Commentary Magazine


The Cost of Overreach

Charles Lane writes: “Who would have thought that just one year into Obama’s promising presidency, the Democrats who had pinned their hopes on him would be dangerously close to political meltdown?” He thinks it is more than “the lousy economy, public concern about the messy health-care compromise, renewed fear of terrorism, the usual cyclical problems of the incumbent party in an off-year election.” He sees a break-up of the two parties into four subgroups: “Roughly speaking, the Democrats consist of a liberal wing (epitomized by, say, Howard Dean) and a centrist wing (think of Arkansas’s Blanche Lincoln). The Republicans include a conservative wing (e.g., Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio) and an ultra-conservative wing (Sarah Palin).”

But that doesn’t quite explain why the Democrats are disproportionately impacted and why it is Obama’s party rather than the GOP that is looking at a meltdown in the 2010 races. There is a simpler explanation: Obama and the Democrats overreached. The temptation is great when you’ve won a big election and the media is telling you that you are now the “permanent majority.” You overestimate the election results (e.g., the new New Deal!), treat opponents and the public with contempt (labeling town-hall attendees “un-American”), don’t think you have to keep promises (C-SPAN negotiations, only taxing the rich), and try to enact controversial legislation through narrow, strictly partisan majorities. Throw in some scandals, a grumpy president who seems out to lunch on national security, a terrorist attack (three, actually, last year), and pretty soon everyone is asking: who voted for these guys?

Republicans shouldn’t be celebrating yet. The Democrats may get wise, put off the hugely unpopular health-care bill, and scramble toward the political center. Unlike Republicans in 2006, Democrats have plenty of warning that they are heading over a political cliff. To avoid going over it, however, requires their making a real course correction, signaling that they “have heard the voters.” Otherwise, the voters will want to send them a message on Election Day.

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