|Stampeding the Herd
October 9, 2002
Stampeding the Herd
Writing in the Washington Monthly, Nicholas Confessore asks an interesting
question: are Democrats being penny-wise and pound-foolish not to
"nationalize" the upcoming mid-term elections? "The GOP already controls
the White House, the Supreme Court, and the House of Representatives,"
Confessore writes. The Democrats control the Senate, but by only one vote.
Polls of the handful of competitive Senate races indicate that control of
the chamber is a toss-up."
Should the Republicans run the table come November, holding the House and
winning back the Senate, it would give them control of the entire U.S.
government for the first time since 1929. (Although the GOP briefly
controlled Congress under Eisenhower, Democratic appointees dominated the
Supreme Court. Also, before Nixon's "Southern Strategy" remade the party,
the phrase "liberal Republican" wasn't yet an oxymoron.) And we all know
what happened in 1929, don't we?
Given the ruthless opportunism of the Bush administration and the radical
right-wing ideology of today's Republican party, he argues, the potential
exists to inflict the entire GOP agenda upon a largely unwilling country.
You name it, and President Junior could get it done: withdraw the U.S.
from all international arms control and environmental treaties, grant
"regulatory relief" to pollu-ters, "tort reform" to corporations whose
products kill people, render workplace safety rules inoperable, drill for
oil in national wildlife refuges, harvest timber in national forest
wilderness areas, "privatize" Social Security with sharp benefit cuts,
bankrupt Medicare through permanent tax cuts for the rich, exchange
federal education aid for private school "vouchers," stuff the federal
courts full of right-wing apparatchiks, reverse Roe v Wade, tell the
United Nations to pound sand, and wage "pre-emptive" war against the
entire Islamic world.
Sounds alarmist, I know. And yes, there's another election scheduled in
2004. But combine the GOP platform with the relentlessly partisan first
months of the Bush administration--i.e. before Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords
quit the Republicans in protest--and it's not so far-fetched.
"This vision would rightly alarm any right-thinking Democrat--and the
great majority of independent voters, as well," Confessore writes. "It's a
threat that is real, that won't go away, and that plays in every swing
district in America. But not a single Democrat has bothered to explain the
dangers of GOP one-party rule on the campaign trail, in a major speech, or
in Congress itself. Why?"
Confessore's answer is that Democratic candidates have allowed themselves
to be muzzled by political consultants. The received wisdom is that
"national" campaigns don't work in mid-term elections. Despite polls
showing that strong majorities oppose almost every item on the above list
of horrors, Americans tend not to vote for parties, but for individuals.
Also, like Tim Hutchinson, GOP candidates masquerade as defenders of
Social Security and Medicare during campaigns. Republicans know they can't
kill these programs outright; they mean to starve them to death.
Voters consistently say they favor "divided" government, with neither
party controlling Congress and theWhite House. Political scientists
insist, however, that hardly anybody actually votes on that basis. "Having
a check on Bush is a bank shot," says Democratic consultant Peter
Brodnitz. "It doesn't have direct application to people's concerns.."
Confessore isn't persuaded. He thinks Democrats are being short-sighted
and too intimidated by Bush's supposed popularity. "If just the top
Democrats in town," he argues "Tom Daschle, Dick Gephardt, Hillary
Clinton, John Kerry, Terry McAuliffe, and the rest--spent a week talking
about what would happen if the Republicans take control, buzz alone would
create national exposure."
But would it? None of those could do much for Mark Pryor, I fear.
Daschle's doing what he can to re-elect fellow South Dakota Democratic
Sen. Tim Johnson. Otherwise, the argument's too abstract to influence most
voters. Warning against GOP hegemony might help, say, Frank Lautenberg in
New Jersey--basically a Democratic state. So let him make the argument
along with whatever surrogates he invites to campaign for him.
Once again, the Republicans stole a lot when they stole the presidency.
History has shown that only the White House has any chance whatsoever of
"nationalizing" a mid-term election. As Al Gore pointed out two weeks ago,
President Junior's attempting to do exactly that by stampeding the country
toward war with Iraq.
It may be backfiring. Despite the ritual abuse of Gore by right-wing
pundits the Democrat-Gazette ran a lengthy editorial and several columns
without a single quote or halfway accurate paraphrase of what he actually
said polls show deepening unease at the suspect timing and transparent
manipulativeness of Bush's quest. It's doubtful even Junior believes that
Iraq's about to launch a nuclear attack on the U.S. Pretending made him
sound shrill and defensive Monday night.
The last time the GOP tried to stampede the electorate was the Clinton
impeachment in 1998. That failed badly, and something like it may be
shaping up again. ---