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What Now, Democrats?
November 9, 2002
Kevin Dawson

Saddam Hussein must be a lot more accommodating than rumor would have it. After all those weeks of screaming that we had to go to war with Iraq now, that the country was in imminent danger and we hadn't a moment to lose, Mr. Bush found time to campaign for friends and relatives. Obviously Saddam decided it wouldn't harelip him to put off destroying the U.S. for a while.

And it paid off: the "liberal biased" press announced "Bush Gambled With Popularity and Won!" "Bush Given Credit and Clout Over GOP Victory!"

Of course Republican victories are always announced in hyperbolic terms. The two-thirds majority of Congress finally voting to authorize Bush's grudge match against the man who tried to kill his daddy was described as "overwhelming." Two-thirds is a tidy lead, of course, but overwhelming? Similarly, Jeb Bush's 54% win in Florida has been called a "landslide" and a "rout"; presumably they would have called 55% unanimous. And now 3,000 (they don't even bother to say "roughly," "approximately," or "almost" anymore) is the official accepted tally of lives lost on September 11, 2001; it gives 166 more reasons to go to war than the more accurate 2,834. (Conversely, the 25,000 lives lost to AIDS before Saint Ronald Reagan deigned to acknowledge its existence are but a dim memory.)

As we all learned in high school, it's awfully hard to beat popularity, especially in a culturally superficial country where "most popular" so easily translates to "most worthy." (Which makes Valley of the Dolls the best novel ever written because it still holds the record for copies sold.) No doubt about it, George Wonderful Bush these days is star quarterback and homecoming queen combined (certainly not, however, "class president"--we haven't had a class president since Kennedy); Mssrs. Daschle and Gephardt the beaten-up nerds slinking off to study hall and wood shop. Already there's been a rash of "And You Thought He Was Just a Lucky Cowboy" editorials. (Actually, I still do; after all, when the popular kid gets a dork to do his homework for him, or cheats on a midterm, the only crime is getting caught. In fact, the Republican triumph--to say nothing of Bush's popularity--hinged largely on the success of the "Credit Bush for everything good and blame Clinton for everything bad" strategy. Clinton, you see, got caught.)

The question now is what to do about the Democrats' tarnished image. The Paul Wellstone memorial, generally condemned as a "political rally" of questionable taste (ho ho ho, wait till Reagan dies), unfortunately didn't help matters. Neither did the Toricelli withdrawal, which was perceived as a foul play mid-game and gave the Dem-bashers a limb to swing from (still, New Jersey wound up with a Democratic senator at the end of it).

The public claims to be turned off by negative campaigning, even giving that as an excuse for not voting, but who's kidding whom? It's been an advertising staple for decades: take the spaghetti sauce commercials which present the rival brands as unappetizing red bilge, or the "other" paper towel which disintegrates on contact with the spill it's supposed to sop up. You love it and you know it, people.

We all know that Republicans do their share of mud-slinging. Janet Reno was smart enough to know she didn't have a chance in Florida (which is why her campaign in the primaries ran out of gas so soon). The GOP, usually so tough on illegal immigrants, didn't waste a moment characterizing Ms. Reno as the monster who snatched away poor cute little Elian Gonzales (he really was "Little Ricky" for real) and thrust him into the godless communistic arms of his own father. (Now for Attorney General we have someone who could have been cast as Margaret White, the religious fanatic mother, in last Monday's television remake of "Carrie." ) But that's the kind of bullying that only upperclassmen get away with.

Maybe the wise thing would be for Democrats to watch and wait. Just how carried away will the "Valley of the Dolls" president get with his newly assumed power? The "liberal biased" papers all expect him to use his leverage to push through his agenda, which consists primarily of turning this country into a combination of theocracy and martial law. It's entirely likely he won't get any farther with Saddam Hussein than his daddy did, though it's a shame that so many American lives will have to be lost before that is found out.

If the next presidential election were to happen now, it wouldn't be close. But a lot can happen in two years. (Getting back to high school for a moment, so often the "popular kid" gets overconfident and trips up, or else finds life after high school a jolting reality check.) One nice thing about the Republicans being well and truly in charge is that they can no longer blame everything on Bill Clinton. Not that that will stop them, of course, but it's a nice thought.

Kevin Dawson is nobody in particular.

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