Excuses, Excuses

Excuses before the competition generally foreshadow a one-sided contest. 

A few years ago, when light-heavyweight boxers Antonio Tarver and Roy Jones prepared to square off in a rematch, referee Jay Nady concluded his in-ring instructions with the obligatory “Any questions?” “I have a question,” Tarver unexpectedly responded. “You got any excuses tonight, Roy?”

On the eve of Election Day, the excuses for inevitable Democratic defeats are already flying.

Excuse Narrative #1 blames the voters. Americans are too ignorant and afraid to fully appreciate President Obama’s greatness. “People out there are still hurting very badly, and they are still scared,” the President recently lectured Democrats at a Boston fundraiser. “And so part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now, and facts and science and argument do[ ] not seem to be winning the day all the time, is because we’re hard-wired not to always think clearly when we’re scared.”

Cartoon by Brett Noel

Excuse Narrative #2 blames big money. “Everything was going great and all of a sudden secret money from God knows where—because they won’t disclose it—is pouring in,” Nancy Pelosi told the party faithful at a Minnesota fundraiser. But spending on Democrats has outpaced spending on Republicans $856 million to $677 million this election cycle. The largest political contributor is not the Chamber of Commerce, David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity, or Karl Rove’s American Crossroads. It is the public employees union AFSCME, which, through siphoning tax dollars from union dues coerced from public employees, has poured more than $87 million to support candidates who seek to expand government. And as Christopher Caldwell recently noted in The New York Times, those living in 19 of the 20 wealthiest zip codes donated more money to Democrats than to Republicans in the 2008 election.

Excuse Narrative #3 blames the Democratic Party’s “centrism.” For academics Paul Krugman and Robert Reich, the Democrats’ problems stem not from going too far to the Left, but from not going far enough. “Mr. Obama never made a full-throated case for progressive policies,” Krugman laments. Despite the largest spending bill in the history of the world launching the Obama presidency, the “too-cautious” stimulus bill didn’t spend enough to jumpstart the economy, maintains Krugman. Similarly, Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich counsels, “Message to Obama: Whatever happens Nov. 2, don’t move to the center. Push even harder for what you believe in.”

These are the most familiar cop-outs. Others will emerge in the aftermath of the defeat.

The silver lining to failure is that it often provides a lesson for future success. Bill Clinton rescued his presidency by moving toward the center after 1994’s elections in which his party lost eight seats in the Senate and 54 in the House. The Tea Party, similarly, has resuscitated the moribund Republican Party through a massive repudiation of the big-spending and budget-busting bailouts of the Bush presidency. 

The impending defeat similarly affords Obama a chance to reboot his floundering presidency. But as the Magic 8-Ball divines, “Don’t count on it.” Incapacity to admit error ensures repetition of those errors.

By blaming big money or the stupidity of voters, the Democrats seem poised to repeat the mistakes that they are unwilling to admit, let alone correct. The excuse narratives are a massive dodge of the painful introspection necessary to salvage the Obama presidency.

The Democrats face massive defeats tomorrow night because they have spent America into massive debt without a thriving economy to show for it; because the administration—whether one points to the attorney general’s obsession with CIA interrogators instead of those they interrogated or to the President’s remark that Cambridge police rather than an unruly Harvard professor “acted stupidly”—reflexively sides against order; and because the administration arrogantly disregards the public will—think the ObamaCare vote or the immigration lawsuit against Arizona—in favor of their enlightened vision. They know best. 

Not overcoming this arrogant alienation from the electorate is bad for the Democrats. It’s worse news for the country.
About five minutes after Antonio Tarver confronted Roy Jones about making excuses, Tarver inflicted a highlight-reel hook on his opponent’s jaw that ended the fight even more dramatically than he had begun it. The Election Day-eve excuses suggest a similarly devastating outcome for the Democrats in Campaign 2010.