Can The Democrats Lose By Winning?

While believe the Republicans have dug themselves into a deep hole, and appear to be continuing to dig deeper, at times I’ve also expressed the view that if the Democrats over-extend they risk a backlash which could return the Republicans to power. It makes sense that if the Democrats propose or pass unpopular measures they risk being voted out. Matthew Yglesias pointed out today that the Democrats also risk losing power if they pass measures which are popular, but which eliminate the reasons why many people voted for them:

I do think it’s always worth considering an alternative. I think it’s very possible that Democrats could “gain so much power” that they implement at least some of their “crazy plans” and that the people, rather than revolting, will just turn their attention to other issues. For example, many Americans feels anxiety about their health insurance status. And the majority of these people vote for Democrats. But if Democrats deliver a health care reform plan that assuages those fears, those voters may start voting more on their hatred of abortion or love of torture and bring Republicans back into power.

You can think of Dwight Eisenhower succeeding as a politician not despite the New Deal, but in large part because the New Deal’s successes eventually built a country that no longer had a strong desire for progressive economic policy. Or how today’s tax cut jihad has trouble attracting votes in part because marginal tax rates are much lower than where they were before Reagan cut them—the issue just doesn’t matter as much to people as it used to.

This is potentially true. What will make it harder for the Republicans to recover is that so many people voted primarily against the Republicans as opposed to for the Democrats. Many people wanted the Democrats to win, regardless of what they planned to do in office, because things were so bad under the Republicans. We got to a point where a strong majority of voters thought that nobody could do worse than the Bush administration. Beyond their incompetence in office, the extremist ideas promoted by the Republicans were rejected by voters, and at present the Republicans are responding with a delusional argument that they lost because they weren’t conservative enough.


  1. 1
    Anonymous says:

    Man, Taylor Marsh really doesn’t get what this is about at all, does she?

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    No, it doesn’t look like she does.

  3. 3
    Eclectic Radical says:

    I actually somewhat get Taylor Marsh’s point. There are quite a few people who, for purely politically reasons, will take discussion of ‘overextending’ as an argument against necessary and meaningful reform. Such people would argue that it is necessary to delay reform to stay in power. In fact, many congressional Democrats have used just this political argument in the past. It was one of the reasons President Clinton could not muster support for health care reform in his own party’s congressional caucus.

    This is a terrible argument. Necessary reform is a whole lot more important than maintaining power. It is easier to protect reform than to pass it, and a permanent majority is ultimately impossible in a government with more than one political party. I’d rather successfully pass a health care passage and go back into the minority than have a twenty year majority and do nothing meaningful with it.

  4. 4
    Fritz says:

    Eclectic, I absolutely agree.   It is good when electoral choices are clear instead of muddled.  And I think that 2010 and 2012 will present pretty clear choices for a set of referendums on economic direction.

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