Kevin Drum makes the case that liberals might be better off having had Kerry lose in 2004 than they would be had Kerry won and it were now 2008 under a Kerry administration beset by the same sorts of problems that we currently face.

This is an argument that pops up now and again, sometimes under the guise of ‘keeping the powder dry’: we’d be better off losing, because then things would be even worse, we wouldn’t get the blame, and then we could sweep to victory in four years’ time. I hereby dub this the ‘maybe it will confuse the rabbit if we run away more’ strategy of electoral politics, and explain why it bothers me, particularly in this specific case:

  1. For the argument to even get off the ground, you have to make the case that Kerry would have not done measurably better than Bush. I think it is reasonable to suppose that this is false. (Supreme Court. That’s one. We could make a list.) But suppose this is true; suppose that the various problems facing the country are too big for set of liberal policies to make a meaningful difference. Then what was the argument for voting for Kerry as the Democrats wanted us to do? (Will the same hold true for Obama? All these people seem to be supporting him strongly now. If he loses, am I going to hear how great that is, because in 2012 things will really suck which will be awesome for liberals?)
  2. Ah, Dana, but maybe it’s a different sort of “meaningful difference.” Maybe Kerry’s presidency would have made things better, but not better enough such that a relatively uncharismatic candidate such as he would have been assured of victory as incumbent. But this is the sort of consideration that might make sense if one is a high-level Democratic party strategist, because it is easier to win elections against incumbents when the country is faltering. But Drum says “liberals”, not “high-level Democratic party strategists.”
  3. This is an important distinction. I am not a high-level Democratic party strategist. Nor are most pundits or Democrats or voters or Americans. The liberal agenda means bupkus to me if it doesn’t ever get enacted. I’m sure if McCain gets elected Palin will be easy to beat in 2012. I don’t really care. I am not the party.
  4. The argument only makes sense, of course, if one assumes that once one is elected following years of running away from the rabbit, that the reforms one would like to achieve will be achievable in an election term (or likely to lead to long-time control of the government.) I am skeptical. Moreover, I am skeptical that issues that become known as losing issues always become winners with time.
  5. This mild rant would not be worth the ink if it were just an attempt to find a silver lining in a Kerry loss. But it seems to be to more than that, this idea that politics for liberals should be largely a game of scoring points, like it’s an academic debate or a game of Civilization played as the Americans. It seems like it’s meant to be something that should be informing grand strategies, or something that should be a consideration for the average liberal.

I cannot describe fully the visceral reaction I have to this argument, because it’s complicated, about one-third “I can see your point….” and two-thirds “… but to endorse that point, I’d have to think we were playing a game, and we’re not, and if you think we are playing a game, then you’re in the relatively fortunate position of being personally indifferent to the outcome of the election because of the security of your station and finances, and maybe you should think about those who don’t have that luxury.”