Dozens of explanations zip around the Web for the Republicans’ sweeping victories in last week’s midterms. A lot of them have merit.
Me, I think it mostly comes down to the art of The Story.
Not stories, with a small s, like politicians’ shopworn anecdotes about the grandma who can’t afford her medicine or the Main Street entrepreneur drowning in red tape.
No, The Story, capital T, capital S — the master narrative about what’s right with America and what’s wrong, and what we have to do protect what’s right and fix what’s wrong.
As Tuesday night made clear, the Republican Party is still the master of the master narrative. They are still flogging the brilliant story that Ronald Reagan wove several generations ago. That’s the narrative that still rules most Americans’ passing understanding of issues, even voters who don’t consider themselves Republican. This narrative still governs how even the so-called liberal media covers the game.
And the narrative, because it offers emotional comfort as well as well as neat understanding of how things work, is more powerful than facts. Uncongenial facts bounce off it, and fall to the floor.
Liberals, to their pain, trust way too much in their favorite facts; they pay far too little heed to the power of narrative. Clinton is the only Democrat who can touch Reagan at weaving The Story. Obama is surprisingly bad at it.
So we’re still living in Reagan’s America, where conservative ideas bring the dawn, and liberal notions hurry along the night. It’s a place where government, until proven otherwise, is assumed to be part of the problem. A place where it’s still possible to win by claiming, only months after Lehman Brothers and Deepwater Horizon, that business would cure all our woes if only we lightened up on the regulation.
A place where solutions are said to be simple – if only you have values and principles. Where governing seems complex only if you’re a pointed-headed, secular, coastal liberal aping tired European ideas. A place where deficits are always caused by spending too much, not taxing too little.
I’m not saying that every one of the independent voters who flocked to the GOP banner this time subscribes fully to that vision.
But with Democrats’ pathetic failure to weave any alternative story of compelling heft and emotion, the Reagan narrative is the default to which many Americans retreat in a time of anxiety, anger and confusion.
Ronald Reagan has been dead six years – and he’s still the most important person in American politics.