Politicians and Their Self-Delusions

Long ago, at a college mixer, a beautiful girl asked me to dance with her. I was flattered and excited, and a little drunk with my good fortune. But soon enough, I began to realize that she had quarreled with her boyfriend and had just picked me at random as a way of making him jealous. In a few minutes, he cut in and they danced away together while I made my redfaced way back to the stag line.

I was, after all, a naïve college boy with much to learn about how the world works. Experienced politicians should know better, but all too often, they make the same mistake. They assume that everyone who votes for them is enthusiastically endorsing their policies when in fact, they may merely be showing their disapproval of the other guys.

Newt Gingrich and his fellow Republicans made this mistake in 1994, when they won a Congressional majority. They assumed that the American people liked their Contract with America when in fact only 30% of the voters had even heard of it and fewer cared. Buoyed up by the mandate they mistakenly thought they had, the Republicans swaggered through Congress, enacting unpopular legislation and fighting Clinton every inch of the way, until an exasperated public swept them out of office as quickly as they had swept them in.

Pelosi and Co. seem to have made the same mistake. Drunk with success, they chose to interpret their slender 2006 congressional victory as a landslide mandate from the voters to get us out of Iraq and give citizenship to all illegal aliens. Now they sit nursing their wounds and cursing the fickleness of the American public. They blame their defeats, and their phenomenally low confidence rating, on bigoted nativist rednecks and the poisonous seductions of conservative talk radio. They cannot accept the idea that most Americans, however pessimistic about our chances, would like us to win in Iraq and would like to get rid of illegal aliens. And they refuse to realize that their flamboyant rhetoric and theatrics, like their little slumber party in the nation's Capitol, were perceived by the public as the cheap political tricks they were.

Those tricks seem to have boomeranged. According to recent polls, popular support for the war and for President Bush has substantially increased while confidence in Congress has now plummeted to an unheard of 14%.

Next year may be payback time. Politicians should learn that Americans generally vote against a candidate rather than for him. Wisely perceiving that most if not all politicians are scoundrels, they vote for the least obnoxious or least dangerous one. And of he (or she) gets too big for his/her britches, they switch again at the next election. The Democrats are now way out on a limb. If we manage well in Iraq in the coming year, Bush will be a hero and the Democratic candidates will be toast.

Sorry Nancy. Sorry Harry. I've been there and made the same mistake and I know how embarrassing it feels.