Many well-known facts—on which Kerry, in his campaign, had laid such stress—were either irrelevant to it (the missing weapons of mass destruction, which went unmentioned) or directly contradicted by it (the failure to demonstrate connections between Iraq and the attacks of September 11). But the facts did not matter—not necessarily because those in the stadium were ignorant of them, though some certainly were, but because the President was offering in their place a worldview that was whole, complete, comprehensible, and thus impermeable to statements of fact that clearly contradicted it. The thousands cheering around me in that Orlando stadium, and the many others who would come to support Bush on election day, faced a stark choice: either discard the facts, or give up the clear and comforting worldview that they contradicted. They chose to disregard the facts. (Emphasis added)Many Democrats, particularly intellectual Democrats, will likely read this passage and console themselves with feelings of superiority, by asking, as some foreigners did right after the election, "How could 62 million people be so stupid?" But read properly, this account should make Democrats realize what's at work here isn't (just) stupidity; rather, it's the power of ideology.
One thing intellectuals typically fail to recognize about ideology is that while politically influential ideologies -- I'm thinking here, for example, of classical liberalism, Communism, or Nazism -- always produce highly intricate manifestations as they are developed into policies and as their internal tensions are thrashed out, what makes these ideologies politically effective is that they are always reducible to a clear, simple core. E.g., markets are better than governments at allocating goods and values; letting workers rather than capitalists control the means of production will yield a more just society; national greatness depends on race purification. You get the idea.
As I argued in an article published last Spring, for the Democrats to mount a return from the wilderness, they must first recognize that the Republicans have become America's first coherent ideological party since the Civil War, and then respond by developing a counterideology of their own. In other words, Democrats must work on discovering what keeps people in the party, and how that relates to some core, probably almost preconcious, conception of themselves and their country. Moreover, as I've said earlier, to be effective, this counterideology will have to be expressable in the length of time it takes to ride an elevator with someone. Until the Democrats figure that out, the Republicans are going to run circles around them. (I've already stated my own view as to what this "elevator ideology" might look like.)