Will November be a Pyrrhic victory?

Matt Yglesias explains his recent shift toward liberaltarianism:

It was suggested to me by a number of parties this week that I should give some explicit account of why the blog has turned in what you might call a more “neoliberal” (though I don’t really like the term) direction of late. There’s a couple of reasons. One is simply product differentiation—I don’t think just writing the same posts as Kevin Drum and Ezra Klein and Jon Chait is what the world needs from me, but we obviously all have similar political opinions. The other is the point I’ve made before, namely that with the passage of the Affordable Care Act the long struggle to expand the scope of the welfare state is largely over.

Last spring Jonah Goldberg observed that if the Democrats passed health care reform:

1) They would suffer negative consequences in the fall elections and in the short term Republicans would benefit.

2) In the long term the Democrats would have won policy-wise because they would set the tone of the discussion from that point on, as the question would the nature of the new expansion to the welfare state, not its existence.

Let’s grant that the Republican victories have some relationship to Democratic policy overreach. If you could eliminate many of the policy changes enacted in the first two years of Barack Obama’s presidency, at the cost of indefinite Democratic control of Congress, would you? If you are a person of the Right I assume you’d accede to this. After all, in theory the ends of a political ideology are to shape the nature of the political economy, not win elections, which are just means.

But the fixation on polls, calculations of the margin of Republican victory, as well as the Democratic panic and ennui, seem to neglect these facts. After the likely losses in the fall the pundits will talk about what Obama needs to do to win back the nation, etc. But the fact is that he’s already changed the nation, by shifting health care policy in a direction broadly consonant with liberal Democratic values. That’s really what matters, and what will echo down through the generations. The Democratic victories of 2006 will be forgotten very soon, and to some extent those of 2008 will be too. But the policies enacted by the Congress of 2008 will impact us in our day to day lives for generations. They already are.

I don’t begrudge the Republicans their exultation after their likely victory in November. But this isn’t professional sports, it’s more than just a game, and it’s even more than just an avenue for professional advancement and self-glorification. Winning isn’t everything; it’s just a vanity which appeals to our baser animal instincts.