This belief in the moral hollowness of conservatism animates the current liberal mantra that Republican opposition to Obama’s social democratic agenda — which couldn’t get through even a Democratic Congress and powered major Democratic losses in New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts [bold mine-DL] — is nothing but blind and cynical obstructionism. ~Charles Krauthammer
It seems fair to say that there are some sincere opponents of Obama’s agenda, and then there are a great many cynical opponents who would oppose just about anything he proposed because his political setbacks are their good fortune. That is not all that important. Cynical opportunists will always be with us, and the ruling party will attempt to make hay out of their cynical opportunism. What I find remarkable about this statement is that Krauthammer is quite certain that Obama’s “social democratic agenda” led to Democratic losses in all of these races. In Virginia, it is conceivable that there was something of a genuine backlash against Obama’s agenda because it was perceived to be “social democratic” and therefore contrary to what Virginians want. In New Jersey, it becomes harder to believe this, and in Massachusetts the idea seems fairly absurd. That is, to the extent that these results were messages about Obama and the Democratic agenda (and we have reason to think that Obama/Brown voters had little or no intention of sending such a message), it is difficult to believe that Democratic candidates fell because the national party was committed to a “social democratic agenda.” In the gubernatorial elections, it is even harder to conclude that the President and the national party’s agenda were major factors.
Most of what we saw in post-election surveys in Massachusetts tell us that it is corporatism, not social democracy, that angers and disgusts voters. One critical problem with Krauthammer’s analysis is the assumption that the corporatist policies the administration has been advancing or accepting represent a “social democratic agenda.” The social democrats would beg to differ. It could be that most Americans don’t want a “social democratic agenda,” either, but that isn’t what they’re being offered. Pinning recent Democratic defeats on social democracy is a bit like attributing Bush-era failures and Republican electoral repudiation to an excessive devotion to Rothbardian economics and constitutionalism. It may entertain the rank-and-file, but it is dreadfully poor analysis of what is happening.
What we have been seeing in all of the elections over the last year is a readiness on the part of the electorate to oust the parties that have traditionally held sway in the district or state in question. Republicans lost in upstate New York, and Democrats lost in New Jersey and Massachusetts. There is no way NY-23 should have ever sent a Democrat to the House, just as no one thought a Republican could win a Senate race in Massachusetts, but the very dominance that should make these elections a lock for one side or the other is the thing that provoked the backlashes that created the unexpected results. Traditionally dominant parties have been upended by a combination of bad economic conditions, terrible candidates and competent challengers. The candidates that could best address the local concerns of voters prevailed. Those identified with distrusted political establishments or discredited national parties failed. Virginia had recently started to become a more heavily Democratic state. The last two governors were Democrats, the state legislature was dominated by Democrats after 2006, and all statewide federal races were being won by Democrats during the last two cycles. 2009 was a reaction against that trend. We are seeing a general backlash against whichever party has prevailed for too long in one place. That does mean that the Democrats are going to have more trouble, because they came into the majority nationally shortly before the financial crisis and recession, but it is the effects of the crisis and recession that are dragging them down far more than any “social democratic agenda.”