Ace has an excellent post up today about the way in which the media invariably frames Democratic and Republican victories: when Democrats win, Americans are intelligently embracing the Democrat agenda; when Republicans win, Americans are acting irrationally, operating from fear, or failing to understand the virtues of the Democrat agenda. As Ace says:
I’d be curious to ask a media type — put Anderson Cooper on the spot, say — if he could name a single election in which Republicans won in which he’d say the public embraced Republican policies, and weren’t simply reacting emotionally to a “flawed Democratic candidate” (Kerry, Gore) or a “poor messaging campaign” (the 2010 midterms) or having “a temper tantrum” (the 1994 Republican capture of Congress).
I don’t think they’d confess that even with Reagan, who is long dead and therefore safe for the Democrats to praise. But the media would say the public was simply reacting to the poor economic and foreign policy record of Jimmy Carter, rather than affirmatively choosing the Reaganite policy prescriptions.
Think about it: in Media Land, it is impossible for a Republican victory to be the product of a principled ideological stand. Republicans never win. It’s simply that, sometimes, Democrats lose. The default setting in Media Land is a Democrat victory.
I actually know a lot about what I call “negative decision making,” since it’s how I ended up becoming a lawyer. Growing up, I always knew that I was going to get a PhD in history. My tenure at Berkeley changed that certainty, for several reasons. First, with a few rare exceptions, the history professors at Berkeley were so dreadful, I simply couldn’t see any virtue in making a history professorship a career goal. Second, having hated my years at Berkeley, the thought of seven more years in academia left me cold. Third, in my senior year at Berkeley, rumor had it that there were only four openings for college level history professors in the entire United States. Paying to study for seven more years, merely so I could end up unemployed, seemed like a pretty poor bargain to me. I decided then and there to keep history as my hobby (which I’ve done, with pleasure), and cast about for something else to do with my life.
This is where I began the negative decision making. Having no idea what to do with myself, since the loss of my lifelong dream created a large vacuum in my head, I promptly entered into a passive-aggressive decision-making strategy. I signed up for a Stanley Kaplan LSAT course. Understand, though, that while this seems like an affirmative act, I wasn’t actually planning at that time to take the LSAT. My thinking, instead, went along these lines: “If I enjoy the LSAT class, maybe I’ll take the test.”
As it happened, I enjoyed the Kaplan class a great deal, as I learned all sorts of interesting test-taking techniques. So, I signed up for the LSAT itself. I didn’t have any plans for law school. Instead, I said to myself, “I’ll take the LSAT test and, maybe, if I do well, I’ll apply to law school.”
Having learned all those cool techniques at Stanley Kaplan, I did very well on my LSATs. By this time, I was well along the law path, despite the fact that I hadn’t yet decided I wanted to go to law school or be a lawyer.
As you can guess, after the LSATs, my next step was, “I guess I’ll apply to law school. If I get in, maybe I’ll go.” I ended up getting accepted to several law schools, most of which I couldn’t afford. Fortunately, I had the good sense to choose The University of Texas at Austin, which I could afford, and which was a delightful place to be a law student.
I spent the next three years partying, studying, and promising myself that, if I graduated, I’d think about getting a job as a lawyer. By this time, of course, the career tide was inexorable. I eventually spent the first four years after my graduation working, quite unhappily, for a couple of prestigious law firms. Only when I’d reach the nadir of professional misery did I finally take an affirmative stance: I went into business for myself. No money, but I’d finally found my way and worked very happily for more two decades.
The point behind my long autobiographical narrative is that I really understand passive, negative decision-making — and I can say with some assurance that this is not what voters routinely do. Certainly there is a craving for something new (or, more accurately, a desire to escape from the old) every four years, and even more strongly every eight years. For the most part, though, voters are actively heading towards something. Having tried Carter-esque malaise and high taxes, they affirmatively seek out Reagan joie de vivre and lower taxes. Eight years of Clintonesque corruption resulted, not a in a running away from Clinton, but in a running towards the wholesome George Bush. In 2010, voters weren’t just repulsed by the Democrat spending spree, they were actively seeking politicians who promised to close the checkbook and hide the pen.
My hope — although the American voters have been erratic of late — is that, in 2012, voters, having tired of Obama’s and the Democrats’ profligacy, whining, national security weakness, etc., will not only reject them, but will embrace strong Republican/conservative candidates. This will not be passive. Passive behavior would see voters sitting out the election entirely or throwing away votes on useless third party candidates. 2012 will be active: having learned a very painful lesson since 2006, when the Democrats took over Congress, voters will be ready to embrace, enthusiastically and intelligently, the Republican alternative. (And don’t tell me this is a pipe dream. I need my dreams.)