That was the title of a column that got a fair amount of attention when I published it back in May. Most of the essay focused on unpacking the second half of the statement — explaining how and why I've come to distrust and even detest the Republican Party (after once having been a self-described conservative).
The deflating results of Tuesday's election have led me to think anew about the first half of the statement — about why I don't identify as a Democrat, despite usually voting for the party (as I did this week, contributing in my infinitesimal way to Tom Corbett's defeat in Pennsylvania).
So yes, I voted for Democratic candidates in the midterms, but the decision to do so was, as usual, much more an expression of anti-Republican ire than a vote of confidence in the Democrats — a party about which I'm feeling a fair amount of disgust right now.
Yes, the electoral map plus the tendency of the party that holds the White House to lose seats in midterm elections meant that the Republicans were always going to do decently this week. And despite what Mr. Blameless in the Oval Office would like to believe, the president's weak approval numbers made things especially challenging for members of his party this year.
Still, it wasn't inevitable that the Democrats would be positively slaughtered on Tuesday night. They did a lot of this to themselves.
Consider, to begin with, the fact that the Republicans benefited from a historic wave election on the basis of … nothing much at all. There was no Contract with America, no distinctive, inspiring vision for the country's future. It was all negation: against Obama (with no alternative agenda), against ObamaCare (with no vision of a different kind of health care reform), against the president's foreign policy (with no suggestions of what policy would be better, at least beyond Tom Cotton's insinuation that we need to prepare for an ISIS invasion from Mexico).
And yet the Democrats still got clobbered.
I wish I could count on them to engage in a sober and candid assessment of what went wrong, but I won't be holding my breath. Both parties are masters of ducking and deflecting responsibility. When Republicans underperform, they blame imaginary voter fraud and mainstream-media conspiracies. The Democrats, meanwhile, point fingers at the Koch brothers and talk ominously about billionaires buying votes and efforts to suppress minority voting. Each sides' excuses have some truth to them, but they never contribute more than marginally to the outcome of any specific election.
Far more significant for the Democrats this year was their persistent difficulty avoiding the extremes of either seeming ashamed of themselves or pushing an agenda only a progressive activist could love.
The most memorable example of the first was Alison Lundergan Grimes, who notoriously refused to admit that she — the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate from Kentucky — voted for the head of her own party when he stood for re-election just two years ago. This was foolish not only because it made her look like the most transparently dishonest politician around, but also because it conveyed the message that there's something dishonorable about being a loyal and committed Democrat.
At the other extreme, we find a range of losing Democratic candidates — from Wendy Davis in Texas to Mark Udall in Colorado — who put the defense of abortion rights at the center of their campaigns, as a way of mobilizing women.
Now I fully understand why the GOP has trouble attracting female voters, and I'm all for Democrats doing whatever they can to exploit their strengths on women's issues. But despite what Katha Pollitt and other abortion absolutists may like to believe, these efforts cannot just come down to championing a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy on demand. Americans (of both genders) are deeply divided about abortion, with relatively few people supporting that right without serious moral reservations.
Democrats can fume about this fact. They can speculate about its origins in sexism and religious convictions they don't share. They can wish it were otherwise and work to persuade voters to change their minds about it. But that's at best a long-term strategy. And for the time being, leading with abortion — in Texas of all places! — is bound to be a losing strategy.
And so is the president of the United States speaking carelessly, just days before the election, about how choosing to be a stay-at-home mom is "not a choice we want Americans to make." Sure, it wasn't an intentional dig against moms who stay home with the kids; he was talking about families, and especially mothers, being forced to quit their jobs for want of affordable child care. But the wording was sloppy — seemingly tailor-made to provoke irascible social conservative voters — and the timing was atrocious.
All year, the Democratic Party showed itself to be a party unsure of itself — or at least unsure of how to connect to anyone beyond its base. It's the GOP that is often (and rightfully!) slammed as the obstructionist party of no, standing for little other than feet-dragging opposition to all things Obama. But listening to many Democratic candidates this election cycle, you'd be hard pressed to say what exactly it is they were for, too, other than social progressivism that is out of step with a wide swath of middle-of-the-road voters.
Somewhere between the extremes of Democratic diffidence and overly aggressive cultural progressivism lies a position with mainstream, majoritarian appeal. But the party fell far short of achieving or articulating it this year. Until that changes, I'll be casting my ballot against the Republicans far more than voting in favor of the Democrats. And after Tuesday's rout, it's obvious I'm far from alone in being unable to find any affirmative reason to back the Democrats.