Charles Krauthammer has a nasty habit. It’s been going on a little too long, and one of these days, he really ought to do something about it.
As Simon Maloy documented very well this afternoon, the influential Republican media figure has discovered that when his party has a good election cycle, it’s iron-clad proof that conservatism is in ascendance and liberalism is dead. When his party fails, it’s utterly meaningless and offers nothing in the way of broader significance.
Bush wins in 2004? The Republican president clearly enjoys “a solid mandate.” Democrats win in 2006? This was not an “anti-conservative swing” because “both parties have moved to the right.” Dems win again in 2008? “If you want to generalize off of this week’s election, it’s a mistake.”
Republicans won in 2010? It was “a national verdict” that “President Obama’s agenda is dead” for the remainder of time. Democrats won in 2012? That’s only because Republicans “advanced a good argument not well enough.”
Remember when you were a child and you first learned the “heads I win, tails you lose” trick?
All of which leads us to Krauthammer’s latest words of wisdom, offered on Fox last night.
“[T]his is a referendum on Obama’s hyper-liberalism. In 2010 it was sort of aspirational. It was in legislation but hadn’t been enacted yet. Well now we are six years in and we see the results of Obamacare. We see the results of the stimulus, the worst recovery since the Second World War. We see the results of this kind of overreaching government, which at the same time is incompetent.“I don’t have to go through all the scandals, all the failures abroad and at home. And this isn’t only the party in government. This is the party of government. This is liberalism on trial.”
It really isn’t.
For one thing, as we discussed this morning, there are structural factors that make the electoral landscape tilted in Republicans’ favor. It’s not anyone’s fault, so much as it’s a geographic fluke – the parties are looking at a shrunken map where the GOP enjoys a built-in advantage.
For another, if Krauthammer wants to be taken seriously, he really ought to show some degree of intellectual consistency. By his reasoning, Obama may win two national elections by wide margins, but this need not be seen as a popular mandate for the president or his policy agenda. But if Republicans fare well when Obama isn’t on the ballot, then liberalism itself has been rejected by the electorate. Was conservatism on trial in 2012? Was the columnist inclined to declare it dead after the GOP was rejected in a national cycle?
Finally, Krauthammer’s indictment is just bizarre. Yes, we “see the results of Obamacare,” and the Affordable Care Act is working exceptionally well. We “see the results of the stimulus,” which was a terrific success that rescued the nation from the Great Recession. This may be the “worst recovery since” WWII, but as people who pay attention know, this was also the first global economic crash since WWII and comparing it to more routine economic downturns is ridiculous.
The Republican pundit was reluctant to “go through all the scandals,” which was probably for the best given that there have been no genuine Obama-era scandals. Krauthammer thinks Obama’s technocratic, moderate agenda represents “hyper-liberalism,” which is no doubt laugh-out-loud hilarious to hyper-liberals.
Listening to his case against the president is like taking a peek into an alternate universe, which bears little resemblance to our own.
Postscript: If Democrats somehow manage to have a decent night tonight – it’s admittedly unlikely – and they keep the Senate while winning some governors’ offices, I fully expect Krauthammer to reverse course and declare that liberalism wasn’t on trial after all. He’ll be given multiple national platforms to make this argument with a straight face, because that’s just how the game is played.