Years ago, when my wife and I were a young couple, our first house was a "duplex". Our neighbor on the other side of the common wall was a 40-something divorced woman who shared her place with a man of about the same age. Their household was usually placid enough, but every few weeks they would drink too much on a Saturday night and get into a big fight. This often concluded with the hot-blooded woman throwing her boyfriend’s belongings into the front yard and kicking him out. With much semi-comical grousing and name-calling he would load his stuff into his truck, make some rude gestures, and head for other lodgings.
But Sunday night usually found him back at the house, moving in again. All was forgiven – at least, until the next blowup. Evidently the madam of the house had rethought the realities of sleeping alone and paying the full rent herself. As we didn’t have TV at the time, we found it endlessly entertaining to watch these late-night goings-on from our upstairs front window. We lost track of how many times the scenario was replayed.
Something like one of those hot-tempered bust-ups happened last Tuesday when voters tossed enough GOP representatives and senators out of office to give Democrats their first full control of Congress since 1994. This seemed to be a kind of catharsis for voters who – as polls and pundits have been telling us for months – are mightily frustrated over the unresolved war in Iraq, chaotic illegal immigration, the economy, runaway federal spending, and Social Security (not necessarily in that order). In a paroxysm of ill temper, voters threw the rascals out, bag and baggage. Democrats and media fellow-travelers are near-delirious with joy over their "victory".
The analogy ends there, however. After elections, no one just moves back in on Sunday evening when tempers have cooled. Voters won’t be able to restore the status quo ante very soon – not next week or next month or even next year – once they realize what throwing the Republicans out has meant. We’ve got what we’ve got until the next election cycle, two years hence. And some of it might make voters a little nauseous after the full hangover hits in the morning.
Now this prospect does not trouble serious "blue" partisans, who have been slavering over a Democratic return to power for the entire twelve years since Republicans won both the House and Senate in 1994. Having held power for over 60 years, Dems believed their majority was the normal order of things. So did Big Media. They were sure Republican ascendancy was only temporary and would end as soon as Democrats got their "message" out.
That last dig was a small attempt at political humor, of course, for Democrats have been getting their message out quite effectively for some time – which was why voters were not electing them except on the two coasts. That message essentially consisted of: affirmative action (preferences) for women and minorities; unfettered abortion rights; euthanasia "on demand" (for substandard quality of life); higher taxes; untouched Social Security; terrorists’ rights; legalization of illegal aliens; same-sex "marriage"; short, zero-casualty wars; and withdrawal of American troops from Iraq immediately, if not sooner.
Isn’t it interesting how few of those signature Democratic issues one heard about during the recent election campaign? I can’t think of a single Democrat – not even San Francisco arch-liberal (and aspiring House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi – who ran on them, except on the last point which expressed general voter war-weariness. Those venerable Democratic issues were truly the Great Unmentionables of the campaign. Many Democratic candidates sounded more like conservatives than Republicans did.
Obviously, this was not happenstance. Leading Democrats – including DNC Chair Howard Dean – finally realized that running liberal candidates for House and Senate seats was not working in "red" districts and states. Candidates who sounded plausibly conservative were needed. (Note how anti-war Democratic candidate Ned Lamont was defeated, even in liberal Connecticut, by now-Independent, formerly Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman.) Voters eagerly embraced Democratic "moderates" because they sounded conservative. Thus, Democrats won enough seats to give them control of both chambers.
This will produce a scintillating new political situation in the Congress, where most committee chairmen-in-waiting are old Democratic bulls who are far more liberal than the newly elected moderates who helped elevate them. The struggle between the committee-chairs and these new members, who might chafe at toeing the party line, will be almost as entertaining as the election was. Republicans argued plenty among themselves while they held power, but not too many things are uglier than a Democratic intra-party fight. I don’t know if we’ll have cream pies in the face or canings on the House floor, but it will be diverting.
With respect to issues of primary concern to voters, a brief review of future implications is worthwhile.
The war in Iraq.This is clearly issue #1. Democrats had fun bashing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, during the campaign, over his management of the war. On Wednesday they woke up to find they had won both houses of Congress, but by Thursday the thrill was gone because von Rumsfeld was gone. Henceforth, they would have to do more than sling mud at his picture. By accepting the SecDef’s resignation the day after the election, Mr. Bush removed Democrats’ prime whipping boy from the game-board. Now they’ll have to advance their own Iraq Plan which is …ah …exactly what? (Hint: high-fiving each other on the House floor and calling Iraq "Bush’s War" for the next two years is not a plan.)
This is not to say that everything is going swimmingly Over There. You don’t have to be Patton to see that our occupation force is too small. Just because a small, fast combat force can win by bringing overwhelming modern firepower to bear on combat operations does not mean a small force can occupy territory that was only "surgically" hit. Look at the complete devastation of towns and cities in photos of Germany, circa 1945. It’s shocking. We bombed the place to rubble. The people were obviously in no mood or condition to continue the war. They were finished.
Not so in Iraq, where many areas sustained little combat damage. Indeed, we scrupulously minimized collateral damage whenever we could. In those areas, the enemy is still viable because he is untouched. Perhaps this is why we are having so much trouble with insurgents. A tactical change is needed – almost certainly involving greater occupation forces and possibly renewed combat operations to destroy the most active enemy areas. Mr. Rumsfeld’s attempt to occupy Iraq with a small force was an error – probably made for political reasons. It is correctable, although the correction might not be very popular, near term.
Today I saw Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) calling for early troop withdrawals. Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) – Mrs. Pelosi’s candidate for House Majority Leader – wants pullout to start immediately. Dems are all over the map on Iraq. Interesting days ahead.
Immigration.Mr. Bush’s staff is – rather churlishly, I thought – already calculating House vote-totals in anticipation of passing "comprehensive reform". Staffers seem to believe Mr. Bush can get his desired bill through a Democratic Congress. Maybe he can, but I’m not so sure that those new "moderate" Democrats will immediately take the plunge on legalizing 11 million illegals. A lot of their constituents were really steamed about this and sent Mr. Bush a "message". I junked my crystal ball after the recent election, but I doubt if new moderates and old liberals will align seamlessly with "W" on this contentious issue. Smart Democrats will see that illegal immigration represents danger for them. It is a live grenade. They got the benefit of the doubt on it from voters, but if they drop the grenade there will be hell to pay.
Next week we’ll look at the "morning after" with respect to the economy, federal spending, and Social Security, in the new Democratic Congress.