A visitor who had just arrived from Mars and looked at two maps of the political landscape, one from just before and one just after the Nov. 5 midterm election, would find very little difference in the two charts, contrary to a lot of punditry about a Republican electoral "blowout." Republicans will now hold, at most, 52 of the 100 Senate seats, up from 49 before the election. In the House, Democrats will hold at least 206 of 435 seats, a loss of only six. Of course, these small numerical changes make a whale of a difference. Republicans now control all three branches of the government.
Still, we remain a nation evenly divided. No electoral volcano suddenly thrust up a new political mountain range to cut off a majority of the electorate from either political party, and no electoral landslide suddenly buried one political party. America's political topography still looks remarkably flat and geologically stable. In the House of Representatives, Republicans received 53 percent of the vote, but in both the gubernatorial and Senate races, Republicans captured only 50 percent of the votes cast.
The new strategic advantage the Republicans have should not be underestimated, but that advantage will prove transient unless the GOP capitalizes on it immediately. For Democrats, the danger appears to be not so much a future political earthquake but persistent erosion that will grind the party to sand unless it is stopped.
Immediately after the election, President George W. Bush began to flesh out a positive, forward-looking domestic agenda for America that he wants the 108th Congress to enact or to lay the predicate for action in a second term.
One of the president's top priorities will be a new growth and jobs package, which will make last year's tax cuts permanent and include additional tax rate reductions to increase incentives to work, save and invest. In addition, the president said, "I still strongly believe that the best way to achieve security in Social Security for younger workers is to give them the option of managing their own money through a personal savings account." No hesitation or equivocation there.
As an old football quarterback, though, let me offer a word of caution to my Republican friends. Frequently there is a razor-thin distinction between a cliffhanger and a blowout. An ill-timed fumble, an inopportune injury to a pivotal player, a temporary failure to execute the fundamentals -- all of these can tip a game from a squeaker between two evenly matched contenders to a blowout between two apparently mismatched opponents. The danger for the victorious team is that next time they go up against their routed rival they will misinterpret their previous walkover as categorical superiority over the other team and set themselves up for a sound defeat next time around.
This danger was illustrated two days after the election when Washington Times columnist Martin Gross accused congressional Democrats of not being "truly patriotic" and explaining the Republican electoral victory by claiming that voters "do not believe the typical Democratic politician in Congress is patriotic enough to maintain the nation, its defenses and its international security." If this kind of triumphalism begins to infect the ranks of conservatives and Republicans, they not only will set the GOP up for a hard fall in 2004, they will lead America into adventurism abroad and miss a golden opportunity at home to negotiate policies with the loyal Democratic opposition to ensure peace and prosperity for years to come.
The conventional wisdom is that Bush invested his political capital by hard campaigning and was paid dividends when voters gave the Republican Party control of both Houses of Congress. The better analogy is that the president invested his political capital in the machinery of a new legislative majority that can be vastly more productive than the outdated machinery it replaces. The real direct returns on his investment -- both in terms of greater benefits for the American people and for himself in terms of a second presidential term -- requires him to put that new legislative machinery into production turning out innovative new policies.
Both in economics and in politics there are two fundamentally different views of how the world works. There is the erroneous notion that demand creates supply, illustrated in Keynesian economics and Clintonite "pollitics." On the other hand, there is the correct understanding that supply creates its own demand, represented by Say's Law of Markets, supply-side economics and the kind of entrepreneurial politics Bush is
Bush is proving himself to be a political entrepreneur of the first order. He isn't out polling every day to determine what voters say they want. He has a coherent agenda of what he believes is best for the country, and he has invested in a mandate to put those policies in place. If Bush's policies succeed, his leadership will be validated at the polls, and he will be rewarded with a second term. If not, voters will reject the Bush product and choose some other political entrepreneur to lead the nation.
Bush proved courageous enough to take that risk for the good of the country. Unless Democrats begin to exhibit equal backbone and determination, that great political party's electoral base will continue to erode, and that's not good for democracy.