I wish I had a flattering one-idea explanation for the outcome of Tuesday's election, where Republicans took a majority in the house, and made gains in, but did not take, the Senate (weren't they supposed to do that?). But I know such an explanation would likely be inadequate. One idea, I think, couldn't explain the entire complex thing. Not even the one chosen by most political scientists (i.e., the people who study this stuff as a job)–the economy, the economy, the economy–could do the trick.
But I'm not George Will. He has studied the data, consulted with the nation's top political scientists and economists, and come to the conclusion that one idea–the idea he blathers about all of the time–happens to the be just the one that explains the election, the desires of the American people, and the failures of "liberalism":
It is amazing the ingenuity Democrats invest in concocting explanations of voter behavior that erase what voters always care about, and this year more than ever – ideas. This election was a nationwide recoil against Barack Obama's idea of unlimited government.
It's just false that Obama believes in "unlimited government" (or anything remotely close to it). But perhaps few of George Will's devoted readers would likely believe that. This notion–which pretty much drives the rest of this sorry piece of thinking–forms the basis of George Will's thinking about government, inasmuch as his thinking, to the extent that you can even call it that, is entirely defined by opposition to a fantasy opponent, one who holds beliefs no one really holds, and one who, tellingly, never utters the words he attributes to them.
So he spends the rest of this piece defining this liberal–citing not one thing a liberal in recent years has actually endorsed–but relying on the authority of someone else's hollow man:
Recently, Newsweek's Jonathan Alter decided, as the president has decided, that what liberals need is not better ideas but better marketing of the ones they have: "It's a sign of how poorly liberals market themselves and their ideas that the word 'liberal' is still in disrepute despite the election of the most genuinely liberal president that the political culture of this country will probably allow."
"Despite"? In 2008, Democrats ran as Not George Bush. In 2010, they ran as Democrats. Hence, inescapably, as liberals, or at least as obedient to liberal leaders. Hence Democrats' difficulties.
Responding to Alter, George Mason University economist Don Boudreaux agreed that interest-group liberalism has indeed been leavened by idea-driven liberalism. Which is the problem.
"These ideas," Boudreaux says, "are almost exclusively about how other people should live their lives. These are ideas about how one group of people (the politically successful) should engineer everyone else's contracts, social relations, diets, habits, and even moral sentiments." Liberalism's ideas are "about replacing an unimaginably large multitude of diverse and competing ideas . . . with a relatively paltry set of 'Big Ideas' that are politically selected, centrally imposed, and enforced by government, not by the natural give, take and compromise of the everyday interactions of millions of people."
To most liberals, Alter hardly counts as a representative (hey, let's torture now!). And besides, Will obviously distorts what Alter meant. Alter probably meant something like: how can mildly progressive ideas about health care lose to people (just an example) who fear government taking away their medicare (but hey, go read it for yourself–it's a review of a zillion books about liberals). That point, I think, deserves fairer consideration.
The funny thing about this passage, however, is the bolded part. Will's assistant found someone else who shares the same hollow man he does in precisely the same way he does: a grand characterization, attributable to no one, full of ad hominem and invective. And he cites that as evidence for his view.