Rampaging Republicans. (Editorials)

The Nation, November 25, 2002 | Go to article overview

Rampaging Republicans. (Editorials)


The President, let's understand, won a historic victory by committing politics--shrewd, aggressive, old-fashioned, take-no-prisoners politics--while the opposition party did the opposite. That is why Republicans reclaimed control of the Senate and even added to their House majority. They are now in a position to do real damage with long-term consequences for the Republic, from gutting the federal tax code to packing the Supreme Court with more right-wingers, advancing an agenda we continue to believe Americans at large neither want nor support. Nevertheless, progressives should take reality's cold shower and acknowledge that this was no fluke or fraud like 2000. Bush and his party brilliantly, daringly used what they had to maximum advantage, while the Dems went limp.

The war-and-terrorism presidency trumped all, silenced Democrats and pushed aside other matters from serious examination. Meanwhile, the GOP cleverly co-opted or smothered the issues that threaten them, from the troubled economy to corporate corruption to prescription drugs (the SEC scandal conveniently vanished election night when chairman Harvey Pitt resigned). And Republicans also ran away from the killer issues like their plan for Social Security privatization. But, above all, they played to win.

The Democrats, meanwhile, once again pursued a minimalist strategy, even emptier than their presidential campaign of 2000, and the results were worse than minimal. Let the recriminations begin. At least, we hope they do. Start by demanding the resignation of the national chairman, Terry McAuliffe, who sounded like a fool on television, trying to spin this terrible defeat into not-so-bad news. This is a disaster for the Democratic Party, given the great public issues they had available for a fight but instead turned into mush. The outcome ought to ignite the kind of furious, focused debates that were suppressed by the Clinton era of New Democrats. Organized labor and other vital constituencies need to take a cold shower, too, and recognize that big, noisy conflict is required. Change the leadership (Dick Gephardt's announcement that he will not run again for House Democratic leader, reported as imminent at presstime, is a good start) and make way for new voices, new thinking. Fire the consultants and pollsters who design these lame, losing strategies. Hire some real-life organizers, who can go out and begin the hard task of reconnecting the party with the American people.

This election should be understood by Democrats as their entry into the wilderness.

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