Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Pathetic ... And Bound To Lose: Destiny Fulfilled!

Some understanding of the scale and scope of the recently fulfilled Kerrydammerung is beginning to form in shellshocked Democrats and mainstream media, although the causes of their predicament continue to utterly elude them. The New York Times is full of evidence. Paul Begala's Op-Ed sums up the current state of flawed consciousness on the left in a single short paragraph:

But to the surprise of the handwringers, the viciousness of the campaign inspired voters to stand in line for hours in a rare display of the power of civic duty. And Mr. Bush's relentlessly negative campaign earned him the ultimate legitimacy - a solid majority of the vote in a high-turnout election.
Mr. Begala has things about half right: Mr. Bush's certainly received a solid majority of the vote in a high-turnout election. But Mr. Begala still hasn't got the scale and scope of things quite right. Mr. Bush's did not just handily endure in his office with a record slice of a record turnout, he also prevailed through increased margins in both houses of Congress and significant and historic shifts in several state legislature. Unlike Mr. Bush's personal victory, those legislative advances cannot even arguably be attributed to foreign affairs or the war on terror, except at the fringes (for example, Tom Daschle's idiotic and immediately retracted "what did the President know and when did he know it" 9-11 moment had its effects, but it wasn't the most important factor in turning him out of office - his "I'm a D.C. resident" crack registered severely in Aberdeen). More generally, by running and winning as a conservative, Mr. Bush operates under no implied imperative that he "govern from the center" as the Democrats and mainstream media desire - and that is especially true in the area of social policy. (By the way, Mr. Begala's belief that when you think a Nobel Peace Prize winner is too mean, you're really running a positive campaign is nothing short of bizarre. Yasser Arafat won that Prize in 1994, and in 1973 it was claimed by Henry A. Kissinger and Le Duc Tho - none of those three worthies is easily mistaken by anyone for a sweetheart.)

The make up of Mr. Bush's support should terrify Democratic nabobs everywhere - especially that one figure: 42% of Hispanics voted Republican compared with 35% in 2000 -- and a majority of Florida Hispanics in Florida voted for Mr. Bush. The result follwed although the Washington Post pollsters had assured the nation that the Hispanic vote was not moving right, and that Hispanics were actually more upset about Iraq than the electorate generally. [UPDATE: The Los Angeles Times puts Mr. Bush's share of the national Hispanic vote at 45%.] Even among African-Americans, the Democratic Party's most important single constituency, Mr. Bush edged up his vote share to at least 11% from 8% four years ago. I write "at least 11%" because there are indications that the actual number is much higher, including the fact that in Ohio Mr. Bush received 16% of the African-American vote. It is possible that Ohio African-American are different than African-Americans generally (the make up of this constituency is much more heterogeneous than the media suggests - with more than 25% in the New York area with families not coming from the South, but from "the Islands," for example). But I suspect the problem has more to do with the reluctance of some African-Americans to report Republican votes to exit pollsters. [UPDATE: The Los Angeles Times puts Mr. Bush's share of the national African-American vote at 14%.] In evaluating the scale and scope of the election results, consider this: If more than 40% of Hispanic voters regularly vote Republican, or if substantially more than 10% of African-Americans consistently vote Republican, the Democratic Party as we know it simply cannot win many elections and probably cannot continue even to exist.

Similarly, Mr. Begala correctly indicates that this campaign included its share of criticism of the "other guy" on both sides, and he is also right in to assert that the campaign should have that component. But Mr. Bush also identified several major areas of federal activity in which he can now quite legitimately claim he and the new Congress were just given a mandate to reform. "I've earned capital in this election and I'm going to spend it for what I've told the people I'd spend it on." Social security - short of complete privatization - is one such area. Education is another. Taxes. Then there is the make up of the federal judiciary. The two factors described above - turnout makeup and mandate for reform - combine to create a threat to the Democratic Party vastly larger than the two factors suggest separately. That's because the Democratic Party coalition already threatened by constituency defections has largely become a collection of interest groups held together by nothing more than the very programs which Mr. Bush and the new Congress have now been charged to reform. For example, Mr. Bush was forced to withdraw the voucher component of his education bill in 2001, but tension between the key Democratic African-American and Hispanic constituencies, on the one hand, and its overly-influential teachers-union constituency, on the other hand, has continued to rise over the issue of public education quality. Worse for the Democrats, the "charter school" option, which the teachers unions perversely seek to undermine but which is actually the main alternative to vouchers, has been weakened. A federal education voucher program would go far to dissolve this portion of the Democratic coalition while actually improving education. Social security and Medicare reform provide even larger opportunities for breaking up the Democratic base ... and assuring even bigger Republican gains in the future. Indeed, my guess is that this election shows that the 1996 federal welfare reforms have already significantly weakened African-American dependency on - and affinity for - the Democratic Party, to the greater prosperity of the African American community but not the Democratic Party. That effect should continue to grow.

The responses to date of Mr. Begala and other Democrats give no hint that they are aware of the magnitude of the peril to their cause, but their entire coalition is in serious danger of complete disintergration. No matter how often they whistle "I belong to no organized political party, I'm a Democrat" past the grave yard, the problem is new and is not going away. Mr. Begala and his like - and that includes Senator Clinton - should be afraid. Very afraid. A lot more afraid than they are admitting they are in public at the moment.

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