Michael Barone is saying that if the Democrats win, it will be by a slim margin, and won’t portend a lengthy change in partisan fortunes. He’s almost certainly right. The Democrats aren’t ahead in the polls because the Democrats are attractive, the Democrats are ahead because the Republicans have been constantly screwing things up. The GOP surrendered when they should have fought (Social Security reform) and engaged in battles that they should never have touched (Terri Schiavo). Glenn Reynolds has a lengthy pre-mortem of what has gone wrong since the beginning of Bush’s second term, and it’s a rather lengthy list.
I still think the damage will be limited. GOP voters know what the stakes are, and even though many of us are disappointed with the GOP leadership, the Democrats are simply dangerous. Their policy prescriptions would be economic disasters — raising the minimum wage would at best have no effect, or at worse it would leave thousands of mostly minority workers out of a job. “Universal” health care is nothing more than rationed health care — and when the doctors start saying that Grandpa has to wait for six months for his pacemaker because some feckless DC bureaucrat is balking at the price tag, the political consequences will be severe. The Democrats are even now proudly admitting they stand for defeat in Iraq, a position that Congressman Murtha incidentally shares with al-Qaeda. A loss there would signal to the rest of the threats we face that we’re unserious, unwilling to take risks, and can be easily swayed by a steady trickle of casualties. If that’s the message we send, we’re inviting attack.
At the same time, the Republicans have been feckless in driving home these points. The Foley mess only highlights the already prevalent idea that the GOP leadership is self-centered and incompetent. When 90% of the media might as well be the opposition research team for the other side, it’s pretty damn imperative that you get all the skeletons out of your closet. Perhaps the GOP leadership didn’t know what Foley was doing — but they certainly should have. That destroyed the momentum that the GOP has been building in September, and it may be too late to regain it.
Thankfully, Barone is right in that the Democrat’s victory will be short-lived:
The Democratic plea is that the Republicans should be punished for incompetence. But even with majorities in both houses of Congress, Democrats will be poorly positioned to offer competence itself. You can make a good case that the Republicans have run out of ideas — they’ve implemented most of Bush’s 2000 platform (tax cuts, education accountability, Medicare changes, more defense spending) and have conclusively failed to implement others (Social Security individual accounts). But Democrats don’t have much in the way of ideas to advance in their place.
If a Democratic victory presages realignment, we should see some evidence of that in the polling for 2008. But we don’t. Which party has candidates that can poll above their party’s 1996-2004 ceilings — 49 percent for Democrats (Clinton 1996), 51 percent for Republicans (Bush 2004)?
Republicans pretty clearly have two, Rudolph Giuliani and John McCain. Democrats can hope that Hillary Rodham Clinton, with her carefully calibrated stands on Iraq and foreign policy, and her bipartisan work on some domestic issues, could be another. So, if he decides to run, could Barack Obama. Another might have been Mark Warner, but he’s not running.
The polling showing Giuliani and McCain well ahead of Clinton and other Democrats suggests that national security — who can best protect the nation against those who are seeking to destroy us? — can still work for Republicans and that domestic issues don’t necessarily work for Democrats. Competence may defeat Republicans in 2006, but that doesn’t mean that ideology can win for Democrats in 2008.
If anything, I would argue that a Democratic victory in 2006 will be a Pyrrhic one. The Republicans aren’t a competent party, but the Democrats make the Keystone Kops look like Navy SEALs. The first order of business will be to impeach the President, which will look petty and vindictive. (Both adjectives that fit the Democratic Party quite well.) The Kossack left will look at this as vindication, which will empower them to pull the party farther and farther to the far fringes of American politics. The Democrats are being held together solely by their hatred of President Bush — the second 2008 starts coming up the Hillary machine and the Democratic left will start engaging in open civil war with each other.
Even so, the country must come first. The Democrats offer nothing but failed policies, divisiveness, and radicalism. They must not be allowed to take power at this critical time in America’s history. Every Republican needs to get to the polls and ensure that the Democrats do not win — the GOP has done poorly, but cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face is not a viable alternative.