So, until the Democrats' presidential nominee is chosen, the party's most prominent national leader not implicated (as Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle were) in this year's election failure will be a congresswoman in whose San Francisco district the 2000 presidential vote was: Gore, 77 percent; Bush, 15 percent; Nader, 8 percent.
Nancy Pelosi, whose understanding of America surely is conditioned by her habitat's 85 percent Gore-Nader majority, now will referee the Democrats' intramural rumble between those who ascribe the party's failure to its message and those who blame only the "articulating" (Daschle's word) of it. Actually, the party's message, frequently communicated with ruinous clarity for five decades, is condescension toward the American people.
When a supporter gushed to Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic presidential nominee in 1952 and 1956, that all thinking people supported him, Stevenson replied, "Yes, but I need to win a majority." Michael Barone, the most astute student of modern politics, considers it inconceivable that FDR would have thought, let alone said, such a thing.
In the 1950s, when liberals were "madly for Adlai," the country liked Ike, which deepened liberals' disdain for the majority -- Eisenhower's smile was just the sort of thing that would unhinge the masses. It was "the bland leading the bland." Then came liberal contempt for Ronald Reagan, a contempt now reprised regarding George W. Bush.
For the first time since 1952 -- Eisenhower's first election -- Republicans hold a majority of state legislative seats. It is back to the 1950s for both parties.
The canonical text of liberalism's disparagement of Americans' competence was John Kenneth Galbraith's 1958 book "The Affluent Society." It argued that the bovine people beyond the faculty club are manipulated by advertising, so businesses produce not the things people want but the wants that businesses find it convenient to supply.
Two conclusions flow from this materialism and determinism. First, the cardinal rule of politics must always be "It's the economy, stupid," because the electorate is too stupid to have a more elevated or nuanced approach to politics. Second, the masses are passive lumps needing supervision by a government of their betters, aka liberals.
Today's Democratic Party believes, as ardent environmentalists do, in recycling -- of old newspapers, old bottles, old senators (Walter Mondale, Frank Lautenberg). And old vendettas (Florida, where the state teachers union mortgaged its Tallahassee headquarters for $1.7 million and squandered almost that much attacking Gov. Jeb Bush). Most of all, the party recycles old ideas.
It believes Americans are not competent to invest a portion of their Social Security taxes in individual accounts. And not competent to exercise school choice. And not competent to own firearms without hundreds of regulations. The party believes that many African Americans are not competent, period. Hence they need to be treated as permanent wards of government and swaddled in paternalistic preferences.
Last Sunday the New York Times, in its deepening disassociation from reality, said, regarding judicial nominations, that the White House represents "the far right," so the Senate must "represent the rest of the country." The Times assumes that "the rest of the country" agrees with it that Priscilla Owen of the Texas Supreme Court is "far right" because she, like the vast majority of Americans, finds nothing unconstitutional in a requirement that parents be notified -- just notified -- when their minor child seeks an abortion.
The Times is remarkably uninterested in the news, which includes data from National Journal, which surveyed the won-lost record of 20 interest groups in competitive House and Senate races this year. The six most successful were all conservative: United Seniors Association, National Rifle Association, Club for Growth, National Right to Life Association, BIPAC (the Business-Industry Political Action Committee) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The five least successful were all liberal: EMILY's List (feminist), the Brady Campaign (gun control), NARAL (National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League), ATLA (Association of Trial Lawyers of America) and the AFL-CIO.
The six conservative groups' cumulative won-lost record was 132-36. The liberal groups' was 36-117.
But liberal Democrats say success could have been had by "sharpening differences" -- by being more adversarial toward a president with high approval ratings, less adversarial toward Saddam Hussein (by opposing, as Pelosi did, authorizing the use of force against him), more adversarial toward American taxpayers (by opposing, as Pelosi did, the president's tax cuts, and opposing, as Pelosi does, making them permanent).
After Britain's Labor Party was demolished by Margaret Thatcher in the 1983 general election, an undaunted Laborite vowed, "No compromise with the electorate." That can be the rallying cry of Pelosi Democrats.