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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Insurgents Then and Now

At The Wall Street Journal, James Taranto makes perceptive historical comparisons. He notes Stanley Greenberg's observation that the Great Recession, unlike the Great Depression, has not energized the grassroots on the left. Taranto responds that government was small at the start of the 1930s, so expanding it was an innovation. In 2011, making big government even bigger is reactionary. He says that the Tea Party folks recognize this change.
They are not, however, "good at government"--or, more precisely, at politics. Their purism cost the GOP as many as three Senate seats last year, and if a competent Democrat were in the White House, it probably would be helping him to re-election right now. The experience of 1995-96 is instructive here. Gingrich had the Tea Party's worst qualities: grandiosity and impatience. He was no match for a president who knew how to play the game.

Today's Republican House has two great strengths that Gingrich's lacked. One is the Tea Party's clarity of purpose. But the other is experienced leadership. Gingrich was highly effective in the minority--an Alinskyite community organizer, if you will, taking on entrenched power by exposing its weakness and corruption. Neither he nor any member of his caucus had ever served in the majority. Between them, Boehner and Cantor alone have 18 years in the majority.

Contrast that to Barack Obama. In addition to a left-liberal ideology that is decades out of date and a Gingrich-size ego, he came to the presidency with virtually no relevant experience. True, he has the "mainstream" media on his side, but that almost certainly hurts him more than it helps. Their flattering but false narratives--he was the "adult in the room," polls clearly showed the American people were on his side--likely encouraged him to mistake his weaknesses for strengths.

There is a danger now that Republicans will fall into the trap of overconfidence. Sarah Palin posted a Facebook note a week and a half ago declaring Obama a "lame duck president." But in the 15 months and five days before he can actually earn that designation, there will be other battles. It is not inconceivable that Obama will fight them more effectively, having learned some lessons from his failure in this one.

Speaking on the House floor Saturday, Politico reports, silly Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi invoked "Star Wars," declaring that Boehner "chose to go to the dark side." The Tea Partiers could do worse than to follow a bit of counsel from that classic movie: "Great, kid. Don't get cocky."