- - Sunday, February 1, 2015

Will Rogers, the political humorist from the previous century whose humor derived from actual wit, once observed that he belonged to no organized political party: “I’m a Democrat.” Another of his witticisms is good advice for what’s left of the political party he was so proud to be a part of: “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”

The modern congressional Democrats, who met last week in Philadelphia to figure out how they dug themselves into a hole unlike any they’ve seen in 65 years, think they have a way. They talked, supped, drank and listened to their wise men and concluded that the way out of the hole is to dig the hole a little deeper.

The party holds just 188 of the 435 seats in the House as the 114th Congress opens for work. After losing a further 13 seats in November, after a net loss of 64 in 2010, the Democrats haven’t seen prospects this bleak since 1947, when, then as now, they held 188 seats.

The Democrats can’t blame anyone but themselves for the dirt under their fingernails and between their toes. The party has lurched ever farther away from the place where most Americans live, in lockstep with President Obama and a statist agenda now becoming transparent. They interrupted his hourlong State of the Union address with applause 87 times. They have driven away independent and middle-of-the-road voters who are the key to sustaining a majority. Republicans won the independents by 12 percentage points, according to exit polling of the 2014 voters by The Washington Post. Despite spending millions and millions on promoting the myth of the Republican war on women, they won the women’s vote by just 4 points.

With the party now largely denuded of Blue Dog Democrats — pale copies of the yellow-dog Democrats who would vote for a yellow dog before voting for a Republican — the Democratic caucus in the House is more liberal than ever. Fresh young blood to drive the party in a new direction is nowhere evident. The caucus re-elected its septuagenarian liberal leadership troika of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland and Assistant Leader James E. Clyburn of South Carolina.

There’s no sign of a post-election autopsy of the sort the Republicans conducted after they were blown out in 2012, and no sign of the Democrats having learned very much from November. “There’s a narrative that the Democrats are in disarray,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois tells The National Journal. “I don’t see evidence of that. … There’s a new, incredible resolve.”

They invited Mr. Obama to offer a pep talk Thursday night. The president, called the “messenger-in-chief” by one congressman, told them they can’t win “when we’re shy about we care about, when we’re defensive about what we’ve accomplished, when we don’t stand up straight and proud.” Everything looks good from the distant planet where the president has taken up residence. Reading from his laundry list, Mr. Obama urged them to “stand up and go on offense and not be defensive about what we believe in.”

To reclaim the speaker’s gavel after the 2016 elections, Democrats must pick up 30 seats, nearly twice the 17 seats they needed last November. Only three times since 1947 has either party picked up 30 or more seats in a presidential-election year. But there’s an important lesson here for Republicans, who can afford no smugness. They have a gift for blowing opportunities by retreating from brave campaign rhetoric. In politics, nothing recedes like success.

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