Mitch Landrieu candidacy can't resurrect Democrats
While a proper understanding of the precarious political position Louisiana Democrats find themselves in certainly globally would assist the party, perhaps no one would benefit more from knowing this than their own New Orleans Gov. Mitch Landrieu in terms of what to do with his political life. And while those options don’t look great, his chances of maximizing them depends upon comprehending the most valid interpretation.
As previously noted, the blowout loss of his sister Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu to Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy to retain her present Senate seat has been understood poorly by many on the political left. Some wish to ignore its root causes and plan to sail on without learning its lessons: when leftist candidates are seen for what they truly are, which will be the case going forward in Louisiana, they cannot win statewide nor legislative majorities in Louisiana. The trick to recovery, then, is for Democrats to preach less in the way of the extreme liberalism that emanates out of today’s White House and (in a month) the minority parties in Congress, not to double down on it.
An objection to this argument declares that a moderating strategy that became more like a less far-reaching version of conservatism than like liberalism ultimately would fail because Democrats would end up echoing Republicans and voters torn between the two would still side with the real thing. Instead, this view holds out hope that traditional modern liberalism can appeal on economic issues to win back enough voters to make the party competitive, if not able to win majorities.
Of course, this notion fails to recognize the inherent contradictions within liberalism that place a handicap on the fortunes of any candidate articulating its ideas – it basis on wealth redistribution by fiat rather than on the interactions of individuals in voluntary exchanges that apportion resources on the basis of proportional benefit to society. Too many liberals seem dumbfounded that the American middle class has abandoned Democrats on economic issues even as liberalism has proven so hostile to it: transfer payment and taxation policies that encourage more to jump on the wagon while fewer pull it, a job-killing minimum wage, overregulation that retards wealth creation and politicized regulation to induce more command and control over people’s lives, and overspending that confiscates more of what people earn. Given its privileged existence, the wealthy liberal elite that drives Democrat policy-making that seems confused on how liberalism robs the middle class of chances to succeed has no conception how its policies in essence pull up the ladder on the middle class, which is why that substantial section of voters has been the Republicans’ now for 35 years.
When you have an electorate such as Louisiana’s that, in the main, increasingly through in-migration, increasing cognitive ability through improvements in its educational system, and through hard-bitten experience in dealing with a past pandering populist state government that has delivered poorly in a state poorer than average, develops a thirst for opportunity and for looking to self rather than state to achieve for oneself, modern liberalism’s economic prescriptions never will convince a majority. If the state’s political culture had produced in past elections an electorate which viewed candidates as if wearing non-prescription dark glasses, unable to discern well the difference between liberals and conservatives and the glasses are now off, were Louisiana Democrats to double down on liberalism not only do the glasses stay off, but they are made with prescription lenses that makes their candidates’ warts even more obvious.
That is, for federal and statewide elections, and was what sent Landrieu to her electoral just deserts. She was a hangover from the political culture in the state as it was and survived longer than she should have because of that lag (and of some good luck in terms of pervious candidates and timing of elections nationally). As far as Mitch Landrieu goes, he’s now in the same position in New Orleans, where after he finishes this term he has no future there. Like it or not, New Orleans, in the perspicacious words of Prisoner #32751-034, is a “chocolate city,” and the unusual conditions of famous last name, post-hurricane disaster environment, and the former mayor’s bungling will not come together any time soon allow for Landrieu or any other white candidate to win the mayor’s office, at least not until after liberal policy dominance for perhaps another generation in time turns it into the next Detroit and a conservative alternative would emerge for a population with minds now open to consider it.
Mitch Landrieu’s political prospects beyond his current spot rest on the fact he has had the experience of winning statewide campaigns yet not having to make any substantive ideological decisions in that office, and that at the local level distinguishing ideological dimensions to decisions becomes more difficult, tending at this level to a greater number of apparent matters without ideological content, such as how to fill as many potholes as possible. Thus, he may have a better chance to avoid being associated with unpopular liberalism, that his sister by her actions, could not avoid, to an electorate more able than ever to accomplish this.
But conceptual confusion still undermines the analysis if the recent Senate contest, and thus by extension down the electoral line, is perceived as one where “ideology trumps bread-and-butter issues.” This misunderstands that what are “bread-and-butter” issues are themselves ideological when they are not matters of competence. To use the pothole analogy, it has a competence dimension in that municipal tax dollars get translated into filling these comprehensively and in a timely fashion, yet it also has an ideological dimension in that politics drives which potholes and in what order do they get filled. This resonates with many seemingly mundane decisions such as plowing snow and deploying policing resources.
So it will not be enough for Landrieu, if he aspires to higher office, to chant that he has proven himself to be a competent manager, because in whatever executive position he would seek – almost certainly the governor’s office – other candidates will be able to make the same claims and all voters really want is to elect somebody who does not appear to be an incompetent manager. It’s the ideology that from now on makes the difference in Louisiana for these kinds of offices – and obviously the ones that don’t have a managerial component such as Congress – and so here Landrieu would have to choose how to approach that.
His Democrat label already puts him behind the eight ball for it has become convenient shorthand for Washington liberal to a large portion of Louisiana’s electorate. And the monetary and experiential resources he could bring to bear unlikely would be enough to distance himself from its implications if faced off against a solid conservative Republican candidate.
Two things could improve his relative position, one being the timing of an election. For example, running for governor next year should produce relatively reduced Republican excitement that swamped his sister this year, boosting his chances. Yet there’s no reason to believe, even with this electorate, that his semi-blank issue slate/asserted managerial competence personage would resonate successfully enough when voters in 2007 and 2011 handed easy wins to Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal and cleared the decks of statewide offices of Democrats by the latter contest. The same applies to running for the Senate in 2016, either because it will be held by a placeholder if Sen. David Vitter wins his quest to be governor, or the Republican fails in 2015 (assuming Landrieu doesn’t run and improbably wins instead) and runs for reelection or opts out in 2016.
That’s because statewide right now, the Landrieu label is mustard gas to voters, they having realized how very liberal Mary Landrieu was by her votes and supportive actions of Pres. Barack Obama. This only would get transferred to Mitch Landrieu in the short term. However, the other things is that time heals all wounds. The thinking is that if Landrieu serves out his term-limited time in office, adding four more years to a record hoping things go well, by 2019 he could challenge for governor, or take on in 2020 Cassidy, by which time memories will have faded about the branding implied by his last name.
However, the problem here is that a successful governor elected in 2015 will leave no room for his candidacy to win, and while Cassidy could go well against historical type and put himself in position to lose after just one term (no elected U.S. Senator from Louisiana ever has lost a reelection attempt running after the first term), chances are not much of an opening would be here as well. And even if gambling that things fall into place to give him an opening, the more time that passes, just as the damage from the name association dissipates within the electorate, so do any memories of his perceived strengths and relevance.
Some Democrats may see him as the great white hope to lead a resurgence of their fortunes. The actual dynamics of the political environment suggest otherwise. Only by distancing themselves from the liberal patina that covers them through change from within will they achieve any significant electoral success for the foreseeable future, and he doesn’t seem to be the guy who can do that credibly.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 10:00