Nice men like Tony Snow and Rush Limbaugh have already complimented Walter Mondale for his “gracious” concession remarks of Wednesday morning. Well, gracious they may have been toward Norm Coleman, but that’s more than can be said about the shots he took at the surviving Wellstones. Like Terry McAuliffe last Sunday, Mondale decided to blame the Wellstone sons for the ultrapartisan memorial service last week that blew up in the Democrats’ face. But was it the sons who had advised Mondale to yuck it up with Bill Clinton at the service, on live TV, for all the world to see? Good riddance to Walter. The sad thing is that now we’ll never know which Senate minority leadership position he might have been able to claim.
Speaking of the graceless McAuliffe, he made his mark at the memorial service in another way. Each time the camera caught him, he appeared to be eyeing Clinton like a nervous base runner awaiting signals from the third-base coach. In all the current talk about McAuliffe’s not being long for the Democratic Party chairmanship, no one is connecting him to Clinton, whose pawn he’s remained position all along. If McAuliffe is now toast, what does that make Clinton? Tired as we all are of beating that dead horse, one thing election 2002 represented is a further purging of Clintonism from our politics. McAuliffe talked big about what he was going to do to Jeb Bush in Florida. Clinton followed up with what he thought would be a slam dunk competition with the president last weekend. But even America’s so-called first black president couldn’t deliver his purported constituents.
Nor was the old magic any more in evidence in Maryland, where a blatant Clinton intervention on behalf of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend came to nothing. From now on, Clinton had better stick to entertaining Labourites in Blackpool.
It was fitting that the first big media call of the evening was for Jeb Bush in Florida. If the number one target of Democrat bluster could survive easily, the rest of the evening made perfect sense. Even before the striking results from Georgia — not only in the Senate race but in the defeat of Gov. Roy Barnes, whom many Washington pundits had come to think of as a Democratic god — the news the Elizabeth Dole had managed to win comfortably enough suggested it would indeed be a Republican night. John Sununu’s victory confirmed it. The rest was gravy. Allard’s recovery, Talent’s win, Landrieu’s falling short all pointed to the most successful GOP election since fabled 1994.
There’s nothing more satisfying in politics than to see the reactions of the other side when reality slowly sinks in. Carville and Begala, e.g., suddenly were such nice little boys, polite, sad, wistful. On CNN Judy Woodruff and the smarmy Aaron Brown appeared positively funereal. Brown’s crowning moment came when he said that Coleman was ahead of Mondale by a “longer whisker” than Thune’s then slight lead in South Dakota. It’s rare that major media is left to convey: this is not supposed to be happening.
At one point McAuliffe and RNC counterpart Mark Racicot were on with Larry King. McAuliffe continued to bluster, though by now he was trying to focus on alleged great Democratic success at the gubernatorial level, which didn’t exactly pan out either. (Not that McAuliffe was saying anything different on Wednesday morning.) Racicot by contrast remained cautious, low key, very careful not to say anything that might be construed as celebratory. Here we see a continuing legacy of the Clinton decade: Republicans scared to speak out of turn, lest they be shot down as arrogant, vindictive or partisan. Rhetorical discipline is useful, indeed preferable to McAuliffe-style empty bullying, but it remains apparent that Republicans continue to feel inhibited about what they are free to say in public.
Recall, too, Norm Coleman’s debate with Walter Mondale. Imagine what the reaction would have been had he been the one wagging his finger or practically snarling at his opponent. How long will Republicans be expected to suffer in silence? Sure, victory is the best reward in such conditions. But there’s something inhuman about those conditions regardless.
At this moment one almost wishes James Baker were flying in with a team of top legal guns to South Dakota. In his de facto victory claim earlier today, Tim Johnson said everything when he insisted every vote had already been carefully counted. In the one race where the much predicted repeat of Florida 2000 actually materialized, one can expect the Democrats to act in the exact opposite way to their behavior two years ago. But what really happened on those Indian reservations? Republican control of the Senate (or even making it Chafee defection-proof) isn’t at stake, but certain principles always are. As we move away from Clintonism, that’s something never to lose sight of.