Jewish World Review Nov. 8, 2002/ 3 Kislev, 5763

Wesley Pruden

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The earth moved,
even for dinosaurs | Sharks are deadly beasts, but sometimes you can be nibbled to death by minnows. Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt can show you the tiny tooth marks.

The school of minnows made quick work of the present Democratic leadership this week. The shift in the landscape, though small by the numbers, is huge in the Washington cosmos. Everything is changed utterly.

Some Democrats get it, but a lot of them don't. The attempt to resuscitate Walter Mondale was a textbook example of dinosaur chic, of what not to do. This attempt to reach into the past, as glorious as it might be to the true believers of the left, became only the signature of the Tuesday disaster. While it's certainly true that the past is not dead because it is not even past, the past is often a caution. A lot of the things that didn't work then won't work now, either.

George W. and his men are holding their breath, to see whether the Democratic Party could be dumb enough to succumb to the instinct to lurch hard to the left, to make the likes of Nancy Pelosi, the ultimate San Francisco Democrat, the leader of the minority in the House and the face of the Newer than New Democrats. Nothing could be more deadly, nothing could do more to assure that the Democratic minority remains a minority in the House for decades to come. For the Republicans, who still believe in a place called hope, it's almost too much to dream of.

The biggest Democratic losers of all were Bill and Hillary, the Bonnie and Clod of our times. The party came a cropper nearly everywhere the ex-prez went - New York, Florida, Minnesota, Georgia, Maryland. He was the Joe Btfsplk of the season, the little man in the comics pages who could never escape the rain cloud hovering close overhead. Election night was particularly ominous for Miss Bonnie. She won't run for president in '04, so bad are her vibes and numbers, and by '08 she probably won't even be a senator, since George Pataki's smashing re-election victory will set up a Pataki-Clinton match for '06.

Nowhere was "paid" put to the Clinton account as in Arkansas, where Tim Hutchinson, a good and decent man who did the honorable thing by marrying "the other woman," paid for offending churchgoing Arkansas in the way that Bill Clinton, credibly accused of everything from groping to rape, never paid for his cheesy indiscretions. Mr. Hutchinson lost to the son of a former senator, David Pryor, the plain vanilla legend who made a career of being inoffensive to everyone and who unaccountably achieved the reputation in Arkansas as having been important in Washington, where almost nobody was aware he was gone because almost nobody was aware that he had ever been here. Some Arkansans might even have thought they were still voting for the father. When the race tightened, the son, Mark Pryor, decked himself out in hunting clothes and campaigned as someone who likes guns, loves Jesus and hates abortion (which he nonetheless avoided promising that he would ever do anything about).

This made Tim Hutchinson, about whose political scruples and convictions no one was ever in doubt of, the perfect sacrifice to traditional values and marital fidelity for the yellow-dog Democrats, who think foreign affairs are furtive weekends in Memphis and all Republicans are damyankees. U.S. senators are eminently expendable, not important in the way that sheriffs, state senators and governors are important. George W.'s plea, made on several trips to Arkansas, that he needs all the help he can get in the Senate to accomplish what most Arkansas voters say they want accomplished, went unheeded because young Pryor, after all, likes guns, loves Jesus, hates abortions, and is not a Republican besides. He can come to Washington and vote with the San Francisco Democrats, like his daddy did, and that won't bother anyone because they don't want to hear about it.

The size of the shift in the cosmos elsewhere can best be measured by the accumulated numbers in the nation's gubernatorial races (the most accurate measure of party loyalty, such as it may be), and with 97 percent or so of the nation's precincts reporting, the Republican candidates won 53 percent of the total vote, a six-point spread for the Grand Old Party. The aggregate was almost that good for the combined 34 Senate races (52.2 percent) and even better in the 435 House races (53.4 percent).

This was a remarkable performance for any president at the midpoint of his first administration, and astonishing for a president with Florida baggage, fractious if not hostile overseas allies, and above all, a tanking economy. He was saved by dint of his own character and energy, together with the ineptitude and intellectual penury of the opposition.

George W. asked the country for help, and they sent it. This was not a matter of patriotism; no one accused anyone of a lack of love of country. But this cannot be a season for sunshine soldiers. What the San Francisco Democrats, a genre that everyone thought had disappeared with the grime of the '60s, can't get through their hard heads is that "it's the country, stupid."

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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