November 7, 2006: Not a good night to remember. As a Republican and especially an American who supports our war efforts, I was devastated; but as a political columnist, I say, “Bring it on!” And maybe you should too.
Now before my inbox fills up with hate mail, let’s think this through. Ever since the debacle of the 2000 presidential election, we’ve been on the defensive. In the face of his razor-thin margin of victory, the Bush Administration urged political comity, promising to deliver on his campaign promise to be “a uniter, not a divider.”
This spirit of nonpartisan harmony also pervaded the ranks of Senate Republicans who, in January 2001, although they actually held the majority via Vice President Dick Cheney, decided to approve the generous “power-sharing” plan, which gave the parties equal representation on committees, with evenly divided staffing and resources.
Many in the GOP cringed when, then-Leader Trent Lott said, “We don’t want a prescription for gridlock. We cannot allow that. We have to extend the hand of friendship to our colleagues and try to find a way to get the substantive issues to the floor of the Senate.”
He and his colleagues’ magnanimous gesture was soon repaid with infamy, as Jim Jeffords jumped ship and gave the non-shared power back to the Democrats. But the GOP regained their majority in the 2002 elections and held it until last week, although some conservatives claim there has been little concrete evidence of this.
It’s said that every six years or so in a two-term presidency, this sort of “balancing” election takes place. That the GOP managed House and Senate majorities under Bush for nearly four years is amazing and certainly an historical anomaly, so the idea that the trend finally reversed itself is not a surprising one. Hitching a party’s hopes to one man is sometimes a perilous proposition.
The theory that all members of the president’s party must march in lockstep with him — see the Democrats and Bill Clinton — is one that forces its adherents to walk a very fine line. Many Democrats paid the price for this in 1994’s so-called Republican Revolution. As is evident by now, some Republicans believed the opposite and ran as fast and hard away from George Bush as they could. Some were successful and some were not.
The point being, that there are some American political trends that defy logic. There has been much finger-pointing and attempts at blame-laying on the part of Republicans and conservatives as to why and how the Democrats were catapulted back into power. The most commonsensical explanation just may be the old chestnut that all politics is local.
So now, with their majorities in both the House and the Senate, it is the Democrats’ turn to steer the Congressional ship of state, one whose course is known only to them. What is undeniably true is that, despite the heretofore under-used veto pen of George W. Bush, the Democrats will now have to govern and their elusive agenda must manifest itself.
What this entails is not entirely clear. Charges of Bush’s endless failures and ineptitude — not to mention his Prospero-like ability to affect the forces of nature — can no longer pose as policy. As is crystal clear to GOP supporters, even when an agenda is evident and you control two of the three branches of government, actually enacting legislation in the muck and mire of Washington is never easy.
And this, my fellow partisans, is where the fun begins; fun, as in watching the loyal opposition twist themselves into pretzels on the floors of Congress for a change. Will there be serious consequences for the country? Maybe, and they will begin with the Democrats’ dumping of John Bolton as Ambassador to the UN; not that Republicans had any luck in securing his confirmation when they were in “power.”
And we will likely soon be stabbing the nascent Iraqi government in the back, as we did the South Vietnamese during an earlier era of Democratic control. But can we be sure that conservatives would have prevailed on this, even had the GOP retained their majority? Ditto, illegal immigration legislation, Social Security reform, school choice etc.
But again, let’s look on the bright side. As at least one wing of the Democratic Party will soon find out, the acquisition of power is not always accompanied by the intestinal fortitude with which to effectively wield it. And that, my dear friends is a lesson we will enjoy re-learning; only this time it will come at the expense of those across the aisle.