Jewish World Review Nov. 6, 2002 / 26 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763
Robert W. Tracinski
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | As of the writing of this column, it is mid-day on Nov. 5, and the exit polls have not even begun to predict how today's elections will end. It might seem like a bad time to make predictions, given that this is considered one of the tightest congressional contests in years, with control of both the House and Senate at stake and the results dependent on more than a dozen close races across the country.
Yet I can confidently state my prediction: neither side will win.
If the Democrats keep control of the Senate and possibly even gain a majority in the House, they won't win much. They are fighting, not to achieve an agenda, but to avoid political oblivion. Currently, they control nothing on the national level but one branch of the legislature, and if they lose that, they can no longer block the appointment of conservative judges to the federal bench -- or to the Supreme Court. The left faces the prospect of being shut out of power.
But a Democratic win is a Pyrrhic victory, because Democrats have not campaigned for any substantive agenda. The two biggest issues facing the nation are the war and the economy. On both issues, the Democratic Party's official line has been to criticize the administration, while offering no new ideas or alternative policies of their own.
On the war, Democrats in difficult races have largely rushed to declare their support for an invasion of Iraq, while carping endlessly on the details: on whether America has enough support from her allies, on what kind of regime we will support after the war, on whether an Iraq invasion will interfere in some unspecified way with the other unspecified actions we are taking in the War on Terrorism. Note that these Democrats are not brimming with alternative suggestions: they are not making their own appeal to rouse our recalcitrant allies; they are not pushing for Senate hearings on a post-invasion Iraq; they are not suggesting that some other terrorist-sponsoring regime -- such as Iran -- really ought to be attacked first. They are content to let the administration take the lead, while they add nothing but complaints.
The same thing goes for the economy. The Democrats declare that Bush has "failed" in his leadership. Yet the Democrats in those races most likely to tip the balance of the House and Senate mostly support Bush's tax cut. Most Democratic economic proposals are marginal, temporary increases in certain kinds of uncontroversial welfare, like unemployment benefits.
The Democrats can't win a mandate for their agenda, because they have advanced no agenda.
But what is the Republican agenda? When it comes to fighting terrorism, what have the Republicans really done? They have supported President Bush, who has held up the nation's war effort for months while our Arab "allies" betray us and the U.N. Security Council natters, all so he can send inspectors back to Iraq to pursue a failed old strategy. Some unilateralist. And on the economy? The Republicans couldn't pass new anti-corporate regulations fast enough, they have dropped all talk of privatizing Social Security, and they have conscientiously me-tooed the Democrats on a government takeover of prescription drug coverage.
Oh, but of course, there is the burning issue of creating a Department of Homeland Security, legislation that hinges on . . . federal employees' union work rules. Wake me up when the election is over.
There are those who might argue that the voters themselves are divided, confused. I agree. Consider, for example, a recent poll that shows support for war against Iraq has dropped 10 percentage points to a narrow majority during the past two months of inaction. Many people are deeply uncertain on this issue. When the president speaks and makes his argument, he wins their support; when he stops speaking and lets others carp, he loses it. The same is true on many other domestic issues. The people do not know exactly what they want.
But this is precisely when we need real leaders who can present a new policy and make a clear case to the public. Instead, our political parties have pandered to the public's indecision, following every waver of the swing voters. Afraid that taking a stand will cause them to lose support, they have forgotten that taking a stand is the only way to win the people's support. So they will get what they deserve: an uncertain, indecisive election outcome.
Too bad we didn't get what we deserve: a race that would really mean something.
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10/31/02: The rush from judgment