WASHINGTON -- All right, so in my sanguine commentary on Campaign 2002 over the past few weeks, I have been proved wrong. When it came to making a precise prognostication of the outcome in the Senate, my optimism blurred my vision. It is now incumbent upon me to be big enough to admit my error. "My hunch is," I mistakenly wrote two weeks ago, "that enough seats will actually go to the Republicans to give them a one-seat majority in the Senate." My mistake -- it now appears Republicans have a two-seat majority in the Senate. Possibly, the Republicans will pick up another Senate seat in next month's Louisiana runoff. So here I am before you, eating humble pie; but I am washing it down with champagne, Pol Roger.
After all, I was right in predicting that President George W. Bush would gain congressional seats, unlike earlier presidents who almost always suffered congressional losses at their first midterm reckoning. In the past 100 years, the White House's triumph has been replicated only three times. The weekend before the election, all of television's gabbing heads entered into a dirge, predicting Republican losses and a Democratic majority in the Senate. Only Larry Kudlow, writing in the Washington Times (the Good Times), shared my optimism -- hats off, Larry.
I think I was also right two weeks ago when I laid down my reasons for the forthcoming Bush victory. I attributed it to the country's "mood" and to the gentlemanly tone the president set.
Various ominous events have put the American voter in a "vigilant" mood. We suffered a vile terrorist attack on our shores on Sept. 11, 2001. It reminded the citizenry of prior terrorist attacks Americans suffered beyond our shores in the 1990s, attacks the government treated lightly. Saddam's truculence, North Korea's cavalier rebuilding of its nuclear weapons program and the brutal Washington sniper attacks intensified Americans' growing sense of vigilance. On Nov. 5, they put their trust in a president who has demonstrated that he will take more than "wag the dog" measures to deal with our enemies.
What was equally consequential in Campaign 2002 was the president's gentlemanly tone. He really was serious when he came to Washington promising to "change the tone," and the American people favor the change. As Robert L. Bartley, editor of The Wall Street Journal, has remarked apres the vote, "As for the Democrats, the big story is that voters have in a big way repudiated the McAuliffe-Carville-Clinton smash-mouth politics." The electorate is tired of their bully tactics and suspicious of their habit of playing fast and loose with ethics and the law.
These Democrats have lost the electorate's trust. They tried to make "corporate ethics" an issue, but the electorate understood that the party of Clinton has no claim on ethics. The corporations guilty of ethical and legal violations had contributed heavily to both parties, and the ethical standards the corporate cads followed were those of Bill Clinton, a man famed for his impudent deceits and for commissions of perjury and contempt of court. What credibility could Terry McAuliffe have on "corporate ethics" when he himself had seen his $100,000 investment in Global Crossing turn into an $18 million profit? And how much trust can one place in a party whose national chairman, McAuliffe, the night of his historic defeat tells Larry King, "Tonight was a good night for the Democrats"?
Moreover, the American people are famous for their sense of fair play. With increasing frequency, they have witnessed the Democrats breaking the rules or placing themselves above the law. The widespread charges of voting fraud immediately before the election were almost always instances of Democratic voting fraud. The unedifying spectacle of the New Jersey Supreme Court denying a Republican candidate certain victory by changing the rules in midcontest is another example of a corrupt party in action. In both New Jersey and Minnesota, the Democrats moved from their proclaimed pieties about campaign finance reform to attempting to end campaigns altogether or at least shortening them to their favor.
On Nov. 5, the bullies were routed. One of their most blatant acts of bully politics has been their treatment of White House judicial nominees, some of whom have had their good names sullied for life by charges of racism and perfidy. Now, the president's party will have control of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and perhaps his gentlemanly tone will replace that of the devious Sen. Patrick Leahy, a man who has demonstrated contempt for good manners, good government and the Bill of Rights. He in his partisan fevers has left the federal judiciary enfeebled by vacancies. That dangerous condition will now end.
And now, I have to wobble off with my bottle of Pol Roger and meditate on how I got the election so wrong. I was almost as far off as McAuliffe and Carville and Clinton -- either Clinton.