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The Democrats' Dilemma

by Patrick J. Buchanan
February 16, 2005

Since Bush's November victory, which brought GOP gains in the House, Senate and state capitals, confirming the Republican Party as "America's Party," Democrats have seemed adrift and despondent.

Moderates and major contributors are reacting to the election of Howard Dean as party chair as conservative alumni might react to news that SDS had just taken over the campus of the alma mater.

A word of counsel to the disconsolate: Suck it up. It is not all that bad. The Right spent years in deserts more barren than thee have ever known. When this writer went to work for Richard Nixon in 1965, Republicans had lost seven of nine presidential elections, held Congress for but four of the previous 35 years and had carried 38 percent of the presidential vote in a two-man race.

Goldwater had lost 44 states. A massacre had ensued on the Hill, with the GOP ranks reduced to 140 House seats and 38 senators. Nixon was a two-time loser who had, all assumed, committed hara-kiri in his 1962 "last press conference," where he had rounded on the jackal pack that had bedeviled him since the Alger Hiss case. "Think of all the fun you'll be missing," Nixon railed. "You won't have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore."

In 1966, the dark night was suddenly over and the sun came out. The GOP picked up 47 House seats and six senators, and Nixon would go on to lead the party into an era where Republicans would win the presidency five times in six elections, capture both houses of Congress in 1994 and become America's party.

Instead of bewailing their fate, Democrats should study how the Nixon-Reagan new majority displaced FDR's New Deal coalition.

A prerequisite is patience. The conservative case against the Liberal Establishment its guns-and-butter budgets, its capitulation to urban rioters and campus radicals, its no-win war in Vietnam had been compelling. But, in 1964, there had not been time enough for Middle America to absorb the consequences of 1960s liberalism.

By 1968, however, the chickens had come home to roost and the Democratic vote collapsed to 43 percent. Nixon and George Wallace had carried 57 percent. How to craft a new majority became clear. Find the issues and employ the rhetoric to sever Wallace-Daley-Rizzo Democrats from the party, and solder them to the Republican base.

To displace a majority party, you must drive wedges through its coalition. This happened to Bush I, when NAFTA nemesis and deficit-hawk Ross Perot won 19 percent in 1992.

Why should Democrats drop the despondency and start to think? First, because Bush won a second term by nothing like the 49-state landslides of Nixon or Reagan Bush got 31 states. And though he had led America to victory in two wars, a turnaround of 60,000 votes in Ohio would have made him the first president ever rejected in wartime, and he would have lost to an uncharismatic senator from Massachusetts with a voting record to the left of Teddy Kennedy's.

Second, the fruits of the Bush policies the budget deficits, the falling dollar, the loss of manufacturing jobs, the torpid rise in real incomes, the invasion from Mexico, the Iraq war have only just begun to sink in with the electorate.

Below the surface serenity of the GOP majority, the tectonic plates could suddenly shift. Like Democrats in '68, Republicans are divided over abortion, gay rights, the Religious Right, affirmative action, immigration, Big Government, trade, Iraq. They are united only on the proposition that it is best that they stay in power and the Democrats stay out.

But the dilemma Bush presents Democrats is not easy to solve. As a Big Government man, who uses Reaganite rhetoric to mask Rockefeller policies, Bush has left Democrats little running room. With his Great Society knock-offs like No Child Left Behind, faith-based pork, prescription drug benefits for seniors, "affirmative access," more foreign aid and a Wilsonian vision "to end tyranny on earth," Bush has moved the GOP center-left, crowding the Democrats out.

Moreover, the Democrats are too far left on the cultural-moral issues "God, gays and guns" to exploit Bush's weakness on the libertarian and populist Right.

What do Democrats need to do? First, be patient. This is Bush's turn at bat, just as 1965-66 was LBJ's turn. Their innings will come. But before they come, Democrats should have answers to the great problems Bush has failed to solve.

How would Democrats deal with the invasion of illegal aliens from Mexico? How would they stop the loss of manufacturing jobs? How would they eliminate $400 billion deficits? How would they get us out of Iraq? How would they make Social Security and Medicare solvent? What foreign policy do they propose to replace a Bush Doctrine of compulsive interventionism?

Democrats should be thinking, not sulking, because their time is going to come around sooner than they know.

2005 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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