The Emerging Democratic Debacle

by Patrick J. Buchanan – September 1, 1998

The tide is going out on the Democratic Party, and it may be a long time coming back in. Though Republicans have done little to deserve it, a blowout party victory is shaping up for November.

If gubernatorial candidate Dan Lungren can hold California, all 10 of America’s most populous states may be under GOP control in 1999. In the Senate, the only question is how many seats the party picks up. In the House, a picture that looked bleak in June has brightened astonishingly.

Consider Michigan. Democrats there have nominated for governor the foul- mouthed lawyer for Dr. Kevorkian, whom even The Washington Post describes as “profane and bombastic.” Jeffrey Feiger could collapse the roof on the Michigan Democratic Party.

What has happened in a matter of weeks to make predictions of big Republican gains un-risky? Several events:

The first is the metastasizing of the Monica scandal after Bill Clinton’s admission that he’d had an improper relationship — and his mean-spirited attack on Ken Starr. Whoever told Clinton that this would put the issue behind him should lose his license to practice politics. The second event is the meltdown of the Dow-Jones. As of Aug. 31, the Dow had dropped 15 percent in six weeks, with small stocks averaging losses this year two and three times that figure.

But it is not so much what is behind as what lies ahead that suggests the iron rule of American politics is going to hold this November: Even political giants — like FDR and Ronald Reagan — lose big in their second-term mid- year elections.

And look at what lies ahead. If the stock market is still a lead indicator, there is going to be no bullish news on the economy before November, and the trade deficit, which has labor in an uproar, will continue exploding. Abroad, there is no chance the Asia-Russia crisis can be turned around before November, but there is a good chance it could bring down the Chinese, Hong Kong and Brazilian currencies. That would drag global markets down even further. Even gains on Wall Street are now likely to be viewed with nervousness.

On the Monica front, we are going to get Ken Starr’s report, almost surely alleging perjury and conspiracy to obstruct justice. This will be accompanied by Linda Tripp’s tapes, describing what went on behind the closed doors of the Oval Office in lurid detail. After the president’s return from Moscow, we will be back to wall-to-wall coverage of Bill and Monica on the cable networks, which will drown out any conceivable Democratic Party message.

Democratic challengers for the House are already copying Rep. Paul McHale in demanding Clinton’s resignation, and Republicans are starting to alter their media message to attack opponents for standing by Clinton rather than on principle. A Democratic stampede for the exits may not be far off.

An army that is suffering defections on the eve of battle and questioning the worth of its commander is not headed for victory.

Just weeks ago, White House aides were speaking of the Clinton political legacy of having created a Third Way — neither liberal nor conservative — for Western politics in the 21st century. Now, it appears Clinton’s political legacy may be to have done for his party what the Great Depression did for the GOP.

In 1994, Republicans captured both Houses of Congress for the first time since 1954. If the party holds Congress this fall, it will be in power in the Capitol for six straight years, a tenure unseen since the halcyon days of Calvin Coolidge. The GOP will then go into 2000 with the strongest base for a presidential run since the 1920s.

But if there is justification for GOP confidence, there is a real danger of a repeat of the Republican hubris and cockiness of 1995.

That 1994 victory, the greatest party comeback since 1938, produced an arrogance of a galactic scale. While there was nothing wrong with claiming that the Contract With America had stirred America’s imagination, it was folly for Republicans to start believing their own propaganda and worse to act on that belief and assume America would support a shutdown of the government to force Medicare cuts on Clinton.

In 1994, America had not so much embraced the GOP as it has repudiated Clintonism — i.e., gays in the military, the social idiocy of Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders and a takeover of the nation’s health care system by Hillary and friends.

In 1998, as in 1994, the nation will be voting as much against Clinton as for the GOP, which itself remains a party in search of an identify and an agenda on which it can agree, besides cutting taxes.