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Take the Long View

This was the week that Democrats cried and Republicans cackled.

by Charles M. Blow

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal Survey released this week was chock-full of bad news for the left. More people disapproved of President Obama’s job performance than approved of it. And the percentage of Americans who thought that the country was headed in the wrong direction topped 60 percent for the first time since the Bush years.

According to a Gallup poll released on Friday, the percentage of Americans who identified themselves as conservatives rose to 42 percent. As the report noted, “Should that figure hold for all of 2010, it would represent the highest annual percentage identifying as conservative in Gallup’s history of measuring ideology with this wording, dating to 1992.” For the record, the percentage identifying as liberals fell to 20 percent.

There are many factors contributing to these polls.

From the very beginning, the far right assailed this president with calumnious attacks. He was both a craven defender of the country and its borders and a crazed tax-and-spend liberal hell-bent on growing the government and destroying our democracy, one death panel at a time. It seems to have stuck.

At the same time, Republican lawmakers latched on to the word “no” like temperamental 2-year-olds. Their strategy: dictate by stalemate. It worked.

Add to that a laundry list of other factors: Obama has been an abysmal salesman; Americans’ patience has the lifespan of a fruit fly; we are still mired in two intractable wars; the economy has yet to turn the corner; anxiety is mounting over ballooning deficits; and oil is still gushing into the gulf.

Taken together, you get a growing sense that things are falling apart on the Democrats’ watch.

That’s the short-term view. Now consider the long view: This is in large part a frightened, angry reflex, fed by a devastating recession. But like the recession, it’s also temporary. When conditions improve, Republicans will still have to face an underlying reality: that this is the twilight of their rigid, empty ideology, particularly as it relates to social issues. They must change or wither.

A new paper entitled “Demographic Change and the Future of the Parties,” by Ruy Teixeira of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a progressive think tank, lays bare the long-term problems facing the Republican Party. In short, the country is becoming more diverse, more educated and less religious — all bad news for Republicans. And at a time when they should be moving closer to the middle, the Tea Party is dragging them farther right and over a cliff.

Regardless of the current disenchantment and the venting we’re likely to see in November, the larger trends look ominous for the right, not the left. The right knows it, too. In fact, if you listen closely, between the “hell no’s” and “you lie’s,” you can hear the pall of despair falling over them.

Charles M. Blow is a New York Times Columnist and nationally-known commentator: “I invite you to visit my blog By The Numbers, join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me at chblow@nytimes.com.”

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