Liberal response to GOP victory: A public nervous breakdown

By Michael Medved

In the wake of the sweeping, startling GOP victories in last week’s election, despairing Democrats confront a bitter existential dilemma: Is life worth living under a Republican regime?

Listening to the grim comments of prominent pundits and politicos, it’s obvious that some of liberalism’s leading lights feel sincerely uncertain about the answer to that question. Some of them may even be tempted to follow the example of one impassioned partisan in Wasilla, Alaska, who became so “despondent over Tuesday’s election returns” (according to the Anchorage Daily News) that he climbed to the top of a 230,000-volt utility tower and allowed the dangerous current to course through his body – in the process interrupting electrical service to more than 30,000 homes and businesses. Suffering serious burns over most of his upper body, the unhappy idealist has been hospitalized in critical condition.

Meanwhile, more mainstream liberals express a similar sense of desperation. “The landscape this Nov. 6 is barren,” wailed Matthew Rothschild in The Progressive. From the safe distance of his palatial estate in Revello, Italy, novelist Gore Vidal sniffed: “The same people own the media that own the White House that own the Congress that own the oil fields. They all work together to give a false view of the world to the American people.”

Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, sounded even more pessimistic in a mourning-after statement following the election: “With Trent Lott running the Senate and George W. Bush in charge of the White House and Supreme Court,” she warned, “the health and welfare of America’s and the world’s women and families have never been in greater jeopardy.”

Less hysterical observers might wonder if the “the world’s women and families” actually faced “greater jeopardy” from Hitler or Stalin (or bin Laden, for that matter) than from Trent Lott and Bush, but such historical perspective could spoil Ms. Gandy’s rousing, Churchillian declaration of resistance:

NOW and our hundreds of thousands of advocates will organize, organize, organize cities and towns and communities … We have taken some serious body blows, but nothing will stop us from organizing and rededicating ourselves to progress. We will do whatever it takes to protect women’s lives in every city, town and district …

In other words: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields, and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.”

In a similar vein, James Ridgway headlined his lament in The Village Voice: “VOTERS SET REPUBLICANS LOOSE ON THE WORLD.” One can easily envision rampaging elephants, recklessly released from their cages, trampling the last vestiges of civilization and decency. At least syndicated columnist Matthew Miller focused on specific fears in his commentary, under the chilling headline: “IS THERE ANY LIMIT TO GOP TAX CUTS?”

Miller warned the already terrified public that the diabolical Bushies nursed vicious plans “to shrink spending toward 18 percent of GDP by 2011 (from 19 percent today), even while boosting defense and homeland security by historic amounts.” In other words, conscientious liberals must brace themselves for the inevitable, unspeakable nightmare that government will insist that they pay less of their earnings in taxes.

To face down this assault on enlightened values, Rothschild, in The Progressive, insists that Democrats must forget the middle class and “start appealing to the poor people of color and the majority of Americans who didn’t show up at the polls … The Democrats ought to be able to say: We’ll give you a big raise, we’ll give you free health care, we’ll give your kids a free college education, we’ll curb corporate power and take the money out of politics …” Of course, Mr. Rothschild never hints at who might pay for this “big raise” – not to mention the “free” college and health care – nor does he explain how to “take the money out of politics” without shutting down all advertising on candidates or public issues.

For E.J. Dionne Jr. of the Washington Post, the results on Nov. 5 represent “an electoral catastrophe, worse for Democrats than the 1994 Republican sweep. Then, at least, Democrats held the White House and could shape the political argument. Now they have no power centers, no obvious leader.”

No power center or obvious leader? What about Hollywood, and what about Barbra Streisand? Her strident rhetoric rallied the troops at the biggest Democratic fundraiser of this electoral cycle, and she posted regular “truth alerts” on her website throughout the campaign season, warning against the depredations of those dastardly Republicans. Couldn’t Streisand become the new spiritual and intellectual leader of the dispirited Dems? Perhaps she will assume that role when she emerges from her shell-shocked, self-imposed isolation following the Election Day disaster, and resumes the posting of her truth alerts.

Meanwhile, there is another obvious candidate for new Leader of the Opposition, replacing the now discredited Gephardt and Daschle. As Jay Leno commented on his show: “The final tally is now in and, after this election, the only Democrat who’s still in office is Martin Sheen.”

Ironically enough, the Wednesday night after the real election, the fictional election on NBC’s “The West Wing” played itself out with far happier results for Democrats. President Josiah Bartlett (Mr. Sheen) swept to re-election over his right-wing Republican rival, Robert Ritchie of Florida (played by Ms. Streisand’s off-screen husband, James Brolin).

In a sense, with liberal activists feeling hurt and rejected by this corrupt and fallen world, “The West Wing” offers the chance to escape to a soothing, reassuring alternate reality. One can imagine the wounded spirits, sitting in locked and darkened rooms with the shades drawn, trying to shut out all jarring messages from GOP-dominated America, allowing only the eerie blue glow from their TV screens, immersing themselves in a brighter, better fantasy world in which progressive good guys like President Bartlett always win landslides.