In the old Soviet Union, Kremlinologists would read the state party newspaper Pravda not so much for the news it contained, but to glean what the commissars wanted readers to believe the commissars were thinking. The closest we have to that in America is the New York Times. Obviously, it’s not a state organ, and there are many fine journalists there, but it does play a similar role for the Democratic party, often reporting less on what Democrats actually think and more on what Democrats want readers to believe is the current state of Democratic thinking.
Two days after the midterm Democratic Götterdämmerung, Team Clinton let it be known that it thinks the election was good news for it. “Midterms, for Clinton Team, Aren’t All Gloom,” proclaimed the understated headline in the Times.
“A number of advisers saw only upside for Mrs. Clinton in the party’s midterm defeats,” reports Amy Chozick. There’s no mention of any advisers seeing a downside. Indeed, a few sentences later, Chozick tells us there is a “consensus . . . among those close to Mrs. Clinton that it is time to accelerate her schedule.”
“In many ways,” Chozick continues, “Tuesday’s election results clear a path for Mrs. Clinton. The lopsided outcome and conservative tilt makes it less likely she would face an insurgent challenger from the left.”
Maybe it’s true that that there is a silver lining for Hillary Clinton in the shellacking her party took last week. Maybe her ineffective stumping for Democrats means nothing. Maybe a 17-percentage-point loss for putative Clinton Democrat Mark Pryor in Clinton’s home base of Arkansas is a blessing in deep, deep, deep disguise. Maybe the staggering indifference of the Democratic coalition of young people and minorities on display last week is proof that they are really just husbanding their voting energies for 2016. And maybe the fact that the “war on women” shtick proved as stale as a 1980s sitcom catchphrase is irrelevant for a candidate so invested in her gender.
But the notion that this monumental rebuke of Clinton’s party, and the administration she served in, amounts to an unambiguous Clinton win invites many to ask, “What you talkin’ ’bout, Hillary?”
You can always tell you’re being spun if the opposite facts would yield the same result. Does anyone doubt that if the Democrats Clinton vigorously campaigned for had held on to the Senate, the same people would be telling the New York Times that the election results were a boon for Clinton? If the midterm results are scaring away potential left-wing insurgents, why is Clinton Inc. expediting its schedule? Shouldn’t the lack of a challenger make it easier for Clinton to lay low for a while longer?
Not according to this alleged consensus among her brain trust.
Chozick quotes from a “Ready for Hillary” fundraising email: “Now more than ever we need to show Hillary that we’re ready for her to get in this race. America needs Hillary’s leadership.”
Ah, so at a time when an unpopular president — in profound denial about what the voters were saying on Election Day — is tarnishing the whole Democratic brand, it makes irrefutably good sense for Clinton to further merge her own brand with her party’s?
How will President Obama respond to the notion that Clinton must now assume the mantle of leader of her party, never mind the nation? What, exactly, can an out-of-work politician do that will actually provide tangible proof of her “leadership”? How will it help Clinton to distance herself from an incumbent president still popular among the base voters she will inevitably need in 2016? Frankly, I have no idea.
Although Obama and much of the media establishment are convinced that the midterms were a revolt against, variously, Washington, incumbents, gridlock, and/or obstructionism, the actual election returns were almost uniformly about throwing out incumbent Democrats, reelecting “obstructionist” Republicans, or electing a new generation of Republicans who vowed to stand up to Obama.
I think it’s obvious Democrats could use a fresh face or at least a politician more adept at navigating such problems. The consensus thinks differently — or at least wants you to think it does.
— Jonah Goldberg is a senior editor of National Review and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. You can write to him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2014 Tribune Content Agency, LLC