After the 2004 presidential election Democrats were crushed. Four more years of George W. Bush seemed unthinkable, disastrous. But now that the Obama era is beginning, Democrats should view John Kerry's defeat as something else entirely: the luckiest break the party has caught since at least the 1964 election, which yielded the presidency of Lyndon Johnson and two-thirds Democratic congressional majorities. (Those 1964 victories made possible the passage of a long list of legislation backed by northern Democrats, including federal aid to education, Medicare, and the Voting Rights Act.) Indeed, had Bush lost in 2004, the Democrats simply wouldn't be anywhere near as powerful as they are now.He goes on the theorize that the Democrats wouldn't have done as well in the 2006 congressional elections without the spur of the anti-Bush vote. And then the financial collapse would have occurred on a President Kerry's watch. He doesn't mention, but we could add in that Kerry would never have supported General Petraeus's strategic changes in Iraq and so would have presided over a humiliating retreat for the United States in the Middle East. And I would also add in that it's hard to imagine a President Kerry endearing himself to the American people after four years of seeing his lugubrious, yet pompous demeanor for four years.
Of course, many will assert that a second Bush term is a very steep price to pay for today's success. But consider the pattern of events that likely would have followed Kerry's election. He would have faced a Republican Congress substantially weighted against him and hell-bent on disrupting his legislative agenda. That means no universal health care coverage and no elimination of Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy. Past experience also indicates that the electorate probably would not have blamed the Republicans for the congressional gridlock.
Democrats would have then had to try to rally behind a reelection effort for President Kerry while attempting to elect more Democrats to Congress. We can well imagine that the results in the congressional elections in 2006 and 2008 would have been quite different if we hadn't been experiencing such an anti-Republican environment this year.
Instead, as Rohde points out, the Democrats are in their most powerful position in Washington since after LBJ's victory in 1964 with a popular President Elect and strong majorities in both houses. What was such a disappointment to Democrats four years ago may have turned out to be the best thing for the party in over forty years.
There were quite a few conservatives I read during the past election that said that a loss by John McCain could create an opportunity for the Republicans to clarify their message and strengthen themselves for the long haul. I always thought that that was a silly argument. Losing never seems the best strategy even with as unsatisfactory candidate as McCain. And a loss won't forestall all the structural changes in the bureaucracy and judiciary that the Democrats can put into effect that will be almost impossible to roll back. But now that we've experienced that loss, the best we can hope for is that some conservative will be writing the equivalent of David Rohde's article four or eight years from now. I don't expect it, but which liberals would have predicted his argument four years ago?