Whither democrats?

Posted: Nov 12, 2002 12:00 AM

Democrats have now lost two consecutive elections that, by all the usual standards, they should have won easily. Al Gore lost the 2000 election despite a usually unbeatable combination of peace, prosperity, a declining crime rate and the first budget surplus in decades. Now the congressional Democrats have lost despite the Bush administration's budget deficit, an economic decline and an impending war.

If you can't win when the odds are stacked in your favor, when can you win?

The Democrats are down, but not out. They are more like a wounded bear -- the most dangerous kind of bear.

Democrats know that one of the reasons for their disappointing showing in this year's elections is that they failed to get out the black vote in the numbers needed, especially in the South. Since Democrats have nothing to offer blacks, now that they do not control any branch of the federal government, their only way to get out the black vote in 2004 is by arousing fears and resentments.

The race card was played recklessly and shamelessly during the 2000 elections -- and successfully, with 92 percent of the black vote going to Al Gore. One television ad even tried to somehow connect George W. Bush with the dragging death of a black man in Texas.

The Democrats couldn't pull that kind of smear this year, with the president's approval ratings so high. But they have two more years in which to come up with something else, and they have long demonstrated fertile imaginations, unhampered by the truth.

That is what makes the Democrats as dangerous as a wounded bear. They know that their best hope for a political comeback is to turn some Americans against other Americans, stirring up resentments and fears among blacks and envy of "the rich" among others. In short, enhancing their future prospects involves polarizing Americans, at the expense of the country's future.

They can count on those in the media as allies. This is not just because of the well-established fact that nine-tenths of media journalists vote Democratic, but because the whole approach of the media favors polarization.

Issue after issue is presented in the media as a contest between different sides. For example, the prescription drug issue is presented as a contest between the pharmaceutical companies and those who want to control drug prices. The gun control issue is presented as a contest between the National Rifle Association and those who want tighter restrictions on firearms. And so it goes on all sorts of other issues.

This is what is called the "horse race" vision of politics, where it is a question of which political contestant wins and which one loses. The question of what the truth is -- and how this affects millions of people beyond the contestants -- gets little or no attention from many media journalists.

With the issue of price controls on prescription drugs, for example, the crucial question in terms of its effect on millions of Americans is: What are the actual consequences of price control? There are tons of information on this from both history and economics -- and all of it is ignored completely in the media.

Price controls have had disastrous effects on both the quantity and the quality of output for centuries, in all sorts of countries. Yet none of this is even mentioned when politics is presented as just a horse race between the drug companies and their critics.

The actual effect of "gun control" laws is likewise the crucial issue -- a life and death issue -- for millions of Americans. Yet the massive research on this subject might just as well never have been done, as far as media coverage is concerned, because the issue is presented as a contest between the NRA and gun control advocates.

Much research shows gun control laws to be as counterproductive as price control laws. But media people seem incapable of even mentioning such facts, even to argue over them, when journalists are fixated on the political horse race.

With neither the media nor the truth to inhibit them, Democrats have a good chance of staging a political comeback in the next election -- regardless of the cost to the fabric of American society.