Last minute election desperation

Posted: Oct 22, 2002 12:00 AM
Optimistic projections about Republican prospects in the House and Senate on Nov. 5 have Democrats almost hysterical with rage. They assumed that they would do well in this year's elections because, historically, the party occupying the White House loses heavily in the first off-year elections after taking control. But this year, the pattern appears to be changing. Democratic leaders made a conscious decision not to put forward any sort of agenda because they were so sure that history was on their side. They didn't even both to push the minimum wage to a vote -- normally an election-year staple for Democrats. It was thought that there was no need to take the risk of alienating swing voters with Big Government solutions to all the nation's ills. So issues like the minimum wage, prescription drugs, tax increases on the rich and the rest of the Democratic agenda were put on hold until after the election. For months, the Democratic base has been complaining about the lack of red meat coming from their representatives in Washington. Press reports indicate that Democratic fund raising has suffered as a result. But, confident in their belief that the historical pattern would hold, Democratic leaders resisted demands to raise hot-button issues. Thus, on Iraq, the Democratic strategy was not to oppose President Bush, but to get the issue over with as soon as possible. Now, in the waning weeks of the election cycle, Democrats have woken to the fact that their strategy is not working. The historical pattern does not appear to be holding. Campaign experts like Charlie Cook now say that Republicans will almost surely keep the House and have a good shot at retaking the Senate, as well. In a desperate effort to re-energize their base and prevent an all-out Republican victory, Democrats are digging into their bag of tricks for every issue that ever worked for them in the past. We have already seen them frightening seniors with nonexistent threats that Social Security will be abolished. Now they are pushing economic scare stories, as well. The race card will undoubtedly follow, as night follows day. The most underhanded effort I have seen comes from a Democratic front group called American Family Values, which set up another front group called Mainstreet USA, which is running an utterly dishonest ad on television about Republican economic policies. The premise of the ad is that every single bad thing that has happened in the economy since January 20, 2001, is George W. Bush's fault. Lost jobs, falling incomes, rising poverty and corporate malfeasance are all due to the election of Bush, the ad implies. Presumably, none of these would have happened if Al Gore had won. Much of the data in the ad is for 2001. However, any reasonable economist would say that virtually nothing that happens to the macroeconomy in the first year of a president's term can be the result of his policies. Whatever happened last year, in terms of things like poverty and household incomes, was clearly in the cards, no matter who was elected in 2000. As Bill Clinton's chief economist, Joseph Stiglitz, writes in this month's Atlantic Monthly, "It would be nice for us veterans of the Clinton administration if we could simply blame mismanagement by President George W. Bush's economic team for this seemingly sudden turnaround in the economy, which coincided so closely with its taking charge. But although there has been mismanagement ... the economy was slipping into recession even before Bush took office." Economist Paul Krugman, a deeply partisan Democrat, tried to add some substance to the pathetic efforts of the Mainstreet folks in Sunday's New York Times Magazine. In his article, Krugman dredged up all the old canards from the 1980s about Republicans making the rich richer at the expense of average people. It is true that the latest income data show an increase in total income going to those in the top 20 percent of households. But this was true during every year of the Clinton administration, without Krugman ever blaming it on Democrats. Perhaps the silliest point in Krugman's screed is that the 1930s were the Good Old Days, because income inequality fell sharply during that decade. He says it was due to the New Deal, but this is ridiculous. The cause of the "improvement" was the Great Depression, which decimated the incomes and wealth of almost everyone. Obviously, those who lost the most were those who had the most to lose. That is why incomes became more equal. By the same logic, Krugman should be deliriously happy that we are in an economic slowdown, since that undoubtedly is equalizing incomes. And he should be jumping for joy that the stock market is down by $7 trillion, since this means that the rich are trillions of dollars poorer than they were two years ago. But it's hard to see how those among the poor and middle class are any better off as a result. I think most voters are more sophisticated than Democrats think. They can only go to the same well so many times.
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