Republicans - and Republicans alone - have shut down the government in order to pursue their ideological goal of defunding the Affordable Care Act, an endeavor they have utterly failed at, as Obamacare went into full swing yesterday. But part of the reason we are even here - part of the reason Republicans got to win big in 2010 and gerrymander to make the House much more difficult for Democrats to take back - is not Republicans at all. It's Democrats - specifically, the ideological Left puritans who have made it their mission to hunt Barack Obama as passionately as the Tea Party.
In order to establish this, however, it is first essential to disabuse everyone - especially our national media - of the notion that there was some kind of a voter tidal wave for Republicans in 2010. There was not. Republican turnout in 2010 dropped by 25% from 2008. That isn't the reason Republican took over damn nearly everything that year. The real reason for that is the precipitous drop in Democratic turnout, which fell by 44%. Here is the problem, in one chart (comparing Obama/McCain 2008 vs. Dem/GOP 2010 numbers):
The entire reason Republicans and their media buddies were able to sell a 25% drop in vote count - from John McCain and Sarah Palin's totals no less - as a huge victory and a firm mandate was because of a monumental drop in the Democratic vote, cut in almost half from just two years prior.
And please, stuff it if you are going to come at me with "Oh, but turnout always falls in off-year elections." That is not in dispute. The problem in this case isn't that turnout merely fell, although the idea that a 42% turnout in a national election is considered normal is a sad statement for our democracy. The problem in this case is not that turnout fell - it is that it fell far more drastically among Democratic voters than among Republican voters.
If your reply to that is, "well, that's normal too", you are exactly the kind of emotarian bobblehead I'm talking to. Instead of spending Obama's first two years in office trying to tear him down, this crowd could have chosen instead to keep Democratic voters engaged, educated, and turning out in 2010. But they chose to be a thorn on President Obama's side, instead of his ally. Blaming 2010 on the conventional wisdom, after the country tore apart conventional wisdom by electing the nation's first black president in 2008 is either fool's errand or the last refuge of the scoundrel.
However much of the drop in the Democratic total can be attributed to an off-year election, there is no way the entirety of it could be. Had Democratic turnout dropped by the same percentage as the Republican turnout in 2010, Democrats would have thumped Republicans by 8 million votes, and Democratic totals could have fallen more than a third (36%) and still equaled the GOP totals that year. The disaster we faced - not just with the Republican takeover of the House but perhaps even more importantly, their newfound control of state governments in charge of drawing new Congressional districts after the new census - lies in that last few percentage point drop - from 36 to 44.
That 8 point drop cost us everything. And do the emotarian ideologues influence 8% Democratic voters? Actually, that's about the exact number they do influence - reflected in poll after poll in the percentage of liberals who disapprove of the president. They are small enough in numbers that they cannot affect any constructive change, but just large enough to effectively put Republicans in charge on off years when other factors join in to make it a tough year. Without the loss of this final 8 points, the gerrymandering is not nearly as severe, and Democrats do not lose the House in 2012 despite having a million more votes cast for Democratic candidates than Republicans.
Without those 8 points the ideologues on the Left cost us in 2010, the government does not shut down today.
2010 wasn't an historical accident. That happened because the national media was able to sell the storyline that Obama was "betraying" liberals by compromising to get things done, and so Democrats and liberals should stay home to "teach Obama a lesson." Entire organizations of emotarian ideologues sprang to action to take down the most effective liberal to hold the Oval Office since FDR, joined by popular "Lefty" blogs. Some even sprang up brand new to hire bloggers who generated the most poutrage to call the president everything up to and including a murderer for trying to passing health care. Left's media personalities implored people to stay home (I'm looking at you, Ed Schultz). And the Left's so-called intellectuals were as blinded by their hatred of Obama as was the Tea Party.
It is this group of colorful characters whose campaign to keep progressive and Democratic voters home during the 2010 that began the long journey to the current disaster we are witnessing in the form of a federal government shutdown. What's more, Republicans drove their turnout around the largely the same issue that the emotarian liberals made central to their campaign to "teach Obama a lesson": Obamacare. While the Right targeted a largely market-based reform as the height of socialism, the extremist Left branded Obama a corporate tool for insufficient podium pounding they thought was necessary to get a public option. Both sides chided the essential requirement that those who can afford to buy health insurance do so.
Health care was the big whining point, but the ideologue Left attacked the president on Wall Street Reform, hounded him for not repealing DADT fast enough, and called him everything from a homophobe to a corporate sellout to a weak-kneed negotiator. That didn't stop with 2010, as they continued their assault against the president from the 2010 tax deal, to the 2011 budget compromise, to of course, today's hair-on-fire rants about the NSA and surveillance.
It would be an understatement to say that these people aren't helping. No, they are intent on hurting the president, hurting the progressive movement, and hurting the Democratic party. They bear responsibility in today's government shutdown - they were more than complicit; they were active in planting its seeds in 2010. They are a scourge we need to uproot as much as the Republicans need to get rid of the Tea Party.