WASHINGTON — The midterm elections approach, and there is excitement in Washington. Some of the learned psephologists predict a close struggle for control, at least of the House of Representatives. Others predict a “blow-out,” with the Republicans being blown out in the House and possibly edged out in the Senate. Looking back on history we should have predicted setbacks for the Republicans in this off-year election. President George W. Bush broke with historic convention when he actually picked up seats in 2002, but now things are apparently back to normal. In normal times the sitting president’s party suffers losses on the Hill at midterm.
Yet these are not normal times. What throughout the decades of the Cold War was called the Liberal Establishment has been drained of ideas and meaning. It is what historians call an Old Order, a passing Old Order. Its political party, the Democratic Party, has been moribund for years. The party has no policy coherence and no principled leadership. Yesteryear’s disciplined liberal Democrats such as Adlai Stevenson and Hubert Humphrey have been replaced by blunderbusses such as Senator Harry Reid and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, who seem to think that a liberal agenda is a temper tantrum and a congressional investigation. That is what they promise if they gain leadership of the Senate and the House, along with tax increases.
The Democrats’ last successful national leader was President Bill Clinton, who governed as a centrist famous for saying that “The era of big government is over.” His boasts were a balanced budget and economic growth. He was a reasonably good Republican president except for the fact that he ran his campaigns with foreign money and his office like a heterosexual Mark Foley. Foley had salacious e-mails to a male intern. Clinton had salacious telephone calls late into the night with a female intern.
Because the Democratic Party is in such intellectual and moral decline, the Republicans should be eking out victory next week. The economy could hardly be better, and the Democrats’ alternative is a combination of tax increases and a promise to investigate corporations and financial services, a formula for recession. The war against terror is being successfully executed, and the Democrats’ response is to hobble that execution through proscriptive laws and more investigations. The war in Iraq is not going well, but the Democrats’ only policy is to withdraw our army to, I believe Senator Reid suggests, Okinawa. Despite the Democrats’ feeble alternatives, the Republicans will probably lose control of the House and possibly of the Senate. Yet that is not the end of the drama. Many House races will be so close that they will land in the courts.
Here is still more evidence that these are not normal times. It may take weeks before we know who won control of the House and it certainly will take weeks before we know who won every seat. John Fund, one of our finest psephologists, explains in OpinionJournal.com that the prevalence of absentee ballots makes these results almost inevitable. Thus on November 15, when the Republicans members of Congress are scheduled to elect their leadership, some of those members voting will not even know if they will be coming back to Congress. That makes no sense. Nor does it make sense for the Republicans to elect their leadership without a thorough reevaluation of how they lost touch with their base. Conservative dissatisfaction with the House leadership is surely the reason the Republicans find themselves in their present fix.
The Republicans are going to have to reestablish their connection with their base. They can hardly do this by rushing ahead with leadership elections that might not even include members of the incoming Republican delegation. The Republicans can hold their leadership reelection any time before December 20. It is important that they set a new date for their leadership election so that only reelected members vote and the Republican base is assured that a fast one is not being pulled on them in Washington. The Democrats are an Old Order. It is time that the Republicans act with the vigor and confidence of a New Order.