Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Appointments In Samarra

Senator Tom Daschle and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt are no Newt Gingrichs. They were and and are determined not to be Newt Gingrich. Newt Gingrich was jumpy, brilliant, arrogant, erudite, visionary, relatively young and almost a revolutionary - brimming with ideas for pouring new wine into old casks.

Senator Daschle and Representative Gephardt both try very hard to be none of those things. They are very afraid of being seen to be any of those things because they saw what such public perceptions did to Newt Gingrich. Instead, Senator Daschle and Representative Gephardt both try very hard to be soft, safe and Midwestern, and, in short, these Democrats thought they had fled to a place of safety.

Also, Newt Gingrich announced soon after the voters gave the Republicans control of the House in 1994 that federal programs of which the Republicans did not approve could be stopped or shrunk if the House simply did not fund them. The House Republicans noisily confronted President Clinton and refused to fund. The confrontations created by the Republican refusals to fund brought the federal government to a halt. The House Republicans lost big in the court of public opinion - and were eventually punished at the polls.

Senator Daschle and Representative Gephardt both tried very hard to avoid such results. In particular, they realized they could not stage a noisy confrontation over the President's drive to occupy Baghdad. Frightened by their vision of outraged voters backing their President's war on terror, the Democrats fled Baghdad, and gave the President the authority he asked. They would resist on the domestic front, where they had already blocked much of the President's agenda - homeland security, school vouchers and much more of the education program, energy, almost every judicial appointment, and so much more. They had even trimmed the tax cut and put most of it off, so the cuts had little stimulative effect on the economy and could be repealed at many junctures before many of them even came into effect.

Many things died quietly in committee. Without the fanfare and noise and fuss that had returned to plague Mr. Gingrich, and speaking in soft, safe, Midwestern tones, Messrs. Daschle and Gephardt posited that Presidential actions of which the Democrats did not approve could be stopped or shrunk if the Senate simply refused to vote on them. There was no defined confrontation, but their refusals brought the President's domestic agenda almost to a halt. It was only necessary to wait for voter fear of an economic downturn.

In short, the Democrats thought they had fled to a place of safety.

What have they learned? The soft, safe and Midwestern Mr. Gephardt no longer pleases House Democrats - he is to leave. As Pete DuPont puts it: [T]he first step to recovery is the election of a far-left leader, Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco. Her congressional district gave Al Gore a 61-point margin over President Bush in 2000, and the president outpolled Ralph Nader by a mere six points.

What about the Senate and the Democratic National Committee? Bill Safire says that the Clintons — with control of the purse strings — will likely keep their party on the moderate middle-road message of me-too. John Fund of the Wall Street Journal and others have suggested that the instrument of the Clintons' power over "their" party, Terry McAuliffe, will remain as head of the DNC, bound to that office by just those purse strings. Similarly, the Senate Democrats seem afraid to accept the more polarizing, aggressive approach that has installed a new leader for their House counterparts. Instead, the soft spoken, safe Tom Daschle is to continue as leader of the Senate Democrats - presumably to preside over a time of Hillary Clinton's growing, cash-fueled influence.

In short, the Senate Democrats and the DNC think they have fled to a place of safety.

But the successful Senate effort to stop the President's agenda wasn't a "moderate middle-road message of me-too." And if Ms. Pelosi acts in accordance with her own inclinations and pulls the willing House Democrats to the left, won't the Clintons - who are first and foremost opportunistic political strategists who need to command the party - likely to follow the Pelosi lead to avoid being out flanked with the party's leftish base?

And as noted in a prior post, Bill and Hillary Clintons' indulgence of their personal interests was responsible for serious damage to the Congressional Democrats in 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000 and now, through McAuliffe, in 2002.

In short, isn't the Clintons' dominance of the party and their brand of "me-tooism" likely to swing the Senate Democrats and the DNC towards the left, towards confrontation with the President and again towards the Clintons' personal interests, regardless of whether that hurts Congressional Democrats?

That is, towards Samarra ... again?

UPDATE: Matt Miller describes how the Democrats have caught themselves between two scaremongering demons of their own creation.

Comments: Post a Comment