No time for gloating

Posted: Nov 12, 2002 12:00 AM
The President has made it known: There will be no gloating in this White House about the amazing Republican victories on Election Day. There will be no shiny-eyed exulting in the GOP's historic gains in the House and Senate, and no breathless enthusing about the president's political courage in having staked all his political capital on this mid-term election -- and won. That's fine and good for a White House in which the president has an innate sense of decorum down to his boot tips. Little wonder he demands from his staff, as spokesman Ari Fleischer put it, "a touch of graciousness." But what about the rest of us? Saying the right thing (sans smirk) to the wronged Democrat may not come easily to someone still giggling over all those unexpected victories. Tut, tut. It's important to bear in mind that where there are big winners (Erlich, Coleman, Bush), there are big losers (Kennedy Townsend, Mondale, McBride). We need to walk 150 feet without electioneering in their shoes. Empathize with that new minority. Realize they don't color Democratic states blue for nothing. You never know when you might happen upon, say, Richard Gephardt. With just a little no-gloat sensitizing, you would know how to put the House minority leader at ease by congratulating him for being the only member of the Democratic leadership to have retained his job. Then there's Tom Daschle. The plight of the erstwhile Senate majority leader puts a greater strain on the old tact resources. It's not easy finding the right thing to say to someone assuming the minority position while passing the baton, or gavel, or whatever it is, that - poof -- turns every one of his Democratic committee chairmen, including Patrick Leahy, into a ranking minority member. (This, in the fairy-tale world of Washington, is the political equivalent of a frog.) Words fail? You bet. In this case, the no-gloat Republican seeks inspiration from someone who speaks Mr. Daschle's lingo, someone like Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic National Committee chairman. The rest is easy. Simply reassure Mr. Daschle that, as Mr. McAuliffe now says, we are in "basically the same place we were after the 2000 election. Fifty-fifty. Parity. Not much has changed." Add that personal touch by asking what's one or two senators among friends? Then ask the new Senate minority leader to pass along the news to Jim Jeffords. Mr. McAuliffe himself presents a simpler case. Avoid the minority-majority unpleasantnesses altogether by telling him that it's the dream of every Republican that he remain DNC chairman. So long as Mr. McAuliffe stays at the helm, of course, the Democratic Party remains in thrall to Mr. McAuliffe's sponsors, Bill and Hillary Clinton. Judging by this same mid-term election, that's good news for the GOP. Why? This election was not -- how to put it without gloating? -- a red-letter day for Clinton, Inc. While the Democrats netted four new governorships, the Florida, Massachusetts, New York and even Maryland statehouses went Republican despite the Clintons' frenetic flesh-pressing and fund-raising efforts. While Democrats won in New Jersey and Arkansas, Senate seats in New Hampshire, North Carolina, Georgia, Oregon, Missouri and Minnesota went for the GOP despite -- or because of -- that same Clinton connection. In the no-gloat spirit, maybe it's best to forget the more poll-challenged among the Clinton-supported candidates and see what worked. Most Americans know what happened when the Democratic Party got together in Minnesota not to bury Paul Wellstone but to resurrect Walter Mondale. Not many realize that Mr. Clinton flew straight from the land of 10,000 frozen lakes to another memorial tribute -- this one a four-rally event in Hawaii for the late Patsy Mink, the Democratic congresswoman who died in September. Bill Clinton may have been the kiss of death for living Democrats -- Mr. Clinton campaigned for Hawaii's Democratic gubernatorial candidate, for example, and the state elected its first Republican governor in 40 years -- but something clicked for Patsy Mink. She posthumously held her seat. (Maybe Mr. Clinton put her over the top when he said he "was a declared dead a dozen times when I ran for president in 1992, and a dozen times after ...") Could it be there's a future for the former president in memorial politics? Call it "mourning in America." Why not? The man has to do something. Even before Tuesday's vote, there were politicos knocking the Clinton factor. "I'm not sure you'll be able to blame Clinton and Gore for Democratic defeats next week, but you'll certainly be able to say their day has come and gone," Republican strategist Rich Galen told the Washington Times. The morning after the election Newsweek's Howard Fineman was more succinct: "The Clinton era is finally, finally over." No time to gloat. The Bush era, with its midterm mandate, is well underway.