- - Thursday, July 6, 2017

Liberals’ willingness to pay excessively for symbolism proves their poor grasp of economics and politics. From not-so-special congressional special elections to the pinnacle of presidential politics, and with every level of race in between, the left have opted for liberal symbolism at every opportunity. The result has been increasing expenditures — including the mainstream media’s over-investment in their effort — but decreasing returns. Despite money, media and its own mania, liberal symbolism doesn’t sell on Main Street America.

When the bucks and ballots were finally counted in the recent Georgia special election, the spending record for a House race had been shattered and Democrats were shut out. The race cost more than $55 million, roughly twice the previously most expensive, and capped an 0-4 run for Democrats aiming to win at least one of the seats vacated by President Trump’s Cabinet picks.

Georgia’s 6th District was Democrats’ best chance, and they spared no expense with out-of-state liberal money pouring into Democrat Jon Ossoff’s campaign at an almost 6-to-1 advantage. Including outside money, Mr. Ossoff would ultimately benefit from an $8 million overall spending advantage — about four times what an average House campaign spends in total.

A victory in any one of the four special elections would have been hailed as a referendum on Mr. Trump — a symbol of the left’s resurgence. A Republican-held seat for almost four decades, a Democratic upset in Georgia’s 6th District would almost certainly have been overturned in the general election 18 months later. Still, the left eagerly ponied up.

And once again, despite massive spending, favorable media coverage, and Mr. Trump’s reported unpopularity, Democrats again came up empty-handed. Just seven decades earlier, virtually the same set of circumstances had yielded the biggest presidential upset since Truman beat Dewey.

If there looks to be a pattern here, it is because there is. The left simply cannot help themselves when it comes to pursuing symbolism at all costs.

Just a quarter of a century ago, Bill Clinton won as a moderate from a conservative southern state. The Clinton who ran last November could not have resembled less the earlier Clinton. Yet the liberal establishment so insisted on Hillary that they stacked the deck to draw her as Democrats’ nominee.

In contrast, the 2016 Democrat who most resembled Bill Clinton was Martin O’Malley. The governor of a small state, Mr. O’Malley would have been a run-of-the-mill, comparatively moderate candidate not long ago. In 2016, he was an afterthought — a footnote in a Democratic race to the left between a liberal icon and a septuagenarian socialist.

Despite running against an unpopular Mr. Trump and raising $230 million more than her opponent, Mrs. Clinton failed to get a majority of the vote and received over 100 electoral votes less than Barack Obama did in 2012. However, the cost of liberal symbolism at all costs did not stop there for the left.

Congressional Democrats ran with the same tailwinds, yet Republicans held both the Senate and House. Republicans’ combined congressional totals equal those from when Hoover was president. Since Democrats’ “unthinkable” happened in 1994, when Republicans took full control of Congress for the first time in decades, that outcome has become commonplace.

At the state level, things are even worse for Democrats. Republicans have a 2-1 advantage in governorships — controlling 33 to Democrats’ 16. In state legislatures, Republicans control 32 to Democrats’ 14. And in total state control — governor and legislature combined — Republicans have 24 to just seven for Democrats.

Thanks to liberals’ pursuit of symbolic purity, Democrats have been largely reduced to representing cities and California. In states outside the left coast and without a major city, a Democrat frequently runs in dangerous territory.

Nothing demonstrates Democrats’ change at the hands of the left like the evolution of their symbols. Just over 50 years ago, John F. Kennedy set liberal hearts aflutter. Now it is Mr. Obama. Both are revered symbols, but Kennedy stands closer to current Republicans than liberals could ever admit. No matter: Symbolism is what is important to the left, so these two, who stand in such stark substantive juxtaposition, can stand in quite comfortable proximity in liberal symbolism.

For the left, symbol trumps substance. The well-intentioned is more important than the well-administered. Liberals seek the appropriate cause, with appropriate victims represented by appropriate identity groups. The outcome of such an endeavor is largely irrelevant.

Take the disaster that is Obamacare. The fact that it does not work in no way diminishes its “accomplishment” for the left.

The problem for the left and — because of their dependence on them — for Democrats, is most Americans see the world differently. They form verdicts based on outcomes. A program or policy is judged on what it delivers, not just what it represents. Substantive output is more important than symbolic inputs.

The Democratic Party did not used to be this way. However, in the throes of liberalism, they increasingly find it hard to be anything else. Liberals have foisted their version of economics onto Democrats’ politics. The left continue to run up the tab for their symbolism and stick Democrats with paying it.

• J.T. Young served in the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget, and as a congressional staff member.

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