WASHINGTON — Unwilling to delay until tomorrow mistakes that could be made immediately, Democrats used 2010 to begin losing 2012. Trying to pre-emptively drain the election of its dangerous (to Democrats) meaning, all autumn Democrats described the electorate as suffering a brain cramp, an apoplexy of fear, rage, paranoia, cupidity — something. Any explanation would suffice as long as it cast what voters were about to say as perhaps contemptible and certainly too trivial to be taken seriously by the serious.
It is amazing the ingenuity Democrats invest in concocting explanations of voter behavior that erase what voters always care about, and this year more than ever — ideas. This election was a nationwide recoil against Barack Obama's idea of unlimited government.
The more he denounced Republicans as the party of "no," the better Republicans did. His denunciations enabled people to support Republicans without embracing them as anything other than impediments to him.
He had defined himself as a world-class whiner even before Rahm Emanuel, a world-class flatterer, declared that Obama had dealt masterfully with "the toughest times any president has ever faced" — quite a claim, considering that before the first president from Illinois was even inaugurated, seven of the then-34 states had seceded. Today's president from Illinois, a chronic campaigner and incontinent complainer who is uninhibited by considerations of presidential dignity, has blamed his difficulties on:
George W. Bush, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, the Supreme Court, a Cincinnati congressman (John Boehner), Karl Rove, Americans for Prosperity and other "groups with harmless-sounding names" (Hillary Clinton's "vast right-wing conspiracy" redux), "shadowy third-party groups" (they are as shadowy as steam calliopes), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and, finally, the American people. They have deeply disappointed him by being impervious to "facts and science and argument."
Actually, as the distilled essence of progressivism, he should feel ratified by Tuesday's repudiation. The point of progressivism is that the people must progress up from their backwardness. They cannot do so unless they are pulled toward the light by a government composed of the enlightened — experts coolly devoted to facts and science.
The progressive agenda is actually legitimated by the incomprehension and anger it elicits: If the people do not resent and resist what is being done on their behalf, what is being done is not properly ambitious. If it is comprehensible to its intended beneficiaries, it is the work of insufficiently advanced thinkers.
Of course the masses do not understand that the only flaw of the stimulus was its frugality, and that Obamacare's myriad coercions are akin to benevolent parental discipline. If the masses understood what progressives understand, would progressives represent a real vanguard of progress?
Of course the progressive agenda must make infinitely elastic the restraints imposed by the founders' Constitution and its principles of limited government. Moving up from them — from the founders and their anachronistic principles — is the definition of progress.
Recently, Newsweek's Jonathan Alter decided, as the president has decided, that what liberals need is not better ideas but better marketing of the ones they have: "It's a sign of how poorly liberals market themselves and their ideas that the word 'liberal' is still in disrepute despite the election of the most genuinely liberal president that the political culture of this country will probably allow."
"Despite"? In 2008, Democrats ran as Not George Bush. In 2010, they ran as Democrats. Hence, inescapably, as liberals, or at least as obedient to liberal leaders. Hence Democrats' difficulties.
Responding to Alter, George Mason University economist Don Boudreaux agreed that interest-group liberalism has indeed been leavened by idea-driven liberalism. Which is the problem.
"These ideas," Boudreaux says, "are almost exclusively about how other people should live their lives. These are ideas about how one group of people (the politically successful) should engineer everyone else's contracts, social relations, diets, habits and even moral sentiments."13 comments on this story
Liberalism's ideas are "about replacing an unimaginably large multitude of diverse and competing ideas ... with a relatively paltry set of 'Big Ideas' that are politically selected, centrally imposed and enforced by government, not by the natural give, take and compromise of the everyday interactions of millions of people."
This was the serious concern that percolated beneath the normal froth and nonsense of the elections: Is political power — are government commands and controls — superseding and suffocating the creativity of a market society's spontaneous order?
On Tuesday, a rational and alarmed American majority said "yes."
George Will's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.