Democrats and the ghost of 2002

Posted: Mar 03, 2001 12:00 AM
While I absolutely love the subject of politics, sometimes I hate the practice of politics, such as is being employed by the Democratic leadership in its unprincipled opposition to President Bush's tax cut and overall budget plan. For you benevolent detractors out there, bless your misguided hearts, I understand that it is quite possible for there to be principled opposition to Bush's budget package, so I'm not suggesting it is flawless. In fact, there are portions of it that are troubling to some conservatives. But the thrust of the Democratic resistance to the Bush plan is more likely grounded in political concerns. Specifically, the Democrats are so anxious to regain control of Congress that virtually every legislative stand they take is bathed in political calculations concerning that goal. Proof of their obsession with the midterm elections of 2002 is the recurrence of macabre news stories monitoring the health of senior Sens. Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms. (Is it just my hypersensitivity as a compassionate conservative, or do you also find it distasteful that the minority party appears to be salivating at the prospect of either of these two men passing on?) Some may disagree that the specter of 2002 has anything to do with the Democrats' hostility to Bush's proposal. National Journal's political analyst Charlie Cook wrote a piece speculating whether Bill Clinton's newfound pardon problems would redound to the detriment of the Democrats in the 2002 elections. He concluded that the current Democratic leadership would not be tagged with Clinton's sins in this instance. But Cook argued that Clinton's latest scandal might indirectly hurt Democratic chances in 2002 because it may neutralize Clinton as a fund-raiser for the party. Cook, of course, is correct that money will be a factor, as it is in all elections, but the Democrats will find a way to compensate if Bill Clinton is either unwilling or unable to bring home the bacon. Besides, they've got the mercenary Clinton finance guru, Terry McAuliffe, in charge of the party's fund-raising apparatus, so money is not their chief concern for 2002 right now, in my exceedingly humble opinion. No, the Democrats are thinking about the political fallout both to themselves and Republicans if they successfully thwart Bush's plan. Now here's the rub for the Democrats: George Bush, who fervently believes in every aspect of his tax and budget plans, is on the road trying to sell it to the voters. And, if he succeeds -- and he's off to a good start -- Daschle and Gephardt are going to be faced with a powerful dilemma. Let me lay out their conundrum. These counterfeit Robin Hoods are obstructing Bush's fiscal policies not to protect the middle class or the poor, but to stall an economic recovery that Bush's plan would help to stimulate. A prolonged recession obviously fits into their plans to reacquire power in 2002; witness a similar phenomenon in 1982. But if Daschle and Gephardt succeed, they'll do so at the price of potentially alienating the very voters they are trying to court for 2002, who appear to be lining up in favor of Bush's plan. Indeed, Democratic Sen. Zell Miller, who has signed on to Bush's tax plan, has warned his fellow Democrats that they'll be routed in 2002 if they don't get on board. Plus, the Democrats risk being saddled with the blame if a recession continues into 2002 and they had deliberately interfered with a tax policy designed to alleviate it. So what will these highly trained Democratic class warriors do? Glad you asked. I think they'll make every effort to ratchet up the rhetoric, stoke the stridency, fuel the fear, fool the fearful, dupe the downtrodden, pester the penniless, insult the ignorant, agitate the aged, rile the races, sever the sexes, con the clueless, deceive the disadvantaged, unsettle the unschooled, unnerve the unsophisticated, sucker the somnolent (sorry, couldn't resist), snooker the snoozers, manipulate the malleable, mislead the masses, nettle the naïve, hector the humble, oppress the oblivious, hoodwink the have-nots, punish the producers and exploit the elite. But this time they probably won't get away with it. They've got a tougher adversary now than they've had in a long time. And, he's got a couple of major weapons on his side, whose formidability the cynics are incapable of fathoming: truth and conviction.