Look at it this way:
Republicans don't have Bill Clinton to kick around any more.
After last week's election, President Junior has run out of alibis. It's all his responsibility
now: Iraq, the economy, the whole shebang. So let them gloat. For one thing, they're entitled.
Besides, it's best for Democrats if they keep believing their own propaganda.
If GOP strategists
had as much sense as they do cunning, Bush would turn away from
the odd mix of corporate utopianism and fundamentalist theology he was trying to shove
down our collective throats before 9/11 saved him from himself, and become the
"compassionate conservative" he campaigned as.
Instead, he's a
good bet to overplay his hand. For all the Republican triumphalism,
the administration's bold economic plan apparently consists of making the Bush tax cuts
scheduled to expire in 2010 "permanent," whatever that means in American politics.
They should call it "play now, pay later," since whoever succeeds him as president gets
stuck with the bill. Junior also appears to think if he doesn't use the forbidden word
"privatization," people won't figure out that those individual Social Security accounts
he's talking about mean sharp benefit cuts
won a huge tactical advantage, but there's no reason to see 2002 as
a major re-aligning election. Fate played a role. Two airplane crashes did more to hand
the Senate to the GOP than Karl Rove's cunning. If not for the tragic deaths of Sen. Paul
Wellstone and Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan in 2000, everything might have been different.
As Howard Kurtz
pointed out in the Washington Post, roughly 24,000 votes proved
decisive. Heck, Pulaski County Clerk Carolyn Staley could misplace that many ballots in
an afternoon. Losing six congressional seats to a post-9/11president who barnstormed
the country in Air Force One like a man running for re-election hardly gives him a
losing the Senate was bad enough without acting like the sky is falling.
It's important to retain a sense of humor. Shrillness rarely works in American politics.
The Chicken Little party always loses. Equally futile are calls for the party to develop a
consistent party line and mimic GOP robo-voting. As Rep. Marion Berry has pointed out,
that's simply not the nature of the Democratic party.
As bad as things
are, they could have been far worse. Did Rove mastermind a timely
bait and switch, substituting Saddam Hussein for Osama bin Laden as Public Enemy #1?
He did. Did the White House market what CNN bills as "Showdown in Iraq" like an
action/adventure film for political purposes? Absolutely.
But if Democrats
failed to offer a clear alternative, it's because they have genuine
differences. That's why Rove's ploy worked. A minority are reflexively anti-war and
would sing "Give Peace a Chance" to a pack of timber wolves. Heeding them would
have turned a close election into a rout. Others believe destroying another U.S.-created
revolving-door tyrant solves nothing and guarantees endless enemies and more terrorism.
They think Iraq wouldn't dare use nuclear weapons if it had them, and can be contained,
like Stalin and Mao.
Still others, like
Al Gore and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) spoke out forcefully for
taking the high road through the U.N. Security Council, which Bush proceeded to do.
Any way you look at it, a 15-0 vote in the Security Council and the Arab League's
endorsement constitute a formidable diplomatic achievement.
To the extent that
Democrats like Kerry, along with Colin Powell and other GOP
"realists" forced Bush's hand, they DID provide an alternative to his saber-rattling, simply
not one that fits on a bumper strip. If war can be avoided, it's partly due to their efforts.
If not, leading a coalition of U.N.allies into Iraq will lessen the bad effects of what most
Muslim countries would have seen as naked U.S. aggression.
It's on the economy
and the Bush tax cut where Democrats dropped the ball,
partly because five Senators perceived as vulnerable voted for the accursed thing.
(Two, Missouri's Carnahan and Georgia's Cleland lost anyway.) It's been reported
that party leaders persuaded Al Gore to muzzle himself in his recent economic address,
leading to legitimate criticism that he offered no alternative.
"How could they let themselves
be buffaloed by Republicans on taxes, with all the facts
and fairness on their side?" wrote the incomparable Molly Ivins. "One had only to say,
'Every single nickel of tax relief in that package will stay in it, but instead of giving 50
percent of the cut to the richest 1 percent of Americans, we're going to put that tax
relief into a payroll tax cut, it's going to the bottom 99 percent of the people.'"
There are answers, but
not satisfactory ones. New Democratic leadership must
assert itself. Let the infighting begin.
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