Magazine article USA TODAY

Resisting Temptation

Magazine article USA TODAY

Resisting Temptation

Article excerpt

THE FORTUNES OF PRES. George W. Bush and the Republican Party have continued to dim since the 2004 election. The ongoing struggles in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina disaster, Abramhoff scandals, and Dubai Port controversy have piled on top of one another to give the Democrats their best chance in over 10 years to take back Congress. It may happen, yet the Dems will need a bit more than Republican misfortune to win a majority and then keep it in subsequent elections.

During the years of Democratic dominance, the Republicans were able to win an election or two when the majority party stumbled. In 1946, the Republicans gained Congress when Pres. Harry Truman seemed uncertain as how to handle the Soviets. In 1948, when the President regained his footing with the Truman Doctrine, Marshall Plan, and Berlin Airlift, he was reelected and the Democrats recaptured the House and Senate. In 1952, with the war in Korea apparently stalemated, the Republicans, led by Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, took the presidency and the Congress. Within two years, the Democrats had Congress back and, in 1960, captured the presidency. In 1968, with the Democrats again presiding over another unresolved war--this time in Vietnam--Richard Nixon won the presidency for the Republicans, but not the Congress. In 1976, the Democratic Party was back in control of these branches of government.

During this era, the Democratic Party set the agenda and, thus, maintained its majority. The Eisenhower and Nixon interludes brought little departure from that agenda. In fact. under Nixon, environmental and consumer regulations grew faster than they did under the Democrats. It was not until Ronald Reagan's Administration that the Republicans developed their own distinct agenda. They then proceeded to win five out of seven presidential elections and gained a congressional majority in 1994.

Will a potential Democratic victory in 2006 simply be an interlude in a Republican era? Or will such a victory herald a new Democratic era? Much will depend on what the Democrats have to offer. If a new Democratic Congress simply supplies more Bush bashing, a series of flamboyant investigations, and calls for impeachment, their time in power will be short-lived.

What Democratic agenda would help to reestablish its lost majority? Another round of the New Deal/Great Society reforms (single-payer health insurance, massive public works, or education initiatives) would encounter harsh fiscal realities. The budget already is way out of balance, and the future demands for homeland security and baby-boomer entitlements allow little room for new programs. When the Dubai Port controversy erupted, the Dems sounded as if they wanted to close every leak in our security system, a demand that will have no end for increased funds. Simply raising taxes on the rich will not come near to closing the gap, and the Democrats are unlikely to increase taxes on the middle class.

There is a tempting agenda, but it is a demagogic one--nationalism mixed with a touch of xenophobia: Close up the borders; reduce immigration: eliminate outsourcing; restrict foreign takeovers: and stop regional free trade agreements. There also are important national security implications to consider. …

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