Washington — The Democrats in the aftermath of their historic midterm defeat must be full of questions. How, they must wonder, did George W. Bush become such a popular president without a sex scandal? And how can to Democrats again become winners? The political benefits to be derived from impeachment are beyond their grasp. There is no Democrat to impeach. They tried to sweep the country in the last days of the midterm by making it a national mandate to a deceased senator, and that little dalliance with the macabre did not even help. They even resorted to sending their greatest political prestidigitator since John F. Kennedy barnstorming around the country, but all Bill Clinton managed was a case of laryngitis.
Who is to blame? The Democrats would not be Democrats unless they had someone to blame. Some blame their party leaders such as the Hon. Richard Gephardt and the Hon. Tom Daschle. They claim the leaders did not give voice to popular Democratic policies, for instance, raising taxes and delivering the conduct of American foreign policy to the United Nations. Surely Gephardt and Daschle are innocent of those charges. In fact this is about the only time I will find Daschle innocent of anything. But I believe he recognized, as Gephardt surely did, that if the Democrats started campaigning on the things they really believe their loss would have been all the greater.
Very few people are saying it, but facts are facts. The Democrats have no policies that are still favored by the electorate. The current wisdom around Washington is that they lost because George W. Bush is so popular, but a review of how tax increases fare with the American people reveals that they lost because the average American feels the tax burden is onerous enough. They also lost because the Republicans’ policies domestically and in foreign policy find favor with the electorate.
As for the magic of Clinton, it is no more. The American people see the parade of crooked corporate leaders heading off to court and are reminded of Clinton ethics that the corporate leaders emulated when they began their scams not during the Bush years but during the Clintons’ 1990s. They see the danger posed by terrorists and are reminded of Clinton’s frivolous treatment of terrorism when the World Trade Center was first attacked and the USS Cole took its hit from terrorists. Even the Democrats’ shameful exploitation of Paul Wellstone’s funeral service probably put the American people in mind of the Clintons’ self-indulgence and politicization of practically everything. After all, Bill, chewing his lower lip, sat center stage at the event, in front of candidate Mondale.
The Democrats’ historic loss in Campaign 2002 was a repudiation of all the claptrap and corruption of the Clinton years. Now what is the Democrats’ response? Supposedly they will move to the left. Yet what does that mean?
In the past that would mean the Democrats were going to embrace ever more of the welfare state. Unfortunately for the Democrats the welfare state holds no allure to Americans. It would mean that the Democrats were going to become more like European Social Democrats, but such socialists are antiques. Given the zany state of the American left today I guess when the Democrats say they are moving left it means they are going to become more like members of People for the American Way or, better yet, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
As for the popularity of President Bush, it certainly did not help the Democrats, but they ought to recognize the problem he presents to them. He is not the dull bulb they have claimed. He is a clever politician with a keen sense of timing. With two weeks to go in the election he recognized that by campaigning in carefully selected races he could increase his margin in the House and win the Senate. My agents in and around the White House tell me that the decision was his, not that of his political aides. As we see more of Bush II in action it is increasingly apparent that he may have the political instincts and the substance of a Reagan.
Certainly he is a man of strong core beliefs. The beliefs are conservative, not “extreme right” as the Democrats bray but simply center right. That the Democrats call a man not all that different from Ronald Reagan “extreme right” speaks volumes for their own place on the political spectrum. For them to see the President who just won the historic midterm victory as “extreme right” they have to be on the extreme left. So expect the Democrats under the leadership of the likes of the Hon. Nancy Pelosi to sound more and more like the People for the American Way or, better yet, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Today they harangue the National Rifle Association; tomorrow they will be leading protests at the local McDonald’s. Expect the post-2002 Democrat to oppose hand guns and sausages — but never baloney.