A verdict on Republicans
The voters have spoken, with a sharp and painful rebuke to the Republican Party for its incompetence and to President Bush for the conduct of the war in Iraq. These are the unmistakable conclusions after a wide cross-section of Americans turned control of the House, and perhaps the Senate, over to the Democrats.
The evidence begins with the exit polls, which called the winners more accurately this year than in 2004. More than a third of the voters called the war in Iraq an “extremely important” factor in their vote; another third called it “important.” More than half think the war has rendered the country less secure. More than half want to withdraw, either in part or in full.
The verdict is loud, clear and unambiguous. Since President Bush’s name did not appear on the ballots, the voters punished his party, just as angry voters punished Democratic representatives and senators in the wake of difficult wars in Korea and Vietnam. History will tell of the consequences, good and bad.
Republican incompetence, minimized in earlier elections, was dealt with this time. Sixty-one percent of the voters disapprove of how Congress has done its job. This is no doubt a cumulative consequence of several sorry episodes, beginning with the mishandling of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina and continuing with the corruption and ethics scandals; congressional involvement with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff; the explosive growth of “earmarks,” as “pork” is currently described; uncontrolled government spending and most recently Mark Foley’s attempted seduction of the pages entrusted to congressional care. These episodes were aggravated by the way the Republican congressional leadership seemed oblivious to it all.
Finally, 41 percent of the voters “strongly disapprove” of Mr. Bush’s performance, and another 15 percent “somewhat disapprove.” Twenty-nine percent describe themselves as “angry,” and 30 percent are “dissatisfied.” This time the energized American left was joined by voters in the middle, and by many conservatives who think the president and his party let them down.
The returns on Nov. 7 demonstrated clearly that this election was not a rebuke of conservative ideals, but a rebuke of those who betrayed those ideals. Indeed, the returns demonstrated that conservatism has spread to the Democrats.
Several liberal and moderate Republicans fell who would still be upright this morning if they had not flirted with liberal nostrums. In the Senate, Mike DeWine of Ohio, who earned a rating of 56 from the American Conservative Union in 2005 and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, with a rating of 12, were thrown out along with conservatives Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Conrad Burns of Montana, Jim Talent of Missouri, and, depending on a recount, perhaps George Allen of Virginia. In the House, voters dispatched liberals of varying hue, such as Jim Leach of Iowa, who earned a rating of 33, Charlie Bass of New Hampshire (58 rating), Jeb Bradley of New Hampshire (60 rating) and Nancy Johnson of Connecticut (60 rating).
Democrats seem to have figured out that left-wing candidates can’t succeed in moderate-to-conservative districts. This time they offered moderate and conservative candidates — tax-cutters, fans of the Second Amendment and even pro-life candidates. Expedient or not, tributes to conservative values worked.
Ballot initiatives reflecting these conservative values continued to succeed. Michigan adopted a curb on affirmative action. Voters in seven more states defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman (though not in Arizona). Arizona voters made English the official state language and also banned bail, state adult-education and child-care money for illegal aliens.
The message of this election was not aimed at conservative values and principles, but at a president and Congress whom conservative voters believe had abused these values and principles, allowing a half-hearted pursuit of the prize to become tarred by corruption, scandal and above all incompetence. Conservatism survives them.