For the Democrats, Happy Days Aren’t Here Again and May Be Far Awa

The hard-right Heritage Foundation recently mailed a warning that the Democratic left is “angrier than ever” and “continues to be a danger to our country,” so “we need to take these people seriously.”

Take them seriously? As Will Rogers put it, “I am not a member of any organized party—I am a Democrat.”

For the Democrats, did Senator John Kerry’s campaign change that? A pre-election study by the conservative Cato Institute, a Washington think tank, concluded that voters were largely uninformed about both the candidates and the partisan issues, and they had “little incentive to gain more political knowledge.” The result: “A large political-knowledge underclass of ‘know nothings’ constitutes from 25 to 35 percent of the American public.”

Now comes the most devastating assessment of the Democrats’ post-election prospects that we have seen. It appeared in the Los Angeles Times (December 15). Using detailed studies of county-by-county results in the South, its veteran Washington correspondent Ronald Brownstein computed that Bush carried nearly 85 percent of all the counties in the 13 Southern states, while Kerry won fewer Southern counties than any Democratic contender since the Great Depression.

Of the 510 white-majority counties in the South won by Bill Clinton in 1996, Kerry won 90. Minority voters didn’t help Kerry, and he won fewer than 8 percent of the Southern counties with a white majority population. Brownstein’s conclusion is that “under a southern Republican president, the South has become an electoral fortress for the G.O.P.”

The Bush sweep also helped Republicans win six open Senate seats in the South, giving the G.O.P. 22 of the 26 Senators in what the Democrats used to call “the solid South” when Franklin D. Roosevelt won every Southern state in his four presidential campaigns. Now Bush has become the first candidate since F.D.R. to carry more than 1,000 Southern counties.

Most ominously for Democrats, Brownstein has calculated that “under Bush the G.O.P. is solidifying its hold not just on southern white conservatives, but on white moderates as well.” He says “the results underscored Kerry’s inability to crack the middle-class southern suburbs, or indeed, virtually any component of the southern white population.”

Brownstein adds that the “overwhelming” Republican performance in the South left Kerry “clinging to a few scattered islands of support in a region that until the 1960s provided the foundation of the Democratic coalition in presidential politics. . . . And the magnitude of November’s Republican sweep suggests that the G.O.P. advantage across the region is expanding.”

The Los Angeles Times polls also found that Bush won 97 of the 100 fastest-growing counties, with populations bulged by the new exurban housing settlements that are “transforming farmland into subdivisions and shopping malls.” They gave Bush a 1.72 million vote advantage over Kerry, almost half the president’s margin of victory.

As the liberal Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne put it, “while Democrats used old-fashioned mobilization techniques—think of them as Turnout 1.0—Republicans were already at Turnout 2.0.” Dionne says that Karl Rove, the White House campaign guru whom President Bush calls his “architect” and who very quietly organized the G.O.P. grassroots crunch, is having an impact on the situation. He says the Democrats “have come down with a serious case of Rove Envy” that should become “a Democratic obsession.”

But in the long run there are un-Democratic demographics afoot. The birth rate in the red states now averages 12 percent higher than in the blue states.

Another gloomy factor for the Democrats, not much explored elsewhere, is detailed in the December 20 issue of The Nation magazine.

Hispanic analysts find that the Kerry campaign did not make a strong enough appeal to the 9 million Hispanic voters. Some pre-election forecasts had predicted that they could be a decisive factor in a close Democratic victory, but Kerry got only 53 percent of the Latino vote, compared with Al Gore’s 62 percent in 2000.

Jorge Ramos, an anchor at the Spanish language Univision News, writes that “Kerry never connected with the Latino voters and did not have a clear strategy to win the Latino vote.” That helped Bush win five Hispanic battleground states—Florida, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico. And Ramos predicts that “if Democrats cannot reverse these trends, they won’t be able to regain control of the congress and the White House for generations to come.”
Citing his loss of Colorado as a Kerry setback, the Nation analysts note that another Democrat there, the Hispanic Ken Salazar, won a U.S. Senate seat and that other Democrats won a House seat and gained in the state legislature.

But those wins didn’t calm the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, an unofficial committee of Latino House members. Its leadership sent a bristling letter to state Democratic party chairmen complaining of “a continuing pattern of neglect of the Hispanic electorate over the last decade.”

The liberal magazine the Texas Observer found that among Democrats “the initial shock” of November 2 “has given way to a low-grade depression.” Maybe also a long-lasting slump.

In their recent book The Right Nation—Conservative Power in America, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, two top journalists at The Economist magazine, say “the stage is set for a possible realignment of American politics, to make the Republicans the natural party of government in the same way that the Democrats once were.”

Another new book, The Bush Survival Bible by Gene Stone, a paperback, bears the subtitle,250 Ways to Make It Through the Next Four Years Without Misunderestimating the Dangers Ahead. It includes a list of “seven countries to move to.”

GO BACK TO SCHOOL—And take Politics 101. On N.B.C.’s Meet the Press former Governor of Vermont Howard Dean, who challenged Kerry in the primaries, recently claimed that “we ran the best grassroots campaign that I’ve seen in my lifetime. [The Republicans] ran a better one. Why? Because we sent 14,000 people into Ohio from elsewhere. They had 14,000 people from Ohio talking to their neighbors, and that’s how you win in rural states and in rural America. If we don’t do those things we aren’t going to win. We have to learn to do those things.”

Terry McAuliffe, the outgoing Democratic Party chairman, has called the Republicans “smart.” “They came into our neighborhoods. They came into Democratic areas with very specific, targeted messages to take Democratic voters away from us.”

Howard Dean says he would like to succeed McAuliffe as the next Democratic Party chairman, to be chosen in February. Dean may have the support of MoveOn.org, which raised and spent millions of dollars for Kerry. But he’s got a problem. Dean may be too far to the left for a majority of the 475 party leaders who make the chairmanship decision.

TRY AGAIN?—Based on Kerry’s involvement in picking the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee, speculation continues on whether the Massachusetts senator is preparing for a 2008 presidential rerun. If so, we may be treated to yet another rerun from the viciously anti-Kerry Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The right-wing group attacked Kerry with television ads during the presidential campaign, showing his anti-Vietnam war testimony of the early 1970s before a Senate committee, to which Kerry did not mount an immediate or sufficiently vigorous counterattack.

Kerry’s 2008 outlook may be dimmed by the legally required disclosure that his 2004 campaign ended with more than $15 million in contributions unspent, enough to have shared with Senator Tom Daschle, the Democratic minority leader who lost re-election to a Republican in South Dakota.

Daschle will be okay. Even before his new book begins to sell and his speech making fees add up, he gets more than $124,000 a year in congressional retirement income. And his wife, Linda, a longtime lobbyist for the airline and aviation manufacturing industries, says she will now be free of a self-imposed ethics judgment that she not lobby members of Congress while her husband was there.

THE BUSH CRUNCH—Dishes keep crashing in his cabinet. The fiasco of the president’s blundering selection of New York City’s former police chief, Bernard Kerik, as the new Secretary of Homeland Security, was a news-making debacle. Kerik’s unusually messy financial and personal past was ignored in his White House “vetting.” That pre-appointment investigation was overseen by another Bush appointee, White House counsel Alberto Gonzalez, who has been selected to replace John Ashcroft as Attorney General and may later be a nominee for a seat on the Supreme Court.

Then the armor began to fail around Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the leading second-term Cabinet continuer. In his widely televised question-and-answer meeting with American troops in Kuwait he shrugged off a soldier’s question asking why so many of the American Humvee vehicles used by the soldiers were without armor by saying, “You go to war with the army you have.”

Since then, the “Rummy-must-go” contingent in Congress has boomed. Joining Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the Democrats’ minority leader in the House, who has been a longtime advocate of his ouster, a group of Republican senators joined the chorus.

Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi said Rumsfeld should go “in the next year or so.” William Kristol, the editor of the right-wing magazine the Weekly Standard, said Rumsfeld should go now. Senator Susan Collins of Maine joined in the criticism of the way the army fails to provide adequate armor, and Senators John McCain of Arizona and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska continued the condemnation of Rumsfeld’s overall conduct of the war in Iraq.
An editorial-page cartoon by Mike Luckovich in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed a child-aged Rumsfeld seated on Santa Claus’s lap and reading from his wish list: “150,000 G.I. Joes who don’t ask questions.”

Rumsfeld also didn’t want questions on another failure: the poor results obtained from testing the Pentagon’s $50 billion missile defense system. And now there is a flap over the disclosure by Senator John D. Rockefeller of West Virginia, the leading Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, that the Bush administration plans to spend $9.5 billion on a spy-satellite system that could peer at and photograph enemy positions—but only in daylight hours and clear weather.

Bush signed the new “intelligence reform” bill in mid-December, creating a new Director of National Intelligence, or DNI, who will replace the recently appointed C.I.A. chief, Porter Goss, as the person who reports face-to-face to the president on a daily basis.

It didn’t mend the president’s reputation for fawning upon his much-criticized staff when he convened a White House ceremony to formally bestow the Medal of Freedom on three losers, including George “Slamdunk” Tenet, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The two others honored were L. Paul Bremer, the former head of the occupation in Iraq, whose early regime allowed chaos to rule, and retired Gen. Tommy Franks, who commanded the quick invasion of Iraq without persuading Rumsfeld that more U.S. troops were needed and without securing Iraqi army weapons depots. Honors thus went to the three architects of the failures in Iraq.

Nor did it mend the criticism of the Republicans’ honeymoon with corporate America when Representative Billy Tauzin of Louisiana, the author of the new Medicare prescription law, said he would be leaving Congress to become the president of PHARMA (the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America), the drug industry’s major Washington lobbying shop, at a salary of $2 million a year.

BRAIN WASHED—Opponents of Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security by creating “personal accounts,” invested in the stock market as part of his concept of the “ownership society,” portray that as a gold mine for Wall Street. Because of that image, the Capitol Hill newspaperRoll Call has said that some Wall Street operatives appear to be wary of openly supporting an idea that would look like a partisan boondoggle to voters and would “hardly be a bonanza” for them.

Despite the problematic, if not gloomy, outlook in Congress for the president’s Social Security plan, the White House held a two-day summit of “citizen conferences” in an effort to promote it and the other unpromising expenditures of the “political capital” that Bush claims he “earned” in the 2004 election. The agenda included “tort reform,” which would really mean severely limiting the right to sue incompetent doctors and companies with defective products, and the idea of “simplifying” the tax code by further cutting taxes on dividends and capital gains, and making Bush’s first-term tax cuts permanent.

On Capitol Hill the White House symposiums, aired by C-Span, were not a hit.

“BAH, HUMBUG!”—You can hardly wait for the next Congress—the 109th—to convene, right? And in the House chamber on January 6 the Electoral College, presided over by Vice President Dick Cheney, gathers to sanctify the re-election of President Bush and Cheney, however clouded in controversy that process may be.

Not much has changed since one of the most biting observers of Congress, the world-famous Charles Dickens, made a visit to Washington in 1842. At age 31, Dickens, already an experienced reporter on the British Parliament, spent several days watching the U.S. House and Senate, and found there images of Ebeneezer Scrooge.

In American Notes, a fascinating book on his tour of America, Dickens wrote that he found Congress full of “despicable trickery,” “under-handed tamperings,” and “cowardly attacks upon opponents, with scurrilous newspapers for shields.” We learned of these familiar-sounding judgments when a friend who is an academic introduced us to the book. It is less well-known than Dickens’s classics like Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol, but is full of choice passages.

At the House of Representatives, Dickens wrote, he saw “aidings and abettings of every bad inclination in the popular mind, and artful suppressions of all good influences. . . . In a word, dishonest faction in its most depraved and most unblushing form stared out from every corner of the crowded hall.”

American Notes is available in a Penguin paperback for about $10, and is a stirring read.