholics), there are more pro-war / pro-peace strains; pro-life Catholics are often very Ted Kennedy type democrats except for being pro-life.

      As taxpaying Christians are told they’ll have to pay more tax to reward, er, share with the less responsible non-Christians, they’re likely to be more anti-tax, and anti-Washington.

      Reps will likely elevate the immigration debate again, with many elite favoring a lot more, including illegals, and most Reps being strongly against the illegals, and many often against the (job-competing) legals.

      But w/o a coherent and believable anti-Bush message on the economy, in a year of unprecedented economic change and fear, no Rep was in a good position to win. Much as I like anti-elitist Huckabee, the anti-Christian press would have been far tougher on him than they were on McCain.

      Romney looks like the new Nelson Rockefeller to me.

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