Anger managment

Posted: Aug 07, 2003 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Being an insomniac, I read many of the works of the country's leading political scientists and academic historians at bedtime. Believe me, a thick book on voting patterns among the homeless in Brooklyn Heights or one by a leading historian about homosexuality among 17th-century slave traders in the Caribbean is more certain to induce sleep than a whole bottle of Seconol, though the barbiturate is arguably less deleterious to one's health.

At any rate, I read a lot of academic stuff, but I have yet to come across a book that tells us much about the intellectual and psychological make-up of the politician. This, I believe, is because so many of our politicians are too weird even for an American academic to contemplate.

There was a day when the candidate for high office was occasionally quite normal. Harry Truman was normal, with touches of greatness. We all know that Winston Churchill began his morning with a light whiskey. Actually, President Truman did the same, after a brisk walk. Now that is my idea of a great man.

There are no Harry Trumans seeking high office in the Democratic Party today. The closest approximation to a Truman in terms of political beliefs is Sen. Joseph Lieberman, and his candidacy is in trouble. Just the other day, he had to sound the alarm against his fastest rising competitor, Dr. Howard Dean.

Very few people know much about Dean because he comes from such remote environs. He was governor of Vermont -- or was it New Hampshire, or was it Liechtenstein? I knew him for years on a television show we did in Montreal, and I could never get his point of origin quite right.

At any rate, I did know him. We would tape several shows every few weekends for a series called "The Editors." As he was not an editor, I also tended to doubt that he was a governor, and I had absolutely no faith in his claim to being a doctor. He looked like a used-car salesman to me, and he still does. Perhaps that is why he is doing so well among rank-and-file Democrats in Iowa. When they meet him in Waterloo, I expect as many ask him what he thinks of the new Ford pickup as ask him what he thinks of the Federal Reserve Board's plans for interest rates.

At our tapings of the "The Editors," he always met me head on. Whatever we discussed, he met me head on. This is because I am a conservative Republican, and he is a party-line Democrat. He is not a left-winger or even much of a dove. He simply takes the position that works for Democrats with Democratic activists.

My support for tax cuts is based on the evidence that tax cuts encourage economic growth. Dean's position was based on opposing me. I have a position on a forceful foreign policy based on the evidence that such a foreign policy protects American security. Dean's position was based on opposing me. I was against Bill Clinton because I thought he was a menace to the rule of law. ean's position was based on opposing me. I was occasionally wrong. Dean was always wrong -- even when I was wrong. In sum, he has no independently arrived at ideas, just opposition to Republicans.

That explains his success with the rank-and-file Democrats. The reason Dean is at the front of the Democratic pack now is that he is the most vehement opponent of Republicans. This is what rallies Democratic primary voters: opposition to Republicans.

They have come to oppose the Iraq war not because they have any affection for Saddam Hussein but because the Republicans favored the war. They are against tax cuts because the Republicans are for them. This is what the Democratic Party's faithful have declined into, the party of opposition.

The Democratic Party has declined to the lowest percentage of the electorate in decades, 33 percent. The Republican Party is now the leading party. So what do Dean and his fellow candidates call the leading party in the country, "far-right"?

Now Dean's candidacy has induced Lieberman to warn that his anti-tax position and antiwar position threaten to render the Democratic Party the party of the left, an unelectable position in modern American politics. Lieberman, though the Democrats' vice presidential candidate in 2000, is floundering with Democratic primary voters while remaining popular among with the general electorate.

That tells us much about the kind of angry partisans that turn out for Democratic primaries. If any Democrat running for the presidency can lay claim to the great Democratic tradition of Truman -- and, for that matter, of Franklin Roosevelt -- it is Lieberman. He has ideas and persuasive reasons for holding them. He is for a strong foreign policy and balanced trade policies, and against repealing tax cuts. He opposes the Republicans not out of anger but out of principle and policy. His campaign has been statesmanlike, though I doubt he begins his day with a whiskey. Yet he is being swept aside by Dean, whose boast is that he is the angriest of all Democratic candidates.

The Democratic Party, at least as represented in its primaries, is the party of superior anger. Somehow, they still call themselves liberal.