What Democrats “Deserve”

Via the ever-indispensable Weigel, I see that UVA professor and self-appointed high shaman of political fortunetelling Larry Sabato has some curious ideas about public policy and moral desert. To whit:

“In a competitive state, Coakley would be well on her way to losing,” he said. “If the Democrats lose, they deserve to have health care go down.”

That’s a pretty banal expression of conventional wisdom. If Democrats suck at campaigning, then they deserve to see their policy initiatives fail. Take that, Democrats! It makes a basic sort of intuitive sense in that it’s roughly meritocratic. But it only makes sense if you think about policies as abstract tokens that can be traded back and forth with no impact on the world outside the game.

That’s obviously completely ass-backwards, but it’s seemingly a popular view within America’s political elite.

So what do Democrats deserve? Well, they don’t really “deserve” anything, regardless of how well they campaign or govern. They’re not entitled to anyone’s vote, and they’re certainly not entitled to seeing their agenda implemented, at least in the current system.* All of their gains and losses are means to something else, but we’re trapped in a political culture that obsessively treats them as ends.

*Which, if I were Matthew Yglesias, I would mention how that’s point one for the parliamentary system, but that’s an entirely different conversation.

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