Late this morning, the House passed H.R. 8373, the Right To Contraception Act 228-195. Every Democrat and all but 8 Republicans voted aye. 195 Republicans voted against it? What the hell is wrong with these people? Writing for Politico Magazine this morning before the vote and on a different subject, John Harris may have stumbled onto the answer. He was delving into why Republicans still love Trump and why Democrats are not so crazy about Biden.
“Conservatives," he wrote, “generally have low demands and low expectations of government. There are some non-negotiable items that GOP leaders must accommodate— business supporters demand low regulation and social activists demand opposition to legal abortion. But, especially in the Trump era, what partisans want most of all is a leader who gives voice to the contempt they feel toward liberals, the media and assorted cultural elites. This is a bar Trump easily cleared. Progressives, by contrast, have high demands for activist government. There is a long roster of specific items that they want enacted, expanding government’s role in health care, education, income equality and transitioning to a low-carbon energy future. This is a bar that Biden cannot easily clear, especially without robust Democratic majorities in Congress. The Democratic coalition itself is also less likely to swoon for its presidents, especially one with modest rhetorical gifts like Biden. The dominant engine of the party increasingly is college-educated urban and suburban voters. These voters’ worldviews have been shaped on campuses and in white-collar professional settings where skepticism, independent judgment and even direct challenges to authority are natural. That also makes rolling eyes at Biden, or fuming over his decision to do this or failure to do that, come naturally.”
I wish Democratic voters would reflect that when they vote. More often than not, they don’t. Biden should never have won the 2020 primary. The way he is now-- the way no one much likes-- is how he's been since 1973. College-educated or not, Democratic voters are as easily manipulated as Republican voters. Just look at some of the atrocious decisions Democratic primary voters have made so far this year: they have selected anti-Choice fanatics Henry Cuellar (TX) and Don Davis (NC), lobbyist Glenn Ivey (MD), and, despite attractive, viable alternatives in every one of these races, a slew of absolutely horrendous congressional candidates in-- of all states-- California, like Robert Garcia, Lou Correa, Sydney Kamlager, Christy Smith, Juan Vargas, Scott Peters, Adam Gray and Brad Sherman… Nationally, the growing list of crappy Democratic candidates who have been picked by the voters this year could fill a whole page. And then they wonder why the party has fallen so far since its glory days in the '30s and '40s.
This touches on something about progressives that goes even deeper: They may just be wired differently, in ways that don’t correlate to uncritical support of party leaders. Academic researchers, like social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, have explored how conservatives more naturally elevate values such as loyalty and respect for authority while liberals gravitate more emphatically to values such as liberty and fairness. Even in choosing a household pet, Haidt wrote in his 2012 book, The Righteous Mind, conservatives like dog breeds that are loyal and liberals want breeds that are gentle.
In fact, the Democratic voters Biden is trying to rally are less like dogs than cats, not easy to herd. A new poll by NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist showed Biden winning approval of 75 percent of Democrats— a level that is lower than Trump ever received from Republicans during his presidency, when he typically enjoyed GOP support in the high 80s or low 90s.
In 2020, Trump inspired enough mania among partisans— despite an impeachment, gaps in fulfilling campaign promises, the loss of congressional majorities, a long roster of erratic statements and behavior and weak approval ratings among the general public— that he managed to increase his vote total from 2016 by more than 11 million voters.
He wrote that an “uncomfortable reality for Biden is that modern Democrats, as a type, just aren’t that into mania. Republicans, as a type, are.” He did note, though, that Obama— a perfectly ordinary and mediocre president— was, in part, an exception, particularly during his first campaign. Harris closed with the observation that the old chestnut that Bill Clinton popularized was that “Republicans fall in line while Democrats want to fall in love. Increasingly, though Republicans both fall in love and in line with the leaders at the top of the GOP ticket.”