A Repub­li­can de­feat, not a Demo­cratic vic­tory

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - WILLIAM RUSHER

The first thing to be noted about the Nov. 7 elec­tion re­turns is that they were not, in any se­ri­ous sense, a Demo­cratic vic­tory. They were, how­ever, a thor­ough­go­ing Repub­li­can de­feat. The Democrats had prac­ti­cally noth­ing to do with it. They had no pol­icy pro­pos­als to speak of — least of all on Iraq, which they in­sisted was the cen­tral is­sue. But in a two-party sys­tem, if the vot­ers de­cide to throw the ras­cals out, their only op­tion is to throw the other ras­cals in. All the Democrats had to do was be there.

The Repub­li­cans have only them­selves to blame. The can­di­dates up for elec­tion were all mem­bers of Congress — one third of the Se­nate, and the en­tire House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Not sur­pris­ingly, the Democrats sought to turn the whole thing into a ref­er­en­dum on the war in Iraq, which is un­der­stand­ably un­pop­u­lar but hardly the fault of Congress. But, to the ex­tent the vot­ers chose to base their de­ci­sion on mat­ters for which the Repub­li­can lead­er­ship of Congress was in­deed re­spon­si­ble, they can be for­given for de­cid­ing to give the Democrats a chance.

In the 12 years since the GOP took con­trol of Congress, they have set­tled down com­fort­ably to “pol­i­tics as usual,” mim­ick­ing the per­for­mance of the Democrats dur­ing their 40 years in con­trol. They cheer­fully aban­doned their con­ser­va­tive com­mit­ment to re­duc­ing gov­ern­ment ex­pen­di­tures, rack­ing up deficits that would have ap­palled Bill Clin­ton, and, ac­tu­ally, pushed the use of “ear­marks” (whereby in­di­vid­ual law­mak­ers can in­sert pork into leg­is­la­tion in­vis­i­bly) to lim­its not even the Democrats had ever dreamed of. In­evitably, in this at­mos­phere, out­right cor­rup­tion ul­ti­mately made its ap­pear­ance, and sev­eral Repub­li­can mem­bers of the House and their staff mem­bers are now in, or on their way to, prison.

What the Democrats will do with their new­found power is a ques­tion worth ask­ing, pro­vided you don’t ex­pect much of an an­swer. The truth is that, with Mr. Bush in the White House for an­other two years, and per­fectly ca­pa­ble of wield­ing his veto pen, the Democrats couldn’t im­pose their own pol­icy agenda on the na­tion even if they had one. They can, to be sure, block Repub­li­can mea­sures, and use the con­gres­sional sub­poena power to in­ves­ti­gate and if pos­si­ble pil­lory in­di­vid­ual Repub­li­cans. But a di­vided gov­ern­ment guar­an­tees, for the next two years, what will amount to grid­lock. And that may turn out to suit the Amer­i­can pub­lic very well.

It will, how­ever, be fas­ci­nat­ing to watch the un­fold­ing of the strug­gle among the Democrats in Congress for con­trol of the party’s ba­sic di­rec­tion. In re­cent years, lead­er­ship of the Demo­cratic Party in Congress has de­volved, in­evitably, on those se­nior mem­bers who will now chair all of the pow­er­ful com­mit­tees. Th­ese tend to be vet­er­ans from safe, ul­tra­l­ib­eral dis­tricts: Charles Ran­gel in Ways and Means, John Cony­ers in Ju­di­ciary, John Din­gell in Com­merce, etc. Such men will see their new­found power as a way of lead­ing the Demo­cratic Party to the left, and they can be de­pended on to try to do so.

But many of the Democrats elected to Congress for the first time this year are of a very dif­fer­ent breed. They are, in many cases ac­tu­ally, con­ser­va­tive. That was how they man­aged to un­horse their Repub­li­can op­po­nents, and there is no rea­son to sup­pose they will aban­don this highly suc­cess­ful pos­ture now that they are in of­fice. It is a safe bet they will act as a ma­jor drag on the left­ist im­pulses of their se­niors.

The bat­tle will be­gin in Congress, but it will play out in the con­test for the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion in 2008. Which is why that strug­gle for the soul of the Demo­cratic party may de­ter­mine its fu­ture — and thus, to some ex­tent, Amer­ica’s — for many years to come.

As for the Repub­li­cans, we shall see how rapidly they can re­cover from their self-in­flicted wounds. In the long run, ev­ery­thing de­pends upon their re­dis­cov­er­ing, and recom­mit­ting them­selves to, the great con­ser­va­tive prin­ci­ples that gave the GOP its long do­min­ion over the na­tion.

For that rea­son, the Repub­li­can Party, too, will (like the Democrats) have to make, in 2008, a fate­ful de­ci­sion about its fu­ture. Of th­ese mat­ters, more in my next col­umn.

William Rusher is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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