I’ve read some cracked political analysis in my time, but a story on the New York Times website this afternoon called “A Primary Victory Boosts White House, for Now”
may be the San Andreas Fault of cracked political analyses. It seems, according to the reporter Jeff Zeleny, that the White House is rejoicing today in the primary victory of Colorado Senate candidate (and sitting Senator by appointment) Michael Bennet over an insurgent Democrat named Andrew Romanoff:
President Obama and his White House on Wednesday were savoring one of their sweetest victories of the midterm election season, as Senator Michael Bennet’s triumph in the Colorado Democratic primary on Tuesday interrupted the political storyline that all incumbents are doomed by voter discontent.
The story goes on to say that Obama had invested his political capital in Bennet, that if Bennet had gone down it would have demonstrated his weakness, and so on.
I don’t know if the fault is the White House’s or Zeleny’s, but this is, quite simply, insane. The race in question was in a Democratic primary. The results tell us very little about the mood of the overall electorate in November, especially the mood among independent voters. And what little information there is to be gleaned from the results should actually be very worrying to Democrats, because in this contested primary, far fewer votes were cast for the two Democrats than for the two Republicans who went at it yesterday.
So what exactly is this story about? It’s about a liberal fantasy. The liberal fantasy is that the insurgent mood abroad in the land is generic. It’s “anti-incumbent.” It’s not anti-Obama, or anti-Democrat, or anti-liberal. It’s a “throw the bums out” thing, and does not represent a rejection of the policies of the past two years but a frustration with the continuing lethargy of the economy.
It’s understandable why people who generally support the actions over the past two years would wish to believe this — and why they would think that a challenge from Obama’s Left (which is effectively what his rival’s candidacy was) stems from the same root as the challenges from the anti-Democrat right. It’s just about dissatisfaction if that’s all true, and dissatisfaction can be replaced by satisfaction if the right things happen and the right words are used.
If, however, what is happening is a rejection of the ideas Obama has championed and the policies that emerged from those ideas, then there’s really nothing he can do other than repudiate them or make a sharp turn away from them. This is something the people who populate the White House — and the New York Times — are unwilling to contemplate. And so they are left taking comfort in phantom victories — phantom victories that presage catastrophic losses.