I’ve avoided blogging these midterm elections because (a) I’m not nearly as
much of a US political junkie as thousands of other webloggers out there; and
(b) I was just too depressed at the result. But this is my website, and the
elections were important to me, so here goes.
A lot of people are saying that the Democrats lost the election. They didn’t
have heart, they didn’t have a clear position, they aimed for the marginal voter
rather than laying out a big plan. All of which is true. Certainly a position
of opposing the Bush tax cuts without proposing they be repealed is a little
on the mealy-mouthed side. And the fact that not a single Democratic candidate
voted against the war in Iraq (the late Paul Wellstone excepted) is profoundly
But I think that it’s easy to miss the wood for the the intra-Democratic recriminations.
Terry McAuliffe may or may not have made an error of judgement: certainly he
left himself wide open to the last-minute across-the-board surge in Republican
support which we saw over the past few days. Rather, much as I hate to say it,
I think that the election result constitutes not a Democratic defeat so much
as a Republican victory. Specificially, it was a victory for George W Bush personally.
What we saw yesterday was a vote for leadership in uncertain times. Bush might
not be the sharpest tack in the drawer, but he makes decisions, sticks to them,
and is unapologetic about them. As far as he’s concerned, he knows what’s best
for the country, and he’s going to do it. That is what’s behind the unprecedented
mid-term success for the party in the White House. And so long as times remain
uncertain (which they surely will if the US invades Iraq) the same calculus
will apply in 2004. The standard incumbent’s advantage will also help, of course.
And on top of that, the GOP will have a much larger war-chest than the Democrats,
Bush has managed to identify himself with Freedom and Democracy, and his enemies
with terrorism and evil, to the extent that even youth
and vigor is going to find it hard to run against Bush without seeming unpatriotic.
All wars confer an electoral advantage on the party in power; the advantage
of a permanent war is that it confers a permanent advantage. That’s the really
depressing legacy of Florida: if it weren’t for a handful of confused elderly
Jews in Palm Beach, Al Gore would be the powerful President, the Democrats would
have picked up the We Want Leadership vote, and the House, Senate and White
House would all be under Democratic control.
But that’s not the way it is. And now I think the chances of a Democrat wresting
the presidency from Bush in 2004 are slim indeed: in order for that to happen,
the economy will have to continue to deteriorate, the housing-market bubble
will have to burst, and the US will have to fuck up in Iraq. Two out of three
might just do it; one out of three won’t be enough. I remember 1992, when a
weak Tory party somehow managed to win a general election in the middle of a
recession; and George W Bush is certainly a much more accomplished politician
than John Major.
And if Bush retains control of the White House, the odds have to be good that
the Republicans will retain Congress as well. So for the next four years, expect
more tax cuts for the rich, more right-wing activists appointed to the judiciary,
and all manner of other Republican mischief. The national debt will start to
soar again, the dollar will weaken, the economy will get worse, and the stage
will be set for Democratic victories in 2006 and 2008. Until then, however,
the prospects are bleak indeed.