At one point there was genuine concern that the GOP was taking an anti-intellectual turn in 2012. Instead, with the Romney-Ryan team, the GOP has one of the wonkiest, sharpest tickets ever. Instead, it appears the Democratic Party is on the verge of grabbing the “stupid party” label.
Consider Vice President Biden, whose problems are not limited to his “y’all back in chains” comment. This was the man held up for his foreign policy gravitas in 2008. He’s actually gotten just about every foreign policy issue wrong (e.g., the nuclear freeze, opposing the surge, dividing Iraq in three) in the decades he has been in Washington. And he is, to put it mildly, a gasbag infamous for blathering on and on. Yet among Democrats he’s been regarded as something of a guru. In that crowd, he’s in the upper quartile.
Democrats now have much lower standards than when they turned up their noses at Sarah Palin. Deputy campaign director Stephanie Cutter says that former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was way out of line saying that Biden didn’t have sufficient mental capacity to be president. Hey, he backed Palin in 2008, she retorted. Need we say more? (“Joe Biden — at least no worse than Palin!”)
But the Obama team now considers People magazine and “Entertainment Tonight” to be valid news outlets. They send the president out to talk about chilli, his favorite color and other trivia. Making Romney cough up more tax returns is the Democrats’ “big idea.” I mean, when did Democrats get to be so anti-intellectual and policy-averse? My goodness, Harvard must be disappointed.
Visceral emotion (e.g. fear, greed) have replaced reasoned policy. That is how you get ludicrous gambits like the Warren Buffett tax, designed to fan the class warfare flames while solving no problem.
There are multiple explanations for the left’s turn away from reason and policy. For starters, it’s not like they ran a brainy campaign last time. ”Hope and change” is about as vapid as you can get, although liberal elites swooned as if they were in the presence of a great political mind. Democrats also are down to their core constituents (e.g., minority, young voters) and apparently don’t think much of them, so better to avoid complicated policy discussions and just point to Romney and shout: “Rich guy!”
But the central reason behind the Democrats’ decline into lowest-common-denominator, policy-absent politics is that they are flat out of ideas. They gave the public national health care, and the public hated it. They spent with abandon, and the economy didn’t perk up. Spending and big government have been, at least since Bill Clinton, the main preoccupations of the Democratic Party. When those don't work, they don’t have much to say. They are paralyzed by failure and scared of their own supporters. Hence, the most inane presidential campaign Democrats have run in decades.
Sure, media elites cover for them, decrying nonsubstantive campaigns on both sides and deploring the dive into political mud. But, the Republicans have lots of policy ideas ( tax reform, entitlement reform, energy development, regulatory reform) so that ruse can work for only so long.
The abandonment of reasoned policy debates and civility has consequences for the Democrats. The media have already been pushed to the brink. And the Obama-Biden team is going to have a tough time with those upscale suburban voters whom Obama wowed in 2008. Many of them recognize the economic failure and deplore his demagogic appeals.
In four years the myth of “Obama the moderate” has exploded. But even worse for his fans, so, too, is “Obama the intellectual.” Would anyone describe him or his campaign in such terms now? Well, other than Joe Biden, I mean.