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Simple slogans won't cut it anymore

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POSTED: October 6, 2010 10:17 a.m.
When John Kerry calls you out of touch, you must be so far out of touch that you need to call Mazlan Othman, the U.N.’s designated liaison to space aliens, to re-establish contact with Planet Earth.
So it was a signal moment when the Massachusetts senator took it upon himself to explain the outlandish folkways of the American people: “We have an electorate that doesn’t always pay that much attention to what’s going on, so people are influenced by a simple slogan rather than the facts or truth or what’s happening.”
Take that, Velma Hart. Those who saw Hart, a middle-class, African-American mother of two, confront President Barack Obama at a CNBC town-hall meeting last month thought they had heard a genuine voice of dismay at the state of the economy and Obama’s failure to deliver on his golden promises.
If we take Hart as representative of the public mood, though, Kerry must have instead discerned a clueless complainer. If only Hart were sufficiently plugged in, she’d have the sense to get over her economic anxiety. So what if she fears returning to frank-and-beans dinners? Does John Kerry carp when he’s forced to move his $7 million yacht from Rhode Island to Massachusetts, where he has to shoulder an additional $500,000 tax bill?
Whatever else you think of Democrats, they are lousy amateur sociologists and political scientists. Whenever the public rejects them, it’s a “temper tantrum,” in late ABC News anchor Peter Jennings’ term for the 1994 electoral rout. Liberal Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson has teed up that tried-and-true explanation for this fall: “The American people are acting like a bunch of spoiled brats.”
Obama has his own theory of voter irrationality. In his view, if only economic conditions were stronger, reasonable people would be Obama-supporting secularists with liberal mores. During the 2008 primaries, he infamously explained that people in rural areas who weren’t supporting him were clinging to guns and religion because of the poor economy. It’s the all-purpose explanation for any public sentiment that discomfits liberals.
Not far behind is the plaint that “the system” is broken so people are understandably frustrated by the “pace of change.” This is the same system through which Democrats forced a historic $800 billion stimulus bill, a historic health-care law and a historic financial-regulation bill.
Republican Rep. Mike Pence likes to point out that annual deficit figures for much of the Bush administration have now become monthly deficit figures. The public’s reaction against the debt and the manifest failure of the stimuli should be easily understandable.
If John Kerry’s prognosis has any force, it applies to the dew-eyed Obama supporters who bought the fairy tale two years ago and won’t bother to show up at the polls in November. These so-called surge voters, many of them young people, are exactly the ones who believed what Kerry calls “simple slogans” — “hope and change,” “yes, we can” and other timeless gems of vapid marketing.
When the late Democratic Sen. Mo Udall ran for president in 1976, he commented after one primary loss, “The voters have spoken ... the bastards.” That’s a great line, but a poor message for a political party.

Lowry is editor of the National Review.
 

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