Tuesday, January 25, 2005

"Mug Him Again!"

Nice column by John O'Sullivan today.

The Democrats were nervously realizing that, unless something dramatic happens, they will remain firmly committed to policies and attitudes that have lost them the last three elections.

It was reminiscent of the liberal judge who announced from the bench that although he had recently been mugged, he would nonetheless continue to impose short sentences — at which a passer-by yelled: "Mug him again." What the Democrats need is for someone to shout "Mug them again."

Unfortunately for them, that will be neither the media nor the other cultural elites in American life. Indeed, they will continue to mislead the Democrats about the relative popularity of Democrat and Republican policies, in part because they mislead themselves on the same topics.

You might say that there are two political spectrums in America today — an elite spectrum and a popular spectrum.

The elite spectrum has the Democrats in the center, the voters on the center-right, and the Republicans on the far right. Thus when some judicial appointee is discovered to have criticized racial preferences, he is described by the New York Times or CBS News as "out of the mainstream" even though about two thirds of the electorate is opposed to preferences too.

The same dismissive treatment is meted out to public figures who criticize the U.N., call for more defense spending, advocate "workfare," express pro-life views, oppose gay marriage, and so on. All are marginalized as extreme or wayward in the establishment media. As the example of racial preferences suggests, however, these judgments reflect elite opinion rather than the views of the American electorate.

When we look at the latter, a very different arrangement of political players begins to emerge. The popular spectrum of political opinion has the Democrats and liberal elites on the Left, the Republicans in the middle, and the voters out to their Right.

Immigration as an issue illustrates the popular spectrum to an almost embarrassingly exaggerated extent. About 70 percent of Americans (and only about one-fifth of American elites) think that mass immigration is a serious threat to the U.S. and needs to be curtailed. There are votes in cutting immigration levels — but you would never guess this from elite media coverage. And responding to this, both parties favor increasing immigration levels and reducing restrictions on entry.

What makes the Democrats' task of recovery so difficult is that the issues that most concern voters — namely, national security and moral issues — fit into the popular spectrum better (i.e., the Democrats and the voters are at opposite ends of the spectrum on such issues — with the GOP in the middle). But because the Democrats take their cue from elite institutions such as Hollywood and the media, they never realize their vulnerability. And every election defeat astonishes them.

If a Democrat were to outflank the GOP on an issue with a high salience on the popular spectrum, they might get back in the game. Senator Hillary Clinton has hinted she might do precisely that over illegal immigration — where President Bush is extremely vulnerable. But the Democrats' first forays into reconsidering such sensitive policies have plainly run into the sands of timidity, dogmatism, and elite complacency.

As long as that is the case, the Democrats will continue to lose — and continue to be surprised.

I've never been too worried about being outflanked on illegal immigration. It takes a Nixon to go to China, and if Hillary Clinton wants to open this issue as a live topic, I'm sure the Republicans would have no problem at all changing their tune and getting serious about immigration. Please don't throw us into that briar patch, Mrs. Clinton! IMHO this is an issue that is just waiting for someone (and it will have to be a Democrat) to light the match.

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