The elite media appears willing to publish as many of these ‘America is a center-right country’ opinion pieces as they can solicit. Today, we get the editor of Governing magazine, Alan Ehrenhalt, informing us that:

…despite the Democrats’ remarkable gains over the last two national elections, the party remains to the left of the electorate.

Ehrenhalt offers no supporting information to bolster his thesis, but just tosses this trope out in tautological fashion. That’s a shame because it ruins an otherwise useful and informative essay. As I have written often, the new Democratic majority is both better and more cohesive than the old New Deal coalition of Southern Segregationists and Big City bosses. Ehrenhalt fully understands this:

But President Carter failed to grasp — or refused to confront — the mathematical reality that every reporter in the press gallery instinctively understood. That Democratic majority was almost totally illusory. Of the 292 House Democrats sworn in that January, about 70 were conservative Southerners with little personal loyalty to the president and none at all to a mainstream Democratic agenda. Perhaps 30 more were big-city machine Democrats, the last of a dying breed, with little interest in public policy at all other than offering an occasional vote to labor and asking politely for instructions from the party back home. To get anywhere, Mr. Carter needed help from what was then still a sizeable contingent of moderate Republicans. Yet, falsely confident in his majority, he made little effort to reach out.

In many ways, the political environment has turned upside down. The Democratic Party in Congress is no longer the fragile and ideologically disparate group it was in 1977 or even 1993; it is now a remarkably cohesive left-of-center majority, with the presence of several dozen fiscally conservative “blue dog” Democrats in the House only a minor obstacle to its unity.

Think about this for a minute. President Carter had bigger Democratic majorities than President Obama, but less actual support for his policies. This is in spite of Carter running as a conservative Democrat, while Obama ran as a liberal with a centrist tone. Any neutral observer would conclude that the current Congress is far to the left of the Congress enjoyed by Jimmy Carter. Any fair comparison of Carter and Obama’s mandates would conclude that Obama’s mandate is further to the left.

Ehrenhalt’s thesis is premised on two dubious assumptions. The first, which is implicit, is that the electorate, as a whole, has moved far to the right since 1977. The second, which he makes explicit, is that the current Congress is further to the left than the electorate. In other words, their mandate is illusory.

Now the question is not whether the next Congress will be willing to support President Obama’s vision, but whether this majority will want to move further in a liberal direction than the country wishes to move.

Barack Obama is a man of compelling gifts, but in the end he was elected primarily because the Republicans had made a hash of things, not because of his charm or elegance. If he shows any early signs of being the ideological left-wing president John McCain warned of, he will be stepping into his own kind of political trap, different from the ones that ensnared Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, but potentially just as debilitating.

Herein lies the true debate. Have the Republicans’ mistakes led to non-ideological backlash? Or, has the electorate carefully observed the full fruits of unfettered conservatism and rejected it? Inside the Beltway, it appears that there is a strong preference for the former analysis. Obama’s mandate is a almost wholly negative one. People didn’t so much vote for Obama’s ideas as against more of the same Republican policies.

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