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Do Republicans freak out like this?

Commenter Kevin Willis writes:

As a long-time Republican -- because that's the best party from which to vote against Democrats from -- I am much more excited by the Democrats reaction to the Brown victory than the Brown victory itself. It's always nice to win a seat that has long been held by the opposition, sure. But it's one vote, and it'll be a hard seat for Republicans to hold onto. The election showed evidence of an unmotivated base and a terrible candidate, and certainly the Democrats can fix that by 2012. And if not by then, then by 2018. Scott Brown will not hold onto that seat for 40 years. You can take that to the bank.

That having been said, I'm loving the Democrats right now. If they torpedo healthcare because of Scott Brown (and, to be fair, punditry and polling data), then that will kill two birds with one stone. It'll help demotivate the base, which ends with a political sea change in November, and cripples healthcare reform.

I tend to think that people overestimate the behavioral differences between the two parties. Democrats are certain that Republicans are lockstep automatons willing to go to any length to win, but Republicans often feel that way about Democrats. That said, I'm trying to think of a time when Republicans overreacted this badly. I remember when they lost former speaker Dennis Hastert's seat in a special election, but I can't recall the party collapsing in on itself in such paroxysms of terror. Harris Wofford used health-care ads to unexpectedly close a 44-point gap to win a special election in Pennsylvania, and Republicans still murdered the Clinton reforms the next year.

So help me out here. Are there even any contenders? Or are Republicans just made of sterner stuff?

By Ezra Klein  |  January 20, 2010; 3:59 PM ET
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You know, up until this last week I've actually been pretty proud of the Dems, or at least the leadership, over the last year. Reid and Pelosi kept reform moving forward, even if it seemed to stall for a moment from time to time. And though some of the concessions they made were tough to bear, the job was getting done.

The reaction to this election is so irrational, I don't know if I can really blame Reid and Pelosi, but man is this party making itself look like a bunch of wimps. Where's the gusto from last January?

Posted by: MosBen | January 20, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

You, who are without mercy, now plead for it?

Posted by: cog145 | January 20, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Republicans have a more efficient message machine that allows them to "bend reality." By all accounts, the 1998 mid term election was a defeat for them. But they went through with impeachment anyway.

Someone described it like this, which is a possible explanation, though not necessarily the one I agree with: Democrats are trained and raised to be "public servants": concerned with the good of their constituents and their needs and desires. So they're very reaction to small changes in the tea leaves. If they get a whiff of an idea that the public doesn't like what they're doing, they get scared, because they feel that's not what they're about. Republicans, on the other hand, are driven by an almost messianic ideology-- their beliefs will save America and the world, if they just get the chance to enact them, and then the hoi polloi will fall into line. The Republican politicians will be less swayed by shifting electoral ground because they're focused on implementing their messianic agenda, rather than being "public servants"-- they believe that this is what "leadership" is.

Posted by: constans | January 20, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse

WTF is wrong with this party? If the Villagers are saying you should tremble in fear because of Massachusetts, doing the opposite is your best bet.

Posted by: daw3 | January 20, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

Republicanism: at least it's an ethos.

(The GOP knows that, as the Money Party, as opposed to the Somewhat Conflicted Money Party, it has a constant backstop.)

The Dems in Congress need a cold shower. They've basically internalized the Village's description of the GOP's "spoilt bastard tantrum" approach to politics over the past year as "bipartisanship", and they're flipping out.

Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | January 20, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

The party that is change-oriented, and trying to shift the status quo is always going to have a harder fight than the side that is aligned with powerful and well connected interests. Its always going to be like this. Power concedes nothing without a demand.

My advice to anyone who wants to be more comfortable the vast majority of the time is to learn to love the current state of things, and join the Republican party, which is never really trying to affirmatively do anything. Life as a reactionary has to be less stressful.

Posted by: zeppelin003 | January 20, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

I've said this many times, and i'm sure I will say it many more: the democrats behave almost indistinguishably from battered women. I am utterly unable to fathom why the party leadership does not regularly engage in CBT with the entire caucus.

Posted by: stackunderflow | January 20, 2010 4:28 PM | Report abuse

You can trust republicans to be the stop sign, I never know what the hell the democrats are even thinking. All I know is I don't really like most of it. I just want to go to work, pay my taxes and not have to worry if my government is selling me out to China. Right now I feel like they would prefer China ruling us already.
They don't believe in individual freedom only whats best for the group. Well I ain't in your group. I am barely surviving out here.

Posted by: HOWDYFROMSANMARCOS | January 20, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, I can't believe you are asking this question. The narrative of the Left for the past year has been that the Republican party is imploding into a (insert you obligatory tea-bag, KKK, whatever characterization) regional party.

I know you and Harold, and EJ don't want to accept it, but this is a center-right country. 2008 was a vote to repudiate Bush, not Reagan.

Posted by: sold2u | January 20, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

Republicans lost both houses of Congress in 2006 because people wanted out of Iraq. Republicans responded by escalating the war.

Democrats lose one Senate seat in a low turn out special election and are ready to abandon on the 1-yard line the issue that goes to their core reason for being while they still have substantial majorities in both houses.

That tells you just about everything you need to know about the two parties, doesn't it?

Posted by: JEinATL | January 20, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

Good posts, EK. Thanks.

The Dems, as a whole, are hugely gutless turds who can't learn from history and are only concerned with being badmouthed by Rush and Fox.

Most people feel significantly worse off than before Obama was elected, while they see the rich bailed out and thriving.

The Dems don’t even have to win at everything – just show that they care about us, rather than making sure the Banksters thrive and aren’t taxed. The Dems could push real financial reform, and campaign on it if the Rs filibuster it. The Ds could push for a truly progressive tax code, so those who were bailed out, those who thrived while the rest of us suffered, paid their fair share; so those who make millions on financial trickery pay the same rates as people who work for a living. And if the Rs filibuster that, the Ds have an issue and can show they really stood up for us.

But the Ds will never do anything like this. They only do what the Banksters tell them to. And the Teabaggers will be fired up in Nov., and the rest of us just won’t care enough – we’ve been ignored too many times.

(I’m not saying I agree – I remember how bad the Rs were. But there aren’t enough like me to counter the Fox Newsians.)

Posted by: AZProgressive | January 20, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

I think the Dems are more worried about the upcoming election and what this loss means for them. Massachusetts is supposed to be very liberal and a shoe-in for them. Having said that, I don't think they should be all that worried. You have to wonder how this election would have played out if either healthcare reform wasn't the hot button issue of the moment or Mass didn't already have a similar program in place. Most polls show that Mass residents are in favor of healthcare reform but since they really have nothing to lose (or at least nothing that's obvious to most voters) by Brown's victory and national reform failing there is little motivation for supporters to go out and vote. I imagine that from the pool of people that normally wouldn't have voted in this election, virtually all of the opponents of national reform got out and voted. Considering most Americans are asking the government for more help with jobs and the economy I doubt this represents more support for the Republican party, people aren't that dumb are they?

Posted by: megankeenan | January 20, 2010 4:48 PM | Report abuse

sold2u, I'd reject your underlying assumption that this is a left/right dynamic so much as an insider/outsider dynamic. A lot of people have a lot of reasons to be scared, and Republicans have been able to harness and exploit those populist fears while Dems haven't even tried after running on a platform of change. But there's no reason to think that if/when the GOP comes back into power the public won't sour on them just as quickly because they won't be able to get anything done either.

Posted by: JEinATL | January 20, 2010 4:49 PM | Report abuse

I have had to revise my working theory of the Democratic Party as follows:

Up until yesterday, I figured that progressives were the strong, driving force for change and that the Blue Dogs were weak at best (or indifferent at worst). But seeing the Democrats freak out over losing one damn Senate election--progressives, to boot!--has been really discouraging, while the few measured things I've read on this have come from Jason Altmire and Allen Boyd, both Blue Dogs.

This being said, I strongly believe that cooler heads (and hotter ones, a/k/a The Base) will prevail and the House will pass the Senate bill. Maybe once the panic subsides a bit. But the fact that there's this level of panic suggests that my donations would be better used elsewhere. The Republicans didn't start wondering if they shouldn't cut taxes when they lost a special election, ever.

And Barney Frank needs to be seriously punished. Maybe by taking his committee away.

Posted by: TheLev | January 20, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

The problem with "Democrats" is not with the voters, or with the policies. The problem with Democrats is that a plurality of the national Democratic elected officials are useless, gutless weasels.

For Republicans, they come from a culture of resentment. They're angry. Democrats are good-government types, and often you get folks like Coakley, who are essentially NPR fundraiser types.

They have no interest in getting their hands dirty.

Seriously. Who's the Democratic equivalent of Karl Rove? Tom DeLay? I'm not talking about someone like Rahm, who is a corporate DLC centrist; I mean someone who's committed to the policies that the Democrats are supposed to be wedded to? Who do we have? Donna Brazile?

And you wonder why we're fracked.

Posted by: antontuffnell | January 20, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

How could you possibly make this call less than one day after the election? And how do Clyburn's comments fit with your "They're freaking out!" freak out?

Just ridiculous.

Posted by: LittleThom | January 20, 2010 6:16 PM | Report abuse

cog145, I'm somewhat comforted to know that I'm not the only one who immediately had memories of the 1980's Transformers animated movie come to my mind unbidden when Ezra used the words "made of sterner stuff". Jebus, it's amazing how much useless stuff is stuck in our heads somewhere from childhood.

As for the Democrats' freakout- well it's almost to be expected, isn't it? But for me this is much more depressing than the usual Democratic cave-ins, and TheLev and other commenters hit the nail on the head when they pointed out why: it's the progressives in the House that seem to be overreacting the worst today. I expect this stuff from Evan Bayh, but not Barney Frank. It's incredibly demoralizing.

Posted by: ricky_b | January 20, 2010 6:48 PM | Report abuse

The problem is, the Democrats have a numerical majority, but a substantial number of them like Nelson, Landrieu, and Reid might as well be Republicans.

Posted by: dustyrhoades | January 20, 2010 7:28 PM | Report abuse

If you weren't so free and easy with other people's money and livelihoods, Klein, you would know that democratic legislators feel their careers and wallets are on the line here. We don't have term limits or citizen legislators of the type the founders had in mind. It's easy for you to say go for it, ram it through, etc, but the senators see the possibility of losing their jobs. The lie they were fed by Clinton -- that they would lose their jobs if they did not pass healthcare -- was exploded last night. They truly have "skin in the game" to use the odious phrase of Rahm Emanuel. You don't. And Coakley who is being predictably dumped on all day today was actually a reasonable candidate. Except for that one gaffe. She's educated, well spoken, accomplished and attractive. Yet she was mowed down by this unknown hunk in a truck? How are the less endowed going to fare?

Posted by: truck1 | January 20, 2010 9:27 PM | Report abuse

I can't think of an example of the Republican's over-reacting so badly to a single seat loss--in the face of bad polling, Senate Republicans abandoned Social Security reform, something supporters regarded as important and worthwhile in the same way progressive supporters see healthcare reform now (if not these particular bills).

But the base has been just disappointed in the overall performance of the Republicans as the Democrat base is right now. And just as unwilling to show up and vote--or give money--when the GOP called with their hands out.

But, as a Republican, I see no way in which compromising with the Republicans or "reaching across the aisle" or treating this as a "wake up call" serves the political interests of the Democrats or the progressive agenda in general. Which is cool with me, I'm just honestly surprised. We've always thought it was the Democrats that were made of sterner stuff.

Ezra quoted me. Cool!

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | January 20, 2010 11:03 PM | Report abuse

truck1, why do you come in here and say dumb stuff like that?

""as a Republican, I see no way in which compromising with the Republicans or "reaching across the aisle" or treating this as a "wake up call" serves the political interests of the Democrats or the progressive agenda in general.""

Kevin, you and I have had our disagreements, and I have mostly, with some exceptions, not really been too impressed with most stuff you tend to post. In any case, I think you're missing out on some aspects of the "progressive agenda." Despite what you may have heard on talk radio, liberalism is not all about burning down the homes of small business owners and cooking their families on a spit before eating them (this will come as a surprise to you, I'm sure). Rather, there is a dominant segment of wonkish liberalism that supports certain "governing aesthetics" where liberals want something and, in exchange for some goodies that conservatives want, convince conservatives that what the liberals want is a good deal for everyone. The idea of the "zero sum game" in which there are winners and losers is disregarded, as such an attitude is considered to be a "conservative" idea. Since wonkish liberalism has as its core belief that adopting a set of policies will be the best thing for everyone, it does sort of make sense for them to think that they can forge a bipartisan consensus to push their ideas through once both sides have enough information. Obama's campaign, from the primary on through to the general, really hit these "wonkish liberal governing aesthetic" codewords and dogwhistles. They were meant to resonate with a certain kind of voter who really _does_ think that solutions come through all sides getting around a table and having a dialog about their differences.

Absent in this governing aesthetic is the realization that some interests are irreconcilable, meaning that one side _must_ lose and the idea that the lizard brains of voters and supporters want to see a "fight."

Posted by: tyromania | January 20, 2010 11:13 PM | Report abuse


I don't think the progressive agenda is one of burning down small businesses, or eating children (if it is, I've missed something).

Beyond that, my contention that trying to cooperate with Republicans will hurt the Democrats right now is just my opinion. Additionally, I don't see such bipartisanship as inherently bad, just that this isn't the tome to be caving. They have the majority, and the Republicans have clearly been the party of "no" just recently. Where do you compromise with "no"? And if you do, don't you alienate the base?

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | January 20, 2010 11:43 PM | Report abuse

*They have the majority, and the Republicans have clearly been the party of "no" just recently. Where do you compromise with "no"? And if you do, don't you alienate the base?*

Kevin, just to clarify, I totally agree with your assessment and your befuddlement here, but as I said, there is a cultural strain within the Democratic party which puts a priority on "good government" aesthetics that eschews the sort of partisan "laying down the law" that you would expect under these circumstances.

From this perspective, bipartisanship and compromise are givens, and if the other side is saying, "no," then it must be because their own side is doing something wrong. It's a strongly held belief from them that, "There's no problem we can't solve if we talk about it and hash out our differences!" I know it doesn't make sense under the present circumstances, but it's a belief system on the aesthetics of governing and legislating that is heavily represented among many Democrats, and Obama's campaign specific pushed all these emotional buttons for people who believed in that kind of thing. Am I making any sense?

Posted by: tyromania | January 21, 2010 7:47 AM | Report abuse

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