I'm struck by the irony of the liberal punditry warning Republicans not to interpret their sweeping victories as a mandate because such "arrogance" could lead to a voter backlash.
In the very process of obsessing over what Republicans might do and become in the future, liberals are blinding themselves to what they have already done and become. They are lecturing Republicans about copping an arrogant attitude when they are so deeply steeped in one themselves they can't accurately interpret their own reflection in the election mirror.
A recent Chicago Tribune headline reads: "Beware perils of overreaching, GOP is warned. Analysts say agenda could backfire." The article quotes Illinois Democratic Congressman and former Clinton insider Rahm Emanuel as saying, "If you don't think you are going to be accountable and there are no consequences for what you do, it'll lead to overreaching."
And what do they mean by "overreaching"? Merely trying to implement their agenda. According to the article:
Political analysts warn that overly aggressive efforts to push a conservative agenda could leave Bush and his allies vulnerable to charges of political overreaching, and ultimately cause a voter backlash. ? Already Democrats are saying that Republicans are emphasizing an ideological rather than a middle-of-the-road approach to governing.
Similarly, Los Angeles Times columnist Ronald Brownstein writes:
The larger issue in this dispute [over the intelligence restructuring bill] is whether Bush wants to reach out to all Americans, or just court those at the core of his political coalition.
The objective fact is that President Bush and Republicans won decisively. The lesson most reasonable people would take from such a victory is not that they were doing something wrong and they better back off from it. While I agree that winners shouldn't become highhanded, neither should they act like losers.
Why should President Bush voluntarily surrender his just-affirmed political capital by capitulating to the demands of Democrats? Wouldn't that be as much of a slap in the face to voters, who just endorsed his agenda, as becoming cocky?
According to this liberal logic, Republicans should act like losers when they lose and act like losers when they win. President Bush, having run on an agenda of staying the course in Iraq, making his tax cuts permanent, and injecting a measure of private ownership in the Social Security system, should abandon all three goals.
I'm not exaggerating. The Chicago Tribune article quotes a Rutgers political science professor as saying:
In pressing for partial Social Security privatization and overhauling the tax system, Bush is taking a major risk. These are controversial matters that might drive some Republicans to become Democrats.
Such brilliance. It's like saying Republicans should forfeit their agenda now or else they might have to in the future. They should give up a bird in the hand for none in the bush. Either way, no conservative agenda. How convenient for liberals.
For a while I thought some liberals were beginning to grasp that for now, at least, they are the ones who are out of step with the American people; they are the ones who ought to be engaging in self-evaluation rather than projecting their losses onto Republicans.
But they still don't get it. They can't get past the political gamesmanship of it all -- an indelible stain on their psyche from the Clinton years. In their mind's eye the election results were all about political strategy and packaging rather than the merits of the issues -- about form over substance.
Outgoing Senator John Breaux, for example, attributed the Republicans' victories to their superior strategy:
If you're on the wrong side of guns, gays and God, then you're not in the center.
Isn't it a rank form of patronizing to treat the voters as the programmed robots of Karl Rove rather than mostly intelligent creatures with independent views who presently align more closely with the Republican message?
But this concept doesn't compute with the liberal elites whose conceit prevents them from considering the possibility that voters, if exposed to their naked ideas, will flat out reject them.
Happily, the liberals' failure to come to terms with their own predicament is leading them to put all their future hopes on Republicans imploding rather than making the necessary adjustments to make their own message more palatable, in substance not just appearance, to the voters.
I'm not one who believes the election is definitive proof of a major voter realignment, but if liberals continue to delude themselves by diagnosing Republicans as the ones who are arrogant rather than themselves, who knows what the future holds?