The cover story in this week's New York Times magazine described Howard Dean's hardcore support as consisting primarily of impotent nosepickers hoping to make some friends and unsuccessful auditioners for Gap commercials. That is to say, the followers (as opposed to leaders) of tomorrow.
Their passion for Dean was aptly summarized by 24-year-old Lauren Popper – the "official representative" at a Dean campaign office one particular night. Though she "broke into tears several times while trying to explain" the allure of the Dean campaign, Popper managed to convey that she was first attracted to Dean based on his policy of having a state social worker visit every new mother in Vermont (not to be confused with the Arkansas policy from the 1980s in which the governor would visit every woman who was hoping to become pregnant). Not that I'm trying to privatize anything here, but in my home state of Connecticut, a new mother is traditionally visited by her own mother.
Popper added that Dean's becoming president was "a side effect" of the Dean campaign. Cold comfort to the candidate, I imagine. Rather, she said: "This campaign is about allowing people to come together and tell their life stories."
With quotes like that, it's not going to be easy to tone down the Republicans' overconfidence in the coming presidential campaign. But lately I've noticed that a lot of Democrats are comparing inevitable nominee Howard Dean to George McGovern and wearily predicting a landslide for Bush. That's not the fighting spirit we expect from the party that will go to the smallest town in North Dakota to remove the Ten Commandments!
Whenever liberals all start singing from the same hymnal, they are up to no good. (Or since we're talking about American liberals here, maybe I should say, "when they all start reading from the same Quran.")
I believe the game plan is this: The Democrats will spend the next 11 months ruefully admitting that it's going to be a 50-state landslide for Bush. Republicans will engage in their normal partisan cheerleading, and everyone will seem to be agreed that Bush is going to win a 50-state landslide. Then, if the final tally is anything short of that – if it's a 40-state landslide for Bush – the New York Times will be able to crow about Bush's poor showing and run headlines like: "Americans Still Deeply Divided on War."
This is precisely what happened in the 1998 midterm elections. That year, Republicans made history by winning a majority in both Houses of Congress for the third straight time. Just four years earlier, millions of Americans who had never voted Republican in their entire lives did it for the first time. In 1998, they did it a third time. Though Republicans lost five seats in the House, they held their majority. The Democrats half-century stranglehold on the House was over.
The Los Angeles Times headline the next day was typical: "Democrats Exult in Victories as GOP Takes Stock of Losses; Elections: Republicans Retain Control of Congress, But Their Leadership There Is Weakened. Defeats Undercut Impeachment Drive and Reopen Party Divisions."
I suppose it's possible the Democrats' predictions of catastrophe and ruin in the upcoming presidential election are genuine. It is beyond dispute that Howard Dean is a more appalling candidate than George McGovern ever was.
McGovern was an authentic war hero in World War II. Howard Dean showed up at the Army recruiting office with a note from his doctor and a fake limp to get out of serving in Vietnam – before repairing to Aspen for several months of skiing. In Dean's defense, I suppose that, technically speaking, "spinelessness" would be considered a debilitating back condition. (According to the New York Times, this is the same as taking off in jets that fly at the speed of sound while training to be a fighter pilot in the Texas Air National Guard.)
Moreover, the North Vietnamese were savage beasts, but they never attacked America on its own soil. It's a little different to be anti-war now.
But we live in a different country. Apparently, some Americans think choosing the leader of the free world should be a process of people coming together to tell their life stories. (At least that's a step up from the Democrats' 1996 presidential campaign, which, if I remember correctly, was about people telling their stories to grand juries.)
In case Al Gore hasn't called you personally at home in the last 10 minutes to remind you: In the last election, this country gave a slight plurality of the popular vote to Al Gore. A plurality voted for Bill Clinton – twice. In the middle of a titanic struggle with a Soviet totalitarianism, this country elected Jimmy Carter president. If that's not enough to keep you up at night, here's one more: Hillary Clinton's "disapproval" rating has yet to reach 100 percent.
Forget landslides: It's a wonder that Republicans ever win any elections at all.
Consider that approximately 100 million people vote in presidential elections. The total population eligible to vote – including the infirm, the insane, the incapacitated and the bored – is only 180 million strong. And 20 million Americans work for the government. Or at least appear on government payrolls. It gets a little complicated when you're trying to define "work" in the context of a government employee.
Indeed, more Americans work for federal, state or local government than work in any form of manufacturing. We crossed that Rubicon about 10 years ago.
Admittedly, mixed in with employees in public welfare and housing and community development, there is one lone category of federal employee that tends to vote Republican: the military. That's why George Bush recently flew halfway around the globe to serve them turkey.
But according to the 2002 census, there are more civilian employees working for the post office than for national defense or international relations of any kind (829,587 to 680,645). The entire military, both civilian and armed forces, employs fewer than 2 million people.
Meanwhile, there are about 10 million government teachers or other education bureaucrats. (For a profession that is so overworked, undercompensated and undervalued, there sure are a lot of them.)
Then there are the 22 million Americans on food stamps. And of course there are the 39 million greedy geezers collecting Social Security. The greatest generation rewarded itself with a pretty big meal.
Still millions more Americans poach off your salary through literally incalculable government largesse, such as government contracts, corporate welfare, and all the bureaucratic quagmires for which there is no exit strategy, like the earned-income tax credit, disability payments and workman's comp.
It's interesting how difficult it is to locate information about the number of people living off the taxpayer. The government knows how many Alaskan natives have at least a bachelor's degree and live in a two-bedroom home, but it's impossible to track down precisely how many voters get checks from the government.
At a minimum, there must be at least 60 million Americans who draw salaries, in whole or in part, from the government. This is based on the assumption that – except for members of the Supreme Court – there is probably very little overlap between government workers and Social Security recipients. Any overlap is surely more than made up for by the various other government payees.
And we just keep getting more and more of them. Even when the private sector is suffering through recessions, job reductions, cutbacks, plant closings, unemployment – the taxpayer is still hiring! Hey, someone's got to process those extended unemployment benefits Ted Kennedy keeps demanding.
Fortunately, there are some Americans who vote against their base self-interest for the good of the nation. God help us if the Democratic Party ever wavers on its three major planks: abortion, gay marriage and banning the Boy Scouts. (Perhaps they could save a step by figuring out how to automatically abort all future Boy Scouts.)
Consequently, the Parasite Party starts with a guaranteed 40 percent of the vote. They could run a muskrat for president, they could run a stalk of asparagus, they could run an insane person – in fact that appears to be their plan for next year – and the Democrats would get 40 percent of the vote. The Democratic Party pays people to vote for big government and then claims wide popularity for its heinous policy prescriptions. Phrased differently: "Americans Still Deeply Divided on War."