The politics of despair

Posted: Aug 16, 2002 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Those who attend sporting events know it is tacky to root against the home team. On Wall Street, traders abhor those who "short" the market or bet on falling stock prices. And gamblers who step up to a craps game and wager on the "Don't Pass" line, in effect betting that the shooter of the dice will fail, are booed by the other players. In our culture, winning at the expense of others is bad form. Some even consider it downright un-American -- except in the "new" Democrat Party, where the politics of depression, despondency and despair are now the order of the day. Betting against the economy and American workers might not seem like a winning game plan, but it's clear that the leaders of the Democratic Party are trying to regain control of the House and broaden their majority in the Senate by pursuing an economic tragedy strategy. On Aug. 10, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) convened -- in Las Vegas, of all places -- to set their fall campaign theme. DNC chairman Terry "Trashmouth" McAuliffe and the gloomy gofers in his party's leadership tried to convince Americans that darkness and despair will follow unless we elect Democrats. Field Marshall McAuliffe led the anxiety attack, snarling that the Bush economic team was "the worst since Herbert Hoover's administration" and alleged President Bush had "tried to talk the markets up and down, in an effort to manipulate the economy to peak and crest at politically convenient times." For good measure, he added, "Every time (Bush's) economic team opens its mouth, markets shudder, currencies collapse and Americans watch their 401(k)s dwindle." Other despondent Democrats followed in lockstep like lemmings plunging off a cliff into the sea. Senate Majority Leader Tom "Dr. No" Daschle decried job losses, budget deficits and falling stock prices. Sen. Hillary "Cattle Futures" Clinton whined in USA Today about Bush's "fiscally irresponsible" and "recklessly large tax cut." And Sen. Jon Corzine of New Jersey, one of the wealthiest men in America, insisted that the public would have a "positive reception" to higher taxes. Not to be outdone by his Senate colleagues, the would-be speaker of the House, Dick "Doom and Gloom" Gephardt, conjured up images of the recession of 1990. Reps. Albert Wynn, a Democrat from Maryland, described the Bush administration's economic forum in Waco, Texas, as a "trick play." Howard Wolfson, chief strategist for the Democrat Campaign Committee, claimed that "the issue set is moving in our direction. You have a kind of a perfect storm of corporate accountability concerns over 401(k)s and investor confidence colliding with real concerns over Republican plans to privatize Social Security." All of this, Wolfson crowed, is "working very well for our candidates." Is it? Democrat attempts to blame President Bush for an economic downturn that began before he was inaugurated haven't worked. Dr. Frank Newport, editor in chief of Gallup Polls, told my radio audience last week that his most recent survey still shows a solid majority of Americans -- 54 percent overall -- continue to express confidence in the economy and by an even greater margin, 69 percent, approve of the president's leadership. He pointed out that while our citizenry is well aware that we are in an economic downturn, they remain "unflustered, comfortable and generally optimistic that they'll get better." That's essentially the message Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill had when he spoke to me from the Economic Forum hosted by President Bush at Baylor University this week. "Why," he asked, "aren't (the Democrats) talking about the increase in auto purchases, the new homes that are being built and bought, the strength in the retail sector, and the lack of inflation?" Then, answering his own question he added, "because those indicators show that we're on the way to recovery." Therein lies the problem for McAuliffe and the moaning malcontents now running the Democrat machine. Their last standard-bearer, Al Gore, waged a divisive class warfare campaign with the improbable slogan, "the people, not the powerful." The Gore economic platform was that of the anti-business flower children of the '60s: tax the rich, redistribute wealth and increase federal spending. And despite the public repudiation of his message, he still hasn't figured it out. In a recent New York Times op-ed, Gore wrote, "Uncommon power has combined with uncommon greed to create immense deceptions and losses." He was denouncing the Wall Street swindlers who have been caught by the Bush administration's SEC -- but he could have been writing about the White House he shared with William the Zipper. Desperate Democrats are day-trading their future on the faint hope that the market will fall and the economy will continue to stagnate. They are banking on a steady volley of class warfare rhetoric to deliver control of the House of Representatives to their party this fall, and of the White House in 2004. It didn't wash in 2000, and it's not likely to this year -- particularly when it relies on "Bush bashing" in the midst of a war. Few Americans want a return to the economics of the old McGovern-Carter-Dukakis wing of the Democratic Party. Yet the maudlin McAuliffe insists on recycling Al Gore's fatally flawed message from 2000. It's not old wine in new bottles; it's political snake oil.