Return to story

GOP did little to head off election thumpin'

November 19, 2006 12:50 am


If Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld had left sooner, would the results have been different on Election Day?

ANEIGHBOR ASKED me how I thought the election would have turned out if Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had been ousted before the election rather than after.

That's a good question. I'm sure Republicans across the country are repeating "hindsight is 20/20" in their sleep. Firing members of the Cabinet always makes an impact, and letting Rumsfeld go would have made a whopping October surprise that could have changed the course of the election.

Everyone on the planet saw this drubbing coming, but, as with Katrina, the administration did nothing of consequence as calamity closed in. Republicans did spend tons of money on eleventh hour television attack ads, and on automated phone calls that backfired. Oh, the administration also excised "stay the course" from its rhetorical phraseology. Talk about too little, too late.

President Bush went on a last-minute campaign-trail blitz that had GOP candidates sprinting the other way. That complemented Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove's "strategy" of offering smug, upbeat election forecasts, sounding like Chicken Little's alter ego: We are going to do everything in our power to ignore the fact that the sky really is falling.

It fell, all right--and it might have fallen on Rove, the man referred to as "Bush's brain." Hmmm.

As just about every election postmortem has revealed, the reasons for this GOP Election Day disaster were manifold, with the president's usual dumbbell demeanor high on the list. But in the end it all came down to Iraq. The administration failed to acknowledge that American voters demand accountability when their military men and women are dying abroad.

No one is saying that nearly 3,000 Americans have lost their lives in vain--but let's see some progress in the post-"mission accomplished" era.

Let's give the troops the opportunity to succeed, or at least articulate a feasible plan. Did we really think that once Saddam Hussein was deposed, Iraqis would be lining the streets tossing flowers to our troops? Maybe the president actually thought that.

The administration and party regulars have tried to confuse the issue, telling us that if we are against the war, we're failing to support our troops. That's a crock. The fact that Americans love their country, but keep a wary eye on their government and its policies, is what we're all about.

And that's what happened on Nov. 7.

Having the Democrats take control of both chambers of Congress has already forced the president into action. Rumsfeld's departure is only the beginning. Plenty of other officials will exit between now and 2008.

That's when it all happens again--with the entire House, another third of the Senate, and the presidency to boot, all up for grabs. Between now and then, perhaps Republicans will do what they should have done prior to this election, and that is: listen to what Americans are saying, and react accordingly.

I'm not lamenting the GOP's losses. Far from it. I think having the Democrats wrest control of Congress from the GOP is a good thing, not just ideologically, but for the nation as a whole.

The Christian right will find that having the president's ear doesn't bring the leverage it used to, and government will get out of the homophobia cheerleading business.

Corporate America will discover that it no longer benefits from every White House decision.

The poor and infirm among us will find that America is once again the land of compassion and promise.

So how will President Bush change as a result of all of this? He may still suffer from the body language, and spoken language, of a man without a clue, because that's the way he is. But now that his party no longer controls the legislative branch, he'll be less beholden to congressional pressures.

Perhaps his real sense of right and wrong, his true philosophy, will emerge. Will he moderate, or further polarize?

While the Republicans are busy interpreting the message they received from the American electorate, and planning a new course of action, certainly the Democrats must do the same thing.

American voters did what they have done throughout history, and that is to rein in a government that has strayed too far--one way or the other. When the time comes, the out-of-power party need only promise change to achieve victory.

The Democrats didn't define the changes they were promising because they didn't need to. But two years from now, the Democratic message will need to be clear, and resonate with the voters, if they expect the trend to continue.

Politics is one of those odd enterprises in which achieving success becomes a recipe for disaster. Good governing occurs as a result of moderation and partisan cooperation. Unfortunately, as soon as one party gains an upper hand, it often claims a mandate to govern as far to the right or left as it is able.

How quickly it forgets that the voters are always willing and able to yank it back to the center, starting the process all over.

Some observers of this election say that many voters took the party labels for granted. In fact, some moderate Republicans were kicked out in favor of Democrats who have leaned to the right on some issues to attract disillusioned conservative voters.

Don't forget, for example, that Virginia's senator-elect Jim Webb is a former Reagan-administration Republican--a background not unnoticed by Virginia voters looking for change but not complete political reversal. Bob Casey, Pennsylvania's governor-elect, is an anti-abortion Democrat.

If anything of substance gets done over the next two years, it'll be refreshing after six years of Republican-led gridlock. The least we should take away from this election is a glimmer of optimism.

Richard Amrhine is a writer and editor with The Free Lance-Star.

Copyright 2014 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.