Jewish World Review Nov. 11, 2003 / 16 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764

Peter A. Brown

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Absent change, GOP trend continues | The real news from the off-year voting was that nothing happened to stem the slow, but sure, tide toward a Republican America.

Another election came and went without any evidence to dispute the idea that Bill Clinton, viewed through historical terms, was the 20th century's Grover Cleveland.

That is, Clinton could twice win the presidency because of his individual political skills but not redirect the overall political winds.

That's unlike Franklin Roosevelt, whose 1932 election ushered in an era of larger government and Democratic political dominance that lasted 36 years. Or Ronald Reagan, whose 1980 election began a long, slow process that continues today of GOP ascendance and support for smaller, less-intrusive government.

The election results continued to show that Southern, white Democrats have become an endangered species, and that blacks, especially in urban America, consider Republican a four-letter word.

Both are certainly the case, as GOP gubernatorial elections in Mississippi and Kentucky and the mayoral voting in Philadelphia clearly showed.

If political whiz kid Bobby Jindal wins Louisiana's governorship on Nov. 15 (he leads in some polls) that will nail the coffin even tighter for Democrats in Dixie.

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Democrats who can't carry Southern states (Al Gore, George McGovern, Michael Dukakis, Walter Mondale) can't win enough electoral votes to be elected president. (Yes, Gore did win the popular vote in 2000, but so did Democrat Samuel Tilden in 1876, and the questions about the Republican win that year did not stem the overall GOP success of the era.)

It is worth noting that while the off-year voting was occurring, the big story in the presidential campaign was Democratic front-runner Howard Dean catching untold flak from party activists and his nomination foes over his desire to get the votes of the "guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks."

As Sen. Zell Miller, a Georgia Democrat retiring next year, put it in his book, ``A National Party No More'':

"The modern South and rural America are as foreign to our Democratic leaders as some places in Asia or Africa. In fact, they are more so. Today, our national leaders look south and say, `I see one-third of the nation, and it can go to hell.'''

Whether the October recall election in which Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger won the governorship of Democratic-leaning California says anything other than the once-Golden State's politics are bizarre is unclear.

But what this year's elections clearly show is that the Grover Cleveland analogy is still viable, and the longer until it begins to be reversed, the less likely it can be for many years to come.

For those who are not political history buffs, Cleveland was the only Democratic president between the end of the Civil War and the eve of World War I, a period when the GOP pretty much ran America politically.

Clinton was able to overcome long-term forces making the country more Republican. But his skills could not reverse that trend, just slow it down. Now that he has exited stage left, those forces continue.

That is underscored by a new, thorough study of American political attitudes and affiliations since 1981 that showed that slow, but steady GOP movement.

For the first time in a half-century or more, Republicans have reached parity in voter self-identification.

The scary news for Democrats is that the study by ABC News - 350,000 interviews done by ABC News/Washington Post Poll since 1981 - found that parity had only recently been achieved.

This is a few years after the Democrats had already lost the White House, Congress and a majority of governorships and state legislatures while in the theoretical majority.

One of the dirty, little secrets of American politics is that party identification figures lie - but they lie consistently.

That's because many more people who still think of themselves as Democrats cross party lines when they get into the voting booth than do Republicans. If the party identification figures are even, that is a big plus for the GOP future.

And the long-rumored rise of independent voters is pretty much a media story. The data show virtually no change from 20 years ago, when Democrats held a 16-point lead over the Republicans in identification.

"All else being equal, the trends suggest continued Republican competitiveness in election politics, albeit far from the Democrats' onetime dominance," said an ABC memo.

As that memo points out and the year's voting shows no inclination to disprove, "time has not been on the Democrats' side."

Peter A. Brown is an editorial page columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. Comment by clicking here.


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