The De Blasio Democrats

Column: Liberal, extreme, and contemptuous of public opinion

November 21, 2014

Bill de Blasio, the New York mayor, says he knows why Democrats lost the 2014 election. Income inequality defines our times, he said during a visit to Washington this week, and his party did not talk about the issue enough. De Blasio needs a hearing aid. Democrats speak of little else.

Dodging questions about Hillary Clinton, de Blasio praised Elizabeth Warren. He called the liberal heroine "one of the indispensable voices" among Democrats, and appeared with her at a Center for American Progress event later that day. The policy conference featured other darlings of the left: Julian Castro, Tammy Baldwin, Kamala Harris, Bishop Gene Robinson, Gina McCarthy, and John Podesta. Listening to the speakers, you would not have known that two weeks earlier liberalism had encountered its worst setback in decades.

Indeed, President Obama and congressional Democrats have shown no signs of rethinking their political and policy strategies following the 2014 election. The president has veered left, calling for government regulation of the Internet, agreeing to a burdensome climate deal with China, and ordering an amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants. Harry Reid elevated Warren to a leadership position and voted to kill the Keystone Pipeline—as well as Mary Landrieu’s Senate career. Nancy Pelosi, the most unpopular congressional leader in the country, is going nowhere.

The gap between Democratic performance and liberal behavior is stunning. President Obama is responsible for two of four postwar GOP landslides, polls show Americans dissatisfied with Washington and eager to have congressional Republicans set the agenda, and there is growing fear among Democratic consultants and journalists that the party is headed toward more defeats. How have liberals responded? By blowing a raspberry in all of our faces.

The case of Ben Ray Lujan is instructive. This week Pelosi chose the New Mexico Democrat to run the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Young and Hispanic, Lujan represents the "coalition of the ascendant" upon which Democrats have placed their hopes for a liberal future. But Lujan is a political novice—elected to Congress in 2008—from a deep blue majority-minority district. He boasts a 100 percent rating from the ACLU and a 97 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters. A member of the Progressive Caucus, he voted for its far-left budget. This is the guy Democrats want recruiting candidates in Missouri, Iowa, North Carolina, and Virginia?

Obama, Reid, and Pelosi have forgotten how they won the majority. The liberal resurgence began in 2004 when Barack Obama denounced partisanship and ideology at the Democratic National Convention. The next year Howard Dean unveiled the "Fifty State Strategy" to expand the Democrats’ appeal. The goal was to be competitive everywhere. Rahm Emanuel and Chuck Schumer recruited candidates that appealed to suburbanites and the white working class. Obama in 2008 sold himself as a redemptive figure transcending the grievances and gridlock of the past. Strong candidates, an unpopular war, and economic downturn began a period of liberal ascendancy that is ending only now.

Either the Democrats do not recognize the connection between the tactics they employed once in power and their diminishing clout today, or they do not care. They went ahead with an unpopular health care law despite the blazing "stop" signal that was Scott Brown’s election in 2010. They betrayed their pledges on campaign finance to run the most expensive negative campaign in history in 2012. They abolished the judicial filibuster to pack the D.C. court of appeals with liberals before Republicans won the Senate in 2014. The next step is to test the limits of Obama’s executive authority before he leaves office in 2017.

Jeffrey Bell and Frank Cannon described the Obama approach in a 2012 Weekly Standard essay. "The essence of the Obama strategy was an odd combination of moral lecturing and raw power—Harvard married to the Chicago Way," they wrote. On Obamacare, "The administration focused on mobilizing the left power base (labor, the social left, AARP, and Hollywood) and moving through special interests (hospitals, insurance companies, Fortune 500) to assemble, piece by piece, an economic and lobbying juggernaut." The process was polarizing, vindictive, corrupting. And it worked.

The Obama strategy does not make for a popular presidency or Democratic Party. But it is remarkably successful in delivering goods to liberal interest groups. It has given the president what he wants: Obamacare, a second term, and an immigration weapon he believes he can wield against Republicans. But there have also been costs: a recasting of his public image, the loss of Congress, the failure to restore trust in government, and who knows what consequences to come.

The movement that launched a 50-state strategy has been reduced to a 50-enclaves strategy. Democrats are limited to the majority-minority districts, cities, and coastal bastions of the liberal coalition. This is a somewhat surprising outcome for a party that trumpets its populism and democratic heritage. What has surprised me most, however, is the brazenness with which the president and his allies declare their apathy toward public sentiment as expressed in elections that Democrats lose. Who cares about the Americans who bothered to vote on November 4, they say. They’re not our people.

"To the two-thirds of voters who chose not to participate in the process yesterday, I hear you, too," Obama said at his post-election press conference. How can he hear these voters? Dental fillings? By what means does he divine their hopes, fears, and needs? A Ouija board?

I have a test to determine the lunacy of a Democratic talking point: If E.J. Dionne is the only reporter who parrots it, then it’s too crazy for most journalists. Sure enough, writes Dionne, by issuing his unconstitutional executive order, Obama "is paying close attention to the feelings of a very important group of voters—the tens of millions who supported him two years ago but were so dispirited that they stayed away from the polls on November 4." It’s the silent majority—so silent it does not even vote.

This is too much for the press corps but not for liberal politicians. Asked during his trip to D.C. about a recent poll showing a stark racial divide in his approval rating, Bill de Blasio said, "I question whether they are getting the totality of the citizens of the city." He must have forgotten that he too won an election with record low turnout. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the de Blasio Democrats: extremists who gratify special interests while disregarding public opinion. It is a vanishing breed. At this rate, soon only E.J. will be left.