Jewish World Review Nov. 8, 2002 / 3 kislev, 5763
What's Next for The Dems
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe's embarrassing spin on the Democrats' Tuesday night Waterloo was something akin to hearing Mrs. Lincoln say, "At least the play was good." It is one thing to look on the bright side; quite another to stand in a rainstorm and swear it's a sunshiny day.
Nothing changed about the Democratic Party itself between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. What happened was somebody pulled the thermometer out of the turkey and found out this particular bird wasn't ready for company. Now that the voters have delivered their diagnosis in the form wresting Democratic control of and influence upon the last of the three elected elements of government, change will begin.
There is a new direction and image coming for Democrats -- but what will it be?
The first certainty behind that new image is that Democrats can't be naysayers unless they mix policy proposals into their perpetual chorus of "Bush is wrong." This cost them most last Tuesday on the biggest issue for Americans, the war on terror. Their go-slow chant came off as belligerence of the worst kind. Democrats couldn't get behind a popular and reasonable foreign policy after the tragedy of 9/11, so voters decided that Democrats were unwilling to cooperate with opponents, even on a matter of life and death.
Cases in point: slow-walking Bush war requests in the Democratic Senate, stalling the Homeland Security bill in favor of wrangling on behalf of big-donor union constituencies, holding hostage the (admittedly useless) airport security legislation unless new unionized workers were promised, and providing political shelter for the offensive "blame America first" fringe of the far left.
As long as people support the war, the Democrats are going to have to live with this political handicap. The best they can do is neutralize its effect by getting behind the President far more enthusiastically than they have. As it stands, Democrats seem to oppose elements of the war not because of policy differences (though the policies that are becoming their image are pretty unpopular), but because they don't like George W. Bush.
Some Democrats seem to be saying just now that simply having an alternative to the Bush agenda will carry them through. Once they get past the frustration of the election, they'll remember the simple truth that people still have to like your ideas.
Again in terms of foreign policy, the range of Democratic positions are non-starters, from "go slow" voiced by moderates to "do some apologizing to Europe and the Middle East" from the small but vocal radical left. If party members really believe that the prosecution of the war on terror -- including the coming war on Iraq -- is being mishandled, then Democrats are starting a long march to marginalize themselves beyond their nightmares.
The Democrats have a couple of tough years coming up. It will be pretty hard to explain why the high-profile Homeland Security Agency couldn't exist until Democrats were tossed out of power. It will be just as hard to have been milquetoast supporters (at best) of the war on Iraq. By 2004, the thing will have been fought and won, and will have become the foundation for beginning to stabilize the Middle East. How will Democrats explain that?
As long as the economy doesn't go into the toilet-really into the toilet, 1970s style, and not just suffering through the relative head cold of the 2000s-Republican power will be based on well-publicized success in preserving national security. That advantage will remain until the anti-terror war is at least close to settled.
Therefore, the question is what direction the Democrats will turn, left or mainstream-right. My prediction - and I predicted the Senate races accurately on this theory last week -- is that hard-left Democrats are the only ones with the enthusiasm for a fight for the heart of their party. Democratic conservatives are as rare as Republican liberals, and these quasi-right-wingers are few in number, have little ideology and, therefore, have little hope of winning. The left wing will triumph, start to shape the identity of the party by their own positions, and preach rhetoric even more bitter than what we've heard so far.
Democrats seem headed down a road that leads to control by anti-war extremists and would-be Greens -- the party members with the most fire in the belly and ideological self-righteousness. If you are unfamiliar with George McGovern's march to Democratic ignomy, you're about to see Al Gore re-enact it for you: win the party, lose the election. (His anti-war, anti-Bush speeches earlier this year are looking cleverer -- or luckier -- than they seemed.) 2004 is already looking like 1972 all over again.
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10/31/02:The Election Goes Republican: Election 2002 finds Democrats alienating nearly everyone