Did you see him? He came into Washington unexpectedly the day after the election. Eddie Haskell made a sudden trip to Washington, disguised as President Bush and Nancy Pelosi (yes, at the same time!). After months of “givin’ Wally the business,” it was “Good morning, Mrs. Cleaver.” President Bush is saying he is open to ideas from the Democrats about the war in Iraq (you can read that again if you need to; I know, I know! It’s like Bizarro World!). I wonder how long Fast Eddie will stick around.
Anyway, I guess the answer to my first blog entry, “Is There Room for Centrism in American Politics” is YES. Most political analysts I’ve read and listened to say that one of the successful strategies the Democrats employed in taking back Congress was the selection of centrist, moderate candidates. Many were gun toting, or anti-abortion, or anti-gay-marriage centrists who affiliate themselves with the Democratic party more out of repudiation of the Republican party than any undying love for the recent Democratic platform.
Basically, the country decided it had been pulled too far out of the center by the Bush administration and the Republican-controlled Congress, and it dug in its heels like a stubborn mule (pun intended).
The silly thing is the conservatives don’t get it. In an excruciating 15 minutes the day after the election while the local NPR transmitter was on the fritz, I tried to expose myself to the other side and listened to Shawn Hannity. They (Shawn and his callers) blamed the incumbent Republicans who had become too comfortable in Washington, had become “little Democrats,” had begun to focus more on staying in power than on the core “conservative values” of small government, low taxes, etc. Essentially, they thought that the way they would have won is to move further from the center.
Why I (and many others) voted Democrat
I was born and raised a Republican. I used to call the Mujahadeen “freedom fighters” because they fought against the commies, and I lauded Ollie North even though I had no idea what he’d done (this was all in Junior High). But for the last several years I have become increasingly disillusioned and angry with the Republican Party in general and with the White House in particular. As I saw George W. Bush’s “ownership society” agenda aim to undermine the middle class, and the deceit that led to the Iraq War become evident, I wondered if Bush was just an ignorant victim of the wiles of the Vice President and the Secretary of War, or if he was complicit in the whole problem. I thought the same after 9/11 that most thought—boy am I glad we have a strong President during this time. But as the years evolved, his “aw shucks” folksiness and go-it-alone cowboy style lost their novelty and shine. Folksiness became an inability to communicate (it’s nuclear dammit! not nucyaler!), and “go-it-alone” became “ostracize the world community.”
What really turned me off was the arrogance. From the top down Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove, Fleischer, et al put over a “father knows best” click of the tongue at the rest of the world who didn’t have all the information they had. The NSA wire-tapping, the blowing-off of the Kyoto Protocol and fighting the generally-accepted science on greenhouse gases and global warming, the slow response to Hurricane Katrina (and how “Brownie” was doing a “heckuva job”), etc. all implied that we should simply hand over the reins, climb in the back under a blanket, and let them steer the buckboard to where we needed to be. Anyone who questioned them was labeled defeatist, unpatriotic.
Beyond the arrogance, however, was the slight-of-hand going on, keeping our attention on terrorism and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while they inconspicuously pursued an agenda to erode the middle and lower classes: repealing the estate tax; making bankruptcy (much of which is necessitated by medical debt) more difficult; pushing Social Security reform that would essentially put the responsibility of wise investing in the hands of those of us who know nothing about it rather than in the hands of professional institutional investors; accepting a lower than scientifically-recommended soot limit, probably causing the death of 4,000-10,000 people per year; slashing adult education funding, including GED and ESL, by 70%, etc.
So I took a close look at the Democrats running for office locally. They weren’t extremists. In fact, they were just like me: they want to rein in superfluous spending, balance the budget, take care of the environment, better education, make health care more widely, or better yet, universally available.
I looked back at the Republicans and saw that their two principal campaign slogans were 1) national security, and 2) lower taxes. Regarding national security, I think most people are aware of the internal government report that said that the “War on Terror” has made the world more dangerous for American, not less. And I don’t think people believed the assertion by Republicans that Democrats can’t handle the job.
Regarding lower taxes, it’s a nice thought, but most people realize where taxes go, and though we pay them grudgingly, we realize when they’re needed. In Utah we voted for a ¼% sales tax increase to fund transportation projects. This to me means that tax cuts aren’t the foremost issue on the minds of Americans.
The Republicans aimed at the wrong target . . . and shot true.
What it means for the Republicans
The election of 2006 should be a wake-up call for Republicans letting them know they had taken the country as far right as it was willing to go. Instead, as mentioned earlier, they are gleaning from the outcome that they weren’t conservative enough, that they didn’t invoke the spirit of Ronald Reagan enough, that they weren’t focused enough on core values.
Until they learn the true lesson of 2006, they will remain the party out of power, pandering to a vehement minority.
For the next two years, however, it means being subject to the agenda as set by Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, the other woman Republicans love to hate. It means they will be the ones feeling trapped into pulling the “stunts” the Democrats have been accused of for the past six years.
And in 2008, barring a sea-change in the interpretation of the ’06 election, they won’t nominate anyone for President who can win against a moderate/centrist Democrat.
What’s next for the White House
George W. Bush canned the Secretary of War, Donald Rumsfeld, before he even lost the Senate. In other words, it was planned in advance. He didn’t “accept the resignation”; he booted Rumsfeld as one of the heaviest pieces of cargo on a sinking ship. (Ken Mehlman, the RNC Chairman is next, although he’s not part of the White House.) And Karl Rove will soon follow—there are no more elections to be the “architect” of. Besides, he made a fool of himself talking to NPR’s Scott Simon when Simon cited the polls he was seeing indicating the eventually vindicated Democratic strength. Rove said essentially that Simon was not looking at the same polls Rove had access to, that according to Rove’s numbers the Republicans were fine, and was generally very contemptuous of Simon and his questions about the numbers. Simon-1, Rove-0.
The White House will have to play nice for the foreseeable future. People are too sore from negative campaign ads to listen to any political bickering right now. They want some time to rest before it all starts again. Bush will still want to push his War on Terror agenda, but will be subject to more oversight and more justifications for funding. The one positive piece of his tragic legacy will be that, thanks to a Democratic Congress, he will finally be able to pass sensible immigration reform before he goes back to clearing brush.
What the future holds
The short answer is “more of the same.” The Democrats don’t have a big enough majority to really play hardball. They’ll have to compromise a lot with a lot of Republicans. Moreover, because of the Blue Dog Coalition Democrats and the centrist/moderate Democratic candidates selected specifically to win back the majority, there are a lot more “conservative” Democrats in Congress that won’t allow the party-base rhetoric to become reality.
There will be a general stale-mate between the agenda driven by Congressional leaders and Bush’s veto pen that will make the public feel like nothing is getting done, which will set the stage for another American election! Yehaw!