Washington — Leave it to America’s self-proclaimed progressive party to advance in the 2002 midterm elections yet another innovation, blossoming with possibilities for an improved polity. I am speaking, of course, of the Democrats. It is the Democrats to whom Americans have looked for idealism and reform for nearly eighty years. The Democrats have delivered, championing Labor, internationalism, human rights, the economic safety net, campaign reform — all the hopes and dreams of a downtrodden citizenry.
So what is the innovation that the Democrats have vouchsafed us in this election? Preceding it, of course, they passed campaign finance reform. Admittedly they were aided by a famous Republican, Senator John McCain; but as everyone knows it was a reform crafted in the workshops of idealistic Democrats. Their fervor has made it the law of the land — at least until the Supreme Court dunks it in boiling oils as an abuse of the First Amendment. Looking into my crystal ball I would predict that the Court will act next summer. So after campaign finance reform what innovation have the Democrats now given us?
In the midterm elections of 2002 the Democrats have proceeded from reforming the financing of campaigns to the next logical step, eliminating campaigns. It makes perfect sense. To the refined sensibilities of the Democrats — the progressive Democrats — political campaigning has become positively uncouth. You have heard their complaints. The campaigns are “negative.” As one of the moral colossi of the Democratic Party, Bill Clinton, is wont to say, they are taken over by “the politics of personal destruction. Equally lamentable, political campaigning is dominated by “special interests” and “big money.”
Now the Democrats have gotten to the heart of the matter, which is to say, not merely a ban on the financing of campaigns but a ban on campaigns period. They have proven to be beneath the dignity of a civilized, decent people. Campaigns are also unnecessary. For years Democrats have known the proper outcome of almost every election. Ask members of any of the leading reforms groups in the land from Common Cause to People for the American Way to, I suppose, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. All will tell you the deserving candidate in every election is a fellow Democrat. So why go through the corrupt and unseemly process of campaigns, fraught as they are with negative ads and Big Money?
This year the senatorial contests in two states showed the wisdom of the Democrats’ historic innovation. If in Minnesota and New Jersey campaigns were not completely eliminated they were kept to a minimum, and a grateful electorate’s response was almost immediate. In both cases the Democratic replacement’s support shot straight up. In New Jersey we can thank the state Supreme Court for stepping in. The campaign between Doug Forrester and the disgraced Senator Robert Torricelli was not promising. Thanks to the New Jersey court, Torricelli could be replaced by a respected elder statesman, the Hon. Frank Lautenberg, and hesto presto, the people responded with frenzied hurrahs. In Minnesota a possible deadlock was broken when Senator Paul Wellstone became an angel, leaving his candidacy to be filled by former Vice President Walter Mondale. Again the response of the long-suffering electorate was immediate and gratifying, a cataract of support for Jimmy Carter’s old number two.
Tastelessly the Republican candidate, Norm Coleman, whined that the former Vice President would not debate. When he failed to show up for a debate the Friday before the election Coleman created such a furor that Mondale canceled a morning golf game to satisfy the Republican’s morbid interest. The debate served no purpose and merely gave Coleman an opportunity to “go negative” with several distasteful contradictions of Mondale’s famous pieties.
Now there is one development in this election that Democrats might find disturbing. It being a midterm election, the party of the sitting President should be losing seats in both houses and this does not appear to be happening. Not only that, but the Democrats have been utterly impotent to gain support for their message that America faces economic disaster at home and abroad certain ostracism from the community of nations owing to our rude treatment of President Saddam Hussein.
I have an explanation, but my Democratic friends are not going to like it. I think that the American people have grown uneasy with the Democrats’ “reforms.” They are aware that voter fraud is an increasingly frequent headline, and the fraud is invariably committed by Democrats. The American people famously favor fair play, and when they see the innovation the Democrats brought down in Minnesota and New Jersey it offends the American sense of fair play. Voters sense that the Democrats are increasingly corrupt and devious, failing, for instance, to offer any policy alternatives to the Republicans. I think the reason the Democrats are not ahead in a year in which they should be is that the American people do not trust the Democrats. They are turning their back on progress for, of all things, ethics.