Usually, when one of our major political parties is feeling weak, the other one is feeling strong. But right at the moment, both the Republican and Democratic Parties seem to be in a synchronized funk.
Republican operatives do not currently anticipate the 2006 election to be a good time for Republican challengers. As a result, as Bob Novak and others have pointed out, it is hard to get the best Republican hopeful candidates to risk taking on even weak Democratic incumbents in the next election.
Meanwhile, Republican incumbent congressmen and senators are sending signals not to expect many heroic legislative efforts from them before the election -- which is still 15 months away. Social Security, of course, is off the Republican legislative agenda. But so, too, will be other smaller legislative efforts that might upset even small groups of voters.
I have always found it a curious, if predictable, response of legislative parties, which fear the public is not satisfied with their performance that they retreat further into inaction, rather than exert themselves to re-gain the sagging approval of their natural electors. It is the instinctive pose of the deer -- to freeze in place and hope not to be noticed.
Given that in an off election the legislators are the only federal incumbents on the ballot, hiding in plain sight may not work too well. Although it has to be conceded that unless Election Day 2006 is far worse for Republicans than it currently looks, they are not likely to lose either the House or the Senate. But when a party, hoping to only lose two or three Senate seats and a half dozen or so House seats, adopts a hunker-down policy -- they run the risk of having no strategy left to play if things are in fact worse next spring or summer.
Compounding the problem is President Bush's insistence on pushing for his guest-worker legislation this fall. Unless he agrees to a full, really-secure-the-border-first-before-addressing-guest-worker plan -- this is both political and legislative terrible news waiting to happen. If the Republicans go along with him, they further alienate the growing part of the public for whom secure borders is becoming the single issue on which they will vote. If they oppose the president, they further weaken their own party's president -- as well as upset the business and agri-business interests, which want the cheap labor and make campaign contributions.
The best prospect for the White House's congressional party in an off election is a popular president. The congressional party undercuts their own electoral prospects by undercutting and weakening their president. But sometimes -- as in 1990, when President G.H. Bush came out for tax increases -- it is the lesser of dangers to oppose their president on a vastly unpopular (and unwise) policy. Insecure borders and immigration looks to be shaping up as the tax increase tar baby of 2006.
Overhanging Republican anxieties is the war in Iraq -- which is not yet a lethal threat to a Republican congressional majority but might become one.
With the Republican Party thus mired in this bog of despond, one would expect the Democrats to be as chipper as a roue bouncing up the stairs of his favorite brothel. But the regular, elected Democrats are more likely to be playing the song "Blue Monday" on their CD players and reaching for their razor blades.
That is because the mainline Washington Democratic Party has been all but possessed by their lunatic, MoveOn.org, Howard Dean, anti-war, anti religion, anti-pickup truck, anti-normal, activist wing -- and they know it. Not only is their left-wing fringe forcing its goofy ideas and obnoxious, off-putting rhetoric on the party regulars, but they are raising most of the money.
The Democratic Regulars find themselves similarly situated to the1970s' British Labor Party, which, though possessing many sensible members and some sensible ideas, came to be seen as the party of the loony Left. They lost power in 1979 to Maggie Thatcher and didn't shed their loony image and regain power until 1997 -- a full 18 years later.
Once the loons get a hold of a party, it is the devil's own time unprying their maniacal grip from a party's throat. Thus, currently, the normal Democratic senators and congressmen know that, to placate their loony Left, they will have to pronounce various foolish and irresponsible things about Supreme Court nominee John Roberts and the Iraq War.
Even Sen. Clinton -- who it had been presumed would get a free pass from the liberals in order to moderately position herself for a general presidential election -- may find that she, too, will have to placate the loons by feeding them with the harsh and foolish words they demand from their politicians.
But in this parity of despair, the Republicans have one advantage over the Democrats. They have the executive branch and legislative power to actually carry out some good ideas -- if any pop into their heads.