Sunday, 21 December 2003

Anger and the Democrats

Steven Taylor’s latest PoliColumn in the Birmingham News attempts to explain the undercurrent of anger in the Democratic Party. In particular, he notes one factor that many have overlooked: the impotence associated with losing control after decades of dominance, particularly in Congress.

The fourth reason for Democrats’ anger, and perhaps the most abstract—but in many ways the most significant—is their deep abiding frustration that the Democratic Party as a whole is experiencing in its role as the minority. Since the 1994 midterm election, the Democratic Party has not controlled the House of Representatives, and only briefly controlled the Senate (and then only because of the defection from the Republican Party of Jim Jeffords of Vermont).

For a party that convincingly, and often by dramatic margins, controlled the House for four decades, and indeed for 29 of 36 Congresses since the New Deal era (1933) and the Senate for all but eight years of that same period, this lack of control is a devastating fact to which I would argue they have not yet adjusted.

To reiterate: Prior to 1994, the last time the Democrats lost control of the whole Congress was in 1953, and that loss of power lasted a mere two years. Given that many members of Congress were in Congress during the era of Democratic domination, it is hard to forget those halcyon days of power.

Of course, anger has been a driving force in American politics since, well, the Mayflower landed, occasional “eras of good feeling” notwithstanding. To the extent there’s more anger in the political ether these days, it probably reflects the relative parity of the parties more than any clear change in tone.

One other point Steven raises in passing is that Democrats “considered [Bush] something of a dim bulb.” This point should not be minimized. Few things are more frustrating than being outsmarted by someone you regard as mentally inferior—and when it’s been happening for three years on a near-daily basis, it’s got to chafe mightily.* Yet there is no sign that Democrats have given up on the “dim bulb” theory—which must make every defeat seem even more frustrating.

* The best parallel I can draw to this situation is the experience of Ole Miss’ SEC opponents this season. Going into every game, the Rebel pass defense was rated among the worst in the country. Yet every SEC opponent—save LSU who escaped from Oxford with a 3-point win—couldn’t capitalize on this apparent weakness; indeed, the pass defense stepped up and made key plays in every single game down the stretch, even in the loss to LSU.