The results of the ’06 election are in. The left wing of the Democratic Party has taken over Congress. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is the Speaker. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) is the new chairman of the Ways and Means panel. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is majority leader, and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) runs the Environment Committee. The left is empowered.
But how did it achieve these majorities? It did so lifted by the wings of moderate, centrist Democrats who mastered their GOP opponents throughout the country. It was not liberals who defeated Republican incumbents in the House and Senate. It was moderates, future members of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC).
The only reason Pelosi is Speaker is that a fresh crop of moderate Democrats ousted Republican incumbents in the House. A majority of these new congressmen and -women have announced their intention to join the DLC.
It is only because pro-lifer Bob Casey beat Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), former Reagan Navy Secretary Jim Webb defeated Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), and gun-control opponent Jon Tester triumphed in Montana that Harry Reid is the new Senate majority leader.
Moveon.org, party chairman Howard Dean, and the blogger left had nothing to do with the ’06 victory. Democrats who study the election results carefully will reaffirm the lessons learned by the defeat of Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis — the American people will not elect liberal Democrats, but will turn to moderates.
The irony is that the expressed will of the American people has been so radically ignored in the shaping of the 110th Congress. The fact is that the elevation of Nancy Pelosi to the speakership is no more a legitimate expression of the voters’ will than would be the retention of Dennis Hastert. The seniority system, rigidly applied by Pelosi in violation of the spirit of the Gingrich reforms of 1994, has ordained that a liberal establishment will run Congress, whatever the voters say.
Is there anyone who will sanely maintain that Rangel represents the broad middle of American views on tax reform, or that Levin speaks for most Americans on national security? All that has happened is that the ranking members have become the chairmen, regardless of their views or qualifications. It is a gesture of homage to seniority that would have the approval of the segregationists that used to run Congress by applying the same ground rules. Back then, no matter how loudly voters demanded integration and an end to racism, the Democratic majority kept apartheid firmly in place. The distortion of the electorate’s will taking place now on Capitol Hill is no more extreme.
Will the Democrats pay for their imperial overreach? Not if, despite taking the majority, they stay in opposition, use their power to oppose the Bush administration, investigate it endlessly, and continue the negative criticism that embodied their ’06 campaign.
But such is not the nature of the Democratic Party. Power will likely go to their heads. Their constituencies will not be appeased by mere partisan criticism of Bush. Had the Democrats been fortunate enough to win only the House, they could have hidden behind the wall of Senate obstructionism and pleaded their inability to pass legislation. But having won both, they have no excuse but to pass legislation that will reflect the will of their issue-group masters and expose the differences between the views of their party and those of the voters.
Bush will still be president, so their output will face a daunting succession of presidential vetoes. So will there be a backlash? No. There will only be the beginning of a backlash. Bush’s likely intransigence on Iraq, global warming, and a host of other issues will shield the Democrats from the political consequences of their own legislative initiatives.
Rather, we have to see 2007 and 2008 as the beginnings of a massive Republican revival. Only when the likes of Hillary Clinton take the White House in 2008 — still my bet — will the resurgence be fully evident. Just as she saved the GOP in 1994, she’ll repeat the favor in 2010 and 2012.