The state of American politics, 2002
11/5/2002 12:00:00 AM - Pat Buchanan
In Y2K, George W. Bush became the first man in more than a
century to win the White House with fewer votes than his rival. Since his
victory, 1.7 million workers have lost their jobs and a bear market has
ravaged the savings accounts and pensions of millions of families.
Thus, Tuesday night should have been a blowout for the
Historically, too, a president's first off-year election
produces big losses. Reagan lost 26 House seats in 1982. Clinton lost 52 in
1994. Yet, 24 hours before the polls opened, Republicans were even money to
hold the House and retain their 49 seats in the Senate.
Whatever happens on Election Day, President Bush cannot be
faulted. He recruited candidates, put his prestige and popularity on the
line, campaigned harder than any chief executive, raised more money than
even the greatest buck-raker of them all, Bill Clinton -- and set the
Since he returned from his Crawford vacation, he shifted the
focus of the national campaign from the tough economic times to war with
Iraq, and forced both Houses to cede to him the authority to launch a
pre-emptive strike at a time of his choosing. Agree or disagree, that is
The secret of the president's success to date lies in his
willingness to shove all his chips into the middle of the table, while the
poll-driven party of Gephardt and Daschle has failed to exhibit any audacity
The president fought for and got 80 percent of the tax cut on
which he campaigned, a tax cut Democrats yet believe was a giveaway to the
rich. But when the economy tanked, did Democrats propose legislation to take
back the tax cut to the wealthy and transfer it to the middle class? No. Why
not? The president will veto it, they said.
The real reason: Bush would have charged them with trying to
raise taxes, and Democrats did not believe they could answer the charge or
survive the allegation.
Most Democrats believe Saddam Hussein is no mortal threat, that
containment has worked, and that the consequences of an invasion and
occupation of Baghdad could be disastrous for U.S. interests. Yet not one
presidential prospect in Congress -- Gephardt, Daschle, Lieberman, Kerry --
voted against giving the president the power to go to war. Even Hillary
Clinton voted for this Tonkin Gulf Resolution. Yet all hail the courage of
Paul Wellstone, the only vulnerable Democrat to have voted "no."
But if Democrats have taken a sabbatical from liberal principle,
the GOP is no profile in conservative courage. In the 1990s, they promised
voters they would shut down the U.S. Department of Education, balance the
budget, end affirmative action and protect the unborn. Yet, today, the
Department of Education has been massively enlarged, federal spending has
exploded, affirmative action remains federal law and 3 million abortions
have been performed since the Florida recount. On the social issues, the
Republican Party has become an army of rabbits.
All of which explains why some conservatives looked on this
election the way Easterners looked on a World Series between Anaheim and San
Francisco: The games may be exciting, but who cares who wins?
Every two years, commentators bewail the declining numbers who
bother to vote. But why should Americans take these elections seriously? Do
they really make that great a difference in our lives?
Of 435 House races, perhaps 5 percent remain truly competitive,
as both parties have colluded inside state legislatures to keep the maximum
number of safe districts. Even in those contested races, both candidates, on
the advice of pollsters and consultants, avoid controversial ideas and mouth
pieties, and let the campaign ads do the dirty work.
The huge infusions of campaign cash that have crowded out third
parties are used mostly for attack ads targeted at voters with the attention
span of a 10-year-old. Republicans accuses Democrats of being soft on
national security. Democrats accuse Republicans of seeking to destroy Social
A billion dollars of attack ads on radio and TV every two
years, tearing apart the opponent -- "driving his negatives up" -- will that
not one day kill belief in the system itself? Already, the power of negative
ads has helped turn off tens of millions of voters and induced a visible
cowardice in legislators desperate to keep their jobs
Six weeks ago, when President Bush demanded that Congress vote
on giving him the authority to launch an attack on Iraq that could ignite a
war of civilizations, Democrats were outraged he was forcing them to take a
stand, on the eve of an election! As though this were the worst of dirty