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Advantage Bush

By Jackson Murphy
web posted November 11, 2002

The victory by George W. Bush and the Republicans in the midterm elections was not only a sweeping victory, but also an in your face challenge to an already fragile Democratic Party.

Bush took his stratospheric approval rating on the road, gambled his political capital and won. Now Bush has left an opposition party in disarray, cut down to size numerous potential rivals, while leaving him in sole control of the White House and Congress and if you want to take this as a football analogy, here it is. The people have rewarded the Republicans for offering something whether it was effectiveness on the war or tax cuts. In turn the GOP has scored a first down and is moving down the field. It is no touchdown, but it is definitely advantage Bush.

With just 700 plus days until the next Presidential election, it is a short time for the Democratic Party to reinvent itself, change leadership, and then be ready to take on a president who has proven his capability, his popularity, and his willingness to use both.

As for reinventing the Democratic Party, it will be a choice between tacking to the left and rediscovering, as some have put it, the party's "inner hawk."

Here's the problem: In this election the Democrats offered nothing, and consequently got nothing in return. As David Brooks rightly pointed out in The Weekly Standard, "one party believes in its platform and the other party does not. The Democrats, led by Tom Daschle, sold their soul to win this election, and parties that sell their souls to win usually end up losing." They tried to rehash sacred cows like Walter Mondale, at the same time as they went along, more or less, on taxes and the war.

Let's suppose that they do challenge both the war and the tax cut. It would seem inconceivable that after 20-years of arguments about taxes, or more specifically cutting them, that anyone could run and win on repealing the Bush tax cut. Perhaps different tax cuts, but certainly not no tax cuts. Even more improbable is that someone could run, and win, on some revived leftist agenda. Let me get this straight universal health care or more government is going to win elections? It seems absolutely laughable, but when a party turns to a bench featuring such young blood as Walter Mondale then anything is possible.

They may have already decided that they need more leftism not less. Being for more government is one thing; being against liberating Iraq is another. Post September 11 there is no room to debate the dangers posed to US interests at home and abroad and the American people instinctively understand that.

So to rediscover the inner hawk would require a popular leader who is a hawk and is able to keep the Kennedy (Teddy that is) wing of the party at bay. These traits would help but it will extremely hard to out-hawk the GOP with Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush in charge.

Al Gore isn't much of a hawk anyway, and he'll cash in his lame credentials to run again anyway. They've already turned the clock back on the party to the times of Walter Mondale while he has been growing beards and eating donuts.

What's next the return of Michael Dukakis? Yes there would be a global sigh of relief at seeing him in a large army helmet and in charge. Don't laugh there are rumors that Gary Hart could be back in 2004 too. The worst part? He doesn't look half bad after his thinking on threats to the US in the past few years. Okay he still looks bad, but compared to Gore…

In the wake of the 1992 election the Republicans were able to regroup and take control of the House and Senate with a simple plan all within two years. But that wasn't a full return either. Over at PatrickRuffini.com political analyst Patrick Ruffini suggests, "The midwifing of compassionate conservatism, as obvious a strategy it seems now, took seven years in the wilderness to accomplish."

It wasn't necessarily an ideological shift, but a reaffirmation of existing Republican ideology repackaged-Republicans 2.0 if you will. So it is possible that the Democrats could, and some party apparatchiks have predicted that they will, to steal a line from The Terminator, "be back." But Democrats version 2.0 is really like trading in a Pentium IV for a Commodore 64.

If that isn't tough enough it is a job made difficult by Republican advantages. Not only is the ban on soft money giving the party an unbelievable money advantage but look at the next two Senate races. This election the GOP had to defend 20 seats to the Dems 14 -- and we know what happened. In 2004 the GOP will defend 15 to the Dems 19; in 2006 it will be 16 to 18. It seems unlikely that the Dems will be able to make huge gains at such a technical disadvantage. It is a strategy that might keep James Carville's head in a garbage can for some time to come.

Presidential frontrunners such as Sen. Edwards and Sen. Kerry couldn't even help people get elected in their own backyards. Gov. Gray Davis barely beat the second worst run campaign in the nation. The likelihood that by 2004 they'll be able to energize an entire party? Forget about it!

That leaves one lone soldier. Al Gore. Given his propensity during 2000 to act like the populist, a principled rather than leftist alternative to Bush is unlikely.

When it comes to leadership, a preview of what is to come will happen when the House Democrats choose a new Minority Leader. The New Republic's Peter Beinart warns, "And if it is filled by Nancy Pelosi and Dennis Kucinich, the United States will no longer be a 50-50 nation; it will be a 40-60 nation for a generation."

And if it is indeed Gore who runs in 2004, the history books will quickly make room for him next to William Jennings Bryan and Adlai Stevenson under the headline: multiple failed presidential runs.

Jackson Murphy is a commentator from Vancouver, Canada. He is the editor of "Dispatches" a website that serves up political commentary 24-7. You can contact him at jacksonmurphy@telus.net.

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