I suppose it was inevitable. Now that Mitt Romney has been narrowly (in the popular vote) but convincingly rejected (in the Electoral College), some of his supporters have turned against an ungrateful nation. Jay Nordlinger makes the case against deferring to the judgement of the majority:
Some of my colleagues are almost comically incapable of blaming the people — of holding them responsible for their votes. This is charming, in a way, in addition to comical. Some political version of “The customer is always right.”
I don’t have this problem, thank heaven. I think the people are in fact responsible. And often wrong.
As might doesn’t make right, neither does a majority.
I think the people — the holy, sacred people — are wrong about movies, music, morality. A whole range of things. But they’re supposed to be brimming with wisdom when they enter the voting booths on Election Day?
Marc Thiessen is briefer. Quoting former NYC mayor Ed Koch, Thiessen observes that, “The people have spoken … and they must be punished.”
It is easy to mock Nordlinger and Thiessen as sore losers. But their embittered reactions to the election could mark the beginning of a salutary development on the Right: a retreat from the vulgar populism that sees mass approval as proof wisdom and virtue.
Electoral routs have a way of eliminating that delusion, which is closer to Thomas Paine than Edmund Burke. But Nordlinger and Thiessen’s anti-populist turn misses the target: a critical but not contemptuous distance from the vagaries of public opinion and taste. The people are often wrong. But they aren’t completely stupid.
To begin with, Thiessen and Nordlinger assume that Romney was an essentially appealing candidate. Romney was clearly the strongest of the contenders for the nomination. Given the alternatives, that is not saying much. He is a powerful man’s son who made a fortune as a financier before spending 20 years running for office. This resume includes three features that Americans tend to dislike, at least in combination: inherited privilege, Wall Street, and a long but essentially unsuccessful political career.
Romney could perhaps have overcome these weaknesses if he possessed any natural rapport with voters. Unfortunately, at least for him, he has none. Personal likability is a bad reason to choose one candidate over another. Nevertheless, it is close to a requirement in modern elections. No one should be surprised that Romney came up short in this regard.
Even a weak and unlikable candidate might be the lesser of two evils. Many voters, however, concluded that that candidate was Barack Obama. Nordlinger and Thiessen wonder how anyone could accept “more of the same”. That’s because their read on present conditions is implausibly dark.
For one thing, the economy is not quite as bad as they claim. Unemployment remains high. Even so, there’s evidence of a modest recovery in jobs as well as in housing, among other sectors. Business is not booming. But hope for improvement is not unreasonable.
Moreover, to many Americans “the same” means peace, at least compared to the last Republican administration. “More of the same”, then, is likely to mean more peace. Combined with hopes for a modest recovery, that’s not a terrible prospect.
According to polls soon before the election, voters were about evenly split on which candidate would handle the economy better. But Romney forfeited Republicans’ historic advantage on foreign policy by promising to pick up where Thiessen’s former employer left off. In doing so, he may have forfeited the election.
But what if Obama isn’t really offering “more of the same”? What if he’s just waiting to unleash his secret agenda? So ask the anti-populists, with the implication that the people have fallen for a bait-and-switch.
It is, of course, possible that in his second term Obama will pursue “massive tax increases”, “wage…regulatory war on fossil fuels”, and “unleash the Environmental Protection Agency to impose crushing new burdens on U.S. business”–to mention just a few of Thiessen’s suggestions. But is there any reason to think it likely, apart from fantasies about Kenyan socialists? Unemployment remains high. But corporate profits hit an all-time high this year, the fourth of Obama’s presidency. Are we really to believe that he has just been waiting for the opportunity to crush big business?
Thiessen, Nordlinger, and other anti-populists on the establishment Right argue as if voters faced a choice between Romney and the relatively unknown Obama of 2008. That’s not what happened: Obama ran on his unsatisfactory but not disastrous record as President; Romney ran on nothing more than vague promises that things would go better with him in office.
There were plenty of reasons to vote against the extension of Obama’s presidency, as I myself did. But it’s neither stupid nor crazy nor corrupt to prefer that to the assurances of an otherwise decent man who is apparently willing to say anything to be elected. Conservatives and Republicans who hope to return to power need to understand that.