Jewish World Review Nov. 8, 2002 / 3 Kislev, 5763
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Today, I have egg on my face, for predicting a Democratic win. Pardon me while I wipe it off. In politics, you are either right or wrong, and when you're wrong, you need to understand why so you don't make the same mistake again - you make new ones.
Here's why I think the Democrats lost:
The closing week of the election featured old Walter Mondale as the poster boy for the Democrats. Having led them to defeat in 1984, he came back for an encore in 2002 with the same result. Not only did the has-been liberal go down to defeat in his home state of Minnesota, but he dragged the party's Senate candidates down with him.
Looking like an aging member of Brezhnev's Politburo, he seemed the ghost of liberalism past as he emerged as his party's best-known Senate candidate. His very appearance told one volumes about the Democratic Party's embrace of his tax-and-spend past. The repositioning of the '90s vanished in a nod of his gray head and, like twice-cooked pork in a Chinese restaurant, he led his party to a second defeat.
But, in a deeper sense, voters abandoned their traditional desire for split government in their desire to quiet the partisan bickering in Washington. In the aftermath of 9/11, a public-opinion survey asked voters to characterize the changes in their personal attitudes after the attacks. For example, the survey, conducted by Vote.com in November of 2001, probed whether people felt "more suspicious of strangers," "more willing to give to charity," "more fearful of flying" or "more respectful of people in uniform."
The most frequently mentioned response of all of these common reactions was that voters felt "less tolerant of partisan bickering in Washington."
In the 2002 election, this disgust at political infighting with our nation on the line manifested itself in a desire to give our fighting, young president the power he needs to protect us in a dangerous world. Checks and balances seem, these days, less important than empowerment and action to most voters.
It's barely tolerable when Mom and Dad fight. But when the family is under siege and in crisis, disunity becomes terrifying for those who depend on their parents for protection. Americans don't want Washington to be a battlefield. They want Iraq to be the battlefield and for Washington to be united.
Finally, the 2002 election adds to the copious evidence that the economy is no longer the central issue on which electoral fortunes hinge. In 1992, Bill Clinton was able to power his way to the presidency by focusing on the economy (although other issues like his pledges to "end welfare as we know it" and to embrace a middle class tax cut also played a key role).
But, since then, voters have learned that America's economy is influenced by global forces and international bankers who are way beyond the power of the president to control. To the extent that the political process has a lever with which to move the economic numbers, it's through the Federal Reserve Board and nobody tells Alan Greenspan what to do.
President Bush completed, in 2002, the unfinished business of 2000. Deprived of a popular plurality when he was elected, he scored big with the American people this week and demonstrated that his presidency has a mandate and is not one big usurpation.
Unfortunately, I missed many of these developments as they were unfolding. The hardest thing to do in politics is to be an insider and think like an outsider - like a real, live voter.
To an insider, of course the Dems nominated Mondale: He's been a presence in the party for decades. But he reminded outsiders of a past they would rather forget.
The conflict endemic to Washington becomes normal to an insider. Like a mother of an unruly child, she doesn't really hear the crying and screaming anymore. But to outsiders, terrified of terrorism, the raucous display of partisanship is threatening and offensive.
To paraphrase Rudyard Kipling, you've got to walk with
kings but keep the common touch. It's hard to do.
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