The Democrats' Dilemma
Bush's November victory, which brought GOP gains in the
House, Senate and state capitals, confirming the Republican
Party as "America's Party," Democrats have seemed adrift
and major contributors are reacting to the election of Howard
Dean as party chair as conservative alumni might react to
news that SDS had just taken over the campus of the alma
word of counsel to the disconsolate. Suck it up. It is not
all that bad. The Right spent years in deserts more barren
than thee have ever known. When this writer went to work
for Richard Nixon in 1965, Republicans had lost seven of
nine presidential elections, held Congress for but four
of the previous 35 years and had carried 38 percent of the
presidential vote -- in a two-man race.
had lost 44 states. A massacre had ensued on the Hill, with
the GOP ranks reduced to 140 House seats and 38 senators.
Nixon was a two-time loser who had, all assumed, committed
hara-kiri in his 1962 "last press conference," where he
had rounded on the jackal pack that had bedeviled him since
the Alger Hiss case. "Think of all the fun you'll be missing,"
Nixon railed. "You won't have Dick Nixon to kick around
1966, the dark night was suddenly over and the sun came
out. The GOP picked up 47 House seats and six senators,
and Nixon would go on to lead the party into an era where
Republicans would win the presidency five times in six elections,
capture both houses of Congress in 1994 and become America's
of bewailing their fate, Democrats should study how the
Nixon-Reagan new majority displaced FDR's New Deal coalition.
prerequisite is patience. The conservative case against
the Liberal Establishment -- its guns-and-butter budgets,
its capitulation to urban rioters and campus radicals, its
no-win war in Vietnam -- had been compelling. But, in 1964,
there had not been time enough for Middle America to absorb
the consequences of 1960s liberalism.
1968, however, the chickens had come home to roost and the
Democratic vote collapsed to 43 percent. Nixon and George
Wallace had carried 57 percent. How to craft a new majority
became clear. Find the issues and employ the rhetoric to
sever Wallace-Daley-Rizzo Democrats from the party, and
solder them to the Republican base.
displace a majority party, you must drive wedges through
its coalition. This happened to Bush I, when NAFTA nemesis
and deficit-hawk Ross Perot won 19 percent in 1992.
should Democrats drop the despondency and start to think?
First, because Bush won a second term by nothing like the
49-state landslides of Nixon or Reagan -- Bush got 31 states.
And though he had led America to victory in two wars, a
turnaround of 60,000 votes in Ohio would have made him the
first president ever rejected in wartime, and he would have
lost to an uncharismatic senator from Massachusetts with
a voting record to the left of Teddy Kennedy's.
the fruits of the Bush policies -- the budget deficits,
the falling dollar, the loss of manufacturing jobs, the
torpid rise in real incomes, the invasion from Mexico, the
Iraq war -- have only just begun to sink in with the electorate.
the surface serenity of the GOP majority, the tectonic plates
could suddenly shift. Like Democrats in '68, Republicans
are divided -- over abortion, gay rights, the Religious
Right, affirmative action, immigration, Big Government,
trade, Iraq. They are united only on the proposition that
it is best that they stay in power and the Democrats stay
the dilemma Bush presents Democrats is not easy to solve.
As a Big Government man, who uses Reaganite rhetoric to
mask Rockefeller policies, Bush has left Democrats little
running room. With his Great Society knock-offs like No
Child Left Behind, faith-based pork, prescription drug benefits
for seniors, "affirmative access," more foreign aid and
a Wilsonian vision "to end tyranny on earth," Bush has moved
the GOP center-left, crowding the Democrats out.
the Democrats are too far left on the cultural-moral issues
-- "God, gays and guns" -- to exploit Bush's weakness on
the libertarian and populist Right.
do Democrats need to do? First, be patient. This is Bush's
turn at bat, just as 1965-66 was LBJ's turn. Their innings
will come. But before they come, Democrats should have answers
to the great problems Bush has failed to solve.
would Democrats deal with the invasion of illegal aliens
from Mexico? How would they stop the loss of manufacturing
jobs? How would they eliminate $400 billion deficits? How
would they get us out of Iraq? How would they make Social
Security and Medicare solvent? What foreign policy do they
propose to replace a Bush Doctrine of compulsive interventionism?
should be thinking, not sulking, because their time is going
to come around -- sooner than they know.
2005 Creators Syndicate
Today's Article to a Friend