Jewish World Review Nov. 7, 2002 / 2 Kislev, 5763
Democratic overreaction to our recent "cosmically important" election
Democratic overreaction to a disappointing, but hardly catastrophic day at
the polls may inflict upon the party the serious harm it avoided in the
This was the most important election of modern times, said Walter Mondale,
once but not future U.S. senator from Minnesota, proving that a guy who is
74 years old can still sound as if he were born yesterday.
This was the most important election...since the last one. But in a cosmic
sense, it wasn't very important. We knew before the ballots were cast that
when they were counted, George W. Bush would still be president, and that it
was likely Republicans would keep control of the House. The "surprise" was
that Republicans went from one vote short in the Senate to a two - possibly
a four - seat advantage, depending on the outcome of a likely recount in
South Dakota and a runoff in Louisiana.
Narrow Republican control of the Senate means judicial nominations that have
been bottled up in the Judiciary Committee can now be brought to the floor
for a vote. But it doesn't mean much else. Sixty votes are required to break
filibusters, and Democrats will have at least 47.
Republicans and some pundits are touting the historic nature of the triumph.
The last time the president's party gained seats in both the House and
Senate in the first midterm election was in 1934. But only a handful of
seats actually changed hands, and most of these by the slimmest of margins.
President Bush's popularity, and his effective campaigning were factors in
this "historic" triumph, but the most important factor was luck. Republicans
in 2000 were put in the position where they could lose their then Senate
majority by the defection of Vermont's James Jeffords because they lost all
all the close races. Republicans are now narrowly back in the majority
because they won almost all the close races this time.
Luck flowed the other way in the gubernatorial races, where Democrats appear
to have won most of the really close ones. Seventeen statehouses changed
hands, with Democrats making a net gain of three.
Overall, the 2002 elections showed what the 1998 and 2000 elections also
showed, that the electorate is pretty evenly split between Republicans and
Democrats. But Democrats, with their penchant for recrimination, may be
about to change that.
Already former Clinton advisers James Carville and Paul Begala are blaming
the defeat on "accomodationist" Democrats who supported Bush on Iraq, and
voted for his tax cut. Had Democrats in Congress opposed these policies more
vigorously, the Democratic base would have been more energized, Carville and
Democrats need to stand for something. I think the turning point in this
election was the macabre memorial service turned campaign rally in
Minnesota, which suggested Democrats will do absolutely anything to win.
But does anyone seriously think the electoral prospects of Max Cleland in
Georgia, Jean Carnahan in Missouri or Tim Johnson in South Dakota would have
been improved if they had run as ultraliberals? Mondale ran about as far to
the left as he could go in liberal Minnesota, and it didn't work for him.
The one Democrat who took a senate seat from Republicans, Mark Pryor in
Arkansas, ran as a moderate. If he hadn't, Sen. Tim Hutchinson might have
prevailed, despite his ethical problems.
A key decision for Democrats may come soon. House Minority Leader Richard
Gephardt (D-Mo) may give up the job to focus on a run for president in 2004.
If Gephardt steps down, his likely replacement is Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal),
which would represent a hard left turn.
Democratic behavior in the lame duck session could determine whether the
Democrats keep or lose another Senate seat. Mary Landrieu must run in a
runoff election Dec. 7 in Louisiana, a state Bush carried handily in 2000.
Landrieu barely prevailed when she ran in 1996. If Democrats are strident
and obstructionist in the lame duck session, she could be toast.
The political center has been up for grabs since Bill Clinton made his first
presidential run in 1992. If Democrats desert it now, their time in the
political wilderness could be long indeed.
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© 2002, Jack Kelly