When Republicans took the House in the midterm election of 2010, they brought the activist presidency of Barack Obama to a screeching halt. Thereafter, all efforts to advance the Democratic Party agenda were the result of executive actions that could not be blocked by the legislative branch—but could be blocked otherwise. The most notorious examples: the unilateral naturalizations of the Dreamers, which were undone by the courts, and the Iran deal, which was undone by the next president.
So it’s been a pretty arid decade for the left in terms of national policy, a fact that is even more maddening than it might have been for them because they view the Trump presidency and the Republican party as illegitimate—the presidency because Trump didn’t win the popular vote and the party because it has given in to the supposedly illegitimate president’s wants and needs.
The November 2018 election, which featured unprecedented turnout and a midterm Democratic vote of an astounding 62 million, thus represented an explosion of pent-up liberal and Democratic energy eight years in the making. The problem for Democrats and the left is that the aftermath of an explosion isn’t necessarily the best environment in which to move forward.
Because Democrats and liberals have spent most of the decade talking to each other about what’s gone wrong in America and have been whipping themselves into a frenzy, they began 2019 with policy pronouncements that sound like they emerged from an editorial-board meeting of the staff of the student newspaper at Caracas State University.
Proposals for a “Green New Deal” include the retrofitting of every existing building in America, the phasing-out of the internal combustion engine, and the replacement of airplane travel with high-speed rail. I will forbear on the issue of farting cows. While it is true that Democrats got many votes in 2018, it is far from clear that those who voted them in did so with the thought their newly elected officials were going to take away their cars.
Meanwhile, a Democratic candidate for president said she was “over” private health insurance—when 67 percent of Americans have private health insurance, and 77 percent of Americans say they consider the care they receive “excellent” or “good,” according to a 2018 Gallup survey. She spoke off the cuff and walked her remark back, but it was an indication of the comfort level Democrats now feel with ideas that would have been condemned as radical by…Barack Obama.
Many people came to think the Tea Party Republicans who came to Washington in 2011 were nuts because they were so uncompromising and so determined to gum up the works. The problem for the Republican radicals of the Obama midterm was that logic dictated they had to do some things just to keep the government open and functioning, and they could not reconcile this fact with their hatred of government in general and the federal government in particular.
For Democratic radicals, the problem is very nearly the opposite. They have come to Washington determined not to do some things, but to do everything. There is no aspect of the government they do not want to enhance, no amount of governmental involvement in the economy they do not wish to extend.
They want to expand public largesse, increase taxation, and use the law as a form of direct social engineering. But they cannot succeed in doing so with a Republican president and a Republican senate. That may frustrate them even further, as the conundrum of having to govern while opposing government deeply frustrated Republicans from 2011 onward. Or Democrats and leftists may look at these initiatives as a road map to the glorious future when they do have the reins of power.
Donald Trump surely looks at them as the road map to his glorious reelection.