As silly historical analogies go, I have to give credit to Jonathan Chait for coming up with the most ingeniously unnecessary one of all time: the midterms-as-WWI.  (Hat tip to Clark Stooksbury, who offers some good criticism on Chait’s assessment of what a Democratic victory would mean–Chait possibly equals the silly fascist rhetoric of the last week with his own casting of the GOP as the Kaiserreich, which is clearly an insult to the Kaiserreich.)  Perhaps this is a Democratic response to the new administration rhetoric: “Call us appeasers, eh, Jerry?  We’ll call you Krauts and Huns!”  But on behalf of the Kaiser, I have to say that I think the label ”noxious” is a bit harsh. 

Anyway, comparisons with other elections are so drab, so ordinary.  Anybody can do that!  1994, 1974, blah, blah, blah.  It does take a certain kind of imagination and a certain je ne sais quoi to make this most implausible analogy sound even remotely plausible.  Chait deserves credit for having done well on this score.

But there are some problems (you didn’t think I was just going to compliment the thing and leave it at that, did you?) with the analogy once you get past the ”world war fought in a few theatres”/”elections fought in a few key states” similarities.  First off, if the Democrats are playing the Allies (which I guess they would have to want to do, since the alternative is to lose the “war”), their situation right now seems very unlike 1917.  In 1917, it was the Allies who were demoralised and on the ropes, while the Germans had become increasingly (over)confident on land (they had felt pressured to resume unrestricted submarine warfare, but their confidence in their land army was very great–which is why they trusted in it to win the contest).  1917 was on the whole a very, very bad year for the Allies (the French Mutiny in the wake of Verdun, the foreswearing of any new major Allied offensives, a little thing called Bolshevism, etc.), while the Democrats seem to be walking in good fortune at the moment–bad news keeps piling up for Bush, the administration has gone fascist-crazy in an absurd parody of its own worst supporters, and more and more seats are becoming competitive in the unlikeliest of places (who would have guessed that Indiana, Land of Quayle, would be contested territory?).  1917 saw the entry of America into the war, but only technically, as it took a long time to mobilise and ship over the expedtionary force. 

If anyone should be taking comfort from “1917 is now” (and November 7 is November 11 1918) analogies, it is the GOP-as-the-Allies, who would be preparing for the final Democratic Ludendorff offensive that will fail just as the “Salonika front” (let’s call it Pennsylvania) unexpectedly breaks open for them.  The GOP is counting on a late surge of new manpower from their version of the AEF–let’s call it high voter turnout–and the creation of a new threat to the Central Powers’ flank to save their collective bacon.  Perhaps this rhetorical con-job of a PR campaign is the GOP’s answer to the Macedonian campaign, and the crumbling Austrian lines represent wilting Democratic support in the red states.  Silly analogies can be fun, can’t they?  

As it happens, I don’t think the GOP really has any “doughboys” (conservative voters) coming to save their hides (in this scenario, the “Americans,” which is to say regular Republican voters, have decided to remain neutral out of disgust with the incompetence of Field Marshal Bush, er, Haig), which makes all of my speculation moot.  But the WWI analogy is instructive–if we pay closer attention to the dynamics of 1917-18–for what it might tell us about an unexpected late GOP surge (if these sorts of analogies told us much of anything, which they probably don’t).  The Democrats-as-Germans analogy might work, if we think of Dean’s nationwide strategy as the same kind of stupid frittering away of resources that the Germans engaged in when setting up puppet governments in the East, using troops they couldn’t spare to prop up satellites in Latvia and Ukraine, which was about as useful as the DNC throwing money at Congressional races in Utah and Idaho will be now.  Just as every incarnation of Ostpolitik ruined Germany, Dean’s adventurism may bring the Dems to grief when they start running out of money that they need to launch the final “offensive.”  I don’t believe that this is what will happen, but it is worth considering that Democrats may have overreached with their ambitions to be a nationally competitive party and have spread themselves too thin.  Things look good for the Dems right now, but then things looked pretty good for the Central Powers in November 1917 with Russia knocked out, France in disarray and Britain exhausted, and two months are a very long time in politics.