Jewish World Review Nov. 12, 2002 / 7 Kislev, 5763

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
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The 2002 elections and Nixon | What if Richard Nixon hadn't been a crook? No longer merely idle speculation by political trivia buffs, this is an urgent question with powerful implications for the future - more likely the lack thereof - of the Democratic Party today.

It is possible both to overstate and to understate the significance of the midterm elections. On the one hand, the number of seats Republicans gained was small, and the margins in most cases were narrow. GOP candidates received about 53 percent of the votes cast, a significant improvement from 49 percent in 2000. But much of this gain could be washed away if Democratic turnout rises, as is customary, in the next presidential election.

On the other hand, the Republican triumph was more significant because the GOP had to overcome not only the historical fact that the president's party typically loses seats in a midterm election, but an electoral deck stacked against them. Of 34 senate seats up, 20 were held by Republicans. Of 36 governors up, 21 were Republicans. Yet the GOP held 19 of 20 senate seats, and won 22 gubernatorial races.

The Republican triumph would have been greater if Libertarians hadn't played the spoiler role for the GOP that the Green Party played for Democrats in 2000. Had it not been for votes drained away by Libertarian candidates, Republicans likely would have won the senate seat in South Dakota, and gubernatorial races in Wisconsin, Arizona, Oklahoma and Oregon. The net gain of two Republicans in the senate is important legislatively because nominations bottled up in the Judiciary Committee can now be brought to the floor for a vote. It is important politically because with Republican control of the House and Senate as well as the White House, Democrats lack a power base.

Which brings us back to Nixon. In 1972 Nixon won by the largest landslide in modern American political history, taking 61 percent of the vote and winning every state save Massachusetts. But people were voting against George McGovern, not for Nixon or Republicans. In 1973, Democrats controlled the senate, 56 to 42, and the House, 242 to 192.

Watergate gave Democrats an issue with which to unravel the Nixon mandate, and their control of both houses of Congress gave them the tools with which to do it. But though Nixon was a crook, Bush isn't, and Bush is as easy to like as Nixon was to dislike. Democrats in 1973 had the power to investigate Nixon. Democrats in Washington today have only a limited power to obstruct, which is unlikely to burnish a sullied political image.

A great advantage of controlling the White House is the discipline it imposes on party members in Congress. Bill Clinton held moderate and liberal Democrats together, by their shared lust for power. But without a power base or a dominant party leader, Democrats are likely to speak with a cacophany of increasingly shrill voices, most of them pulling the party away from the political center.

Nancy Pelosi, a limousine liberal from San Francisco, is expected to replace a milk truck driver's son as the Democratic leader in the House, a move not likely to enhance the party's appeal to blue collar workers.

For a party that styles itself "progressive," Democrats spend a great deal of time looking backward - to the Vietnam war, the civil rights movement, the Great Society. When your bright young stars are Frank Lautenberg, 78, and Walter Mondale, 74, your bench strength isn't great.

Successful presidential contenders are usually former vice presidents, or governors. But Al Gore is the only former vice president available, and the only Democratic governor from a big state entering his second term is California's Gray Davis, who makes Gore seem appealing.

Democrats and their allies in the media say wistfully the president could be in trouble if Saddam is not disarmed and the economy still sputters. That's true. But if the war in Iraq goes well, and the economy recovers, Bush could win in 2004 by a landslide that rivals Nixon's in 1972. And there is no Watergate on the horizon to unravel it.

The 2002 elections were not so important for their own sake, but as a harbinger of things to come.

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11/07/02: Democratic overreaction to our recent "cosmically important" election
10/30/02: Show North Korea we're serious: Polish off Saddam
10/22/02: The squealing in the Pentagon is a proof of Rummy's effectiveness
10/16/02: The tactical challenge we face
10/10/02: Silence more despicable than seditious noise
10/08/02: Bu$h and the bu$ine$$ of war
10/01/02: Gore's calculated risk may well get him the Dems' nomination
09/25/02: Schroeder may find the fruits of victory sour
09/25/02: Making Saddam change his spots
09/19/02: Bush's resolve already has paid dividends
09/17/02: Courageous Iranians
09/13/02: If you never served in the military, you have no right to an opinion
09/10/02: Why the 'air marshals' will fail
09/05/02: Resurrecting the "Happy Darky"
08/31/02: Are Bush's inactions against Iraq calculated?
08/23/02: Dems can't take the minority vote for granted any longer
08/20/02: No proof of Saddam's wrongdoing? Yeah, right
08/15/02: Mineta's war on what?
08/13/02: When Gore said he wanted to be his 'own man,' what was he thinking!?
08/08/02: Picking a tree for Cheney's hanging
08/06/02: Fears about the Department of Homeland Security are misplaced
08/01/02: The greatest strategic deception since Eisenhower convinced Hitler the Allies were going to land at the Pas de Calais?
07/30/02: State Dept.'s anti-American actions
07/26/02: Journalists are making sure Americans can't differentiate between the stock market and the economy
07/23/02: Iran's is on the verge of a social and political explosion. So why is media ignoring it?
07/17/02: FBI isn't supposed to stand for Foolish, Blind and Incompetent
07/12/02: The ICC tramples on rights Americans take for granted
07/09/02: Was LA International Airport shooting, in fact, good news?
07/02/02: What the "intelligence community" can learn from Alexander the Great
06/28/02: Muslim link in Oklahoma City bombing revisited
06/25/02: A good environmental scare needs two ingredients - an impending catastrophe, and someone to blame for it
06/21/02: Stirring the security pot
06/18/02: Why the military is so messed up
06/14/02: Vast majority $68.7 billion proposed for weapons will be spent on systems of little use in the war on terror
06/12/02: Bush saw them and raised them, and he's holding the aces
06/10/02: Some heads need to roll
06/04/02: A new draft for the 'war on terror'?
05/31/02: So the FBI has finally caught up to our priorities?
05/29/02: Taking on common sense
05/23/02: Political terrorists
05/21/02: There is a great deal to fret about, but I've never been more optimistic
05/15/02: If there is a way for America to lose the war, Gen. Tommy Franks can find it
05/13/02: Impartial justice against Americans by the UN?
05/07/02: Want to win the 'war on terror'? Reinstate the draft
05/03/02: An expanded NATO is needed as a counterweight to the UN and the EU
04/29/02: Islamic 'smarts'
04/26/02: Did Bush play his Aces with Abdullah wisely?
04/23/02: Why peace in the Mideast is closer than ever
04/19/02: What the Arabs of Gaza and the West Bank gained from the "peace accords"
04/17/02: Logical Muslim allies
04/10/02: How to guarantee an infinite Mideast war
04/08/02: Saddam's American friends
04/05/02: Arab winners and sinners
04/01/02: Why is the commander of U.S. Central Command not coming clean to the American people?
03/31/02: Dubya under attack by conservatives
03/26/02: Saddam watch coming to an end?
03/21/02: Get the Jews!
03/19/02: It's time pols and gov bureaucrats be held to the same standard of accountability we insist for corporate execs
03/15/02: Khaki Throat
03/12/02: Making foreign cheaters pay
03/08/02: Timidity and indecision by senior American commanders
03/04/02: Why 9-11? Ex-CIA officials come clean
02/25/02: Don't rule out a quick victory --- even if prez says otherwise
02/21/02: Saving our military from itself
02/19/02: Front Page fiction
02/15/02: Our European allies are like the fat kid who wants to play quarterback
02/13/02: Is the Army in danger of becoming "irrelevant"?
02/11/02: So, I "propagate hatred"
02/06/02: Bush whacking the media
02/04/02: Why serious folks disregard the European Union --- and why Bush must, too
01/30/02: Give economy pneumonia in order to protect it from a cold
01/28/02: Media is its own worst enemy
01/25/02: Journalists making road to peace a bumpy ride, or: A case study in stupidity
01/23/02: Toward a stronger defense at a lower cost
01/21/02: How Bush could be Generations X and Y's Kennedy ... and guarantee a GOP victory in the midterm elections

© 2002, Jack Kelly