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November 14, 2002 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2002-11-14

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The Michigan Daily - Thursday, November 14, 2002 - 5A

The demolition of the old Democratic order?

Last Tuesday, for the first time since
the New Deal Era, a sitting
president's party regained control of
the Senate in a midterm election.
The Democratic Party's poor
performance has left many analysts
questioning both the long-term
health and the short-term
relevance of the party.
A defeat - not a demise

Condy for Prez in 2008? Talking to William Safire

On election night 2000 when Flori-
da was still listed as a Gore win and
Republicans around the country were
sulking into their beer mugs, the
surest way to get stern looks and harsh
retorts was to say "Look, we did our
best and people just didn't see it our
way this time. The inference most
people made from such a statement
was that if "we" had done our best,
then surely this defeat meant the
Republican Party was dying off in this
country. George W. Bush went on to
win that night, and if there was any
doubt about the health of the Republi-
can Party in this country, it was blown
away over a week ago. Now, the shoe
is on the other foot, and many in this

dates i!n favor of well known and pop-
ular moderates. These recruitment
efforts tell the real tale of why so few
open seats vacated by Republicans
failed to become viable Democratic
targets. Moreover, good recruitment
managed to threaten some of the more
left-leaning Senators, such as with the
Coleman-Wellstone (later Coleman-
Mondale) race. The Republicans put
forth a well planned effort from start
to finish and it paid off.
The Democrats need not worry that
their party is in decline over this mere
loss. The bigger threat to the Democra-
tic party right now lies in the Democra-
tic response to this defeat. Already we
have seen Dick Gephardt step down as
the House Minority leader. In his place
the heir apparent is Nancy Pelosi. If

makes per-
grammatical slip-
ups. But not
everyone gets to
have William
Safire catch her at
If there's any-
body whom I will tolerate correcting
my speech, it's the proverbial
Source. William Safire, the most
widely read writer on (not in) the
English language, appeared in Ypsi-
lanti on Monday during a fundraiser
for the Washtenaw County Jewish
I got a chance to talk to him dur-
ing a small press briefing (three
reporters, including me) that was
held prior to the event.
So what does one ask a lifelong,
internationally renowned, conserva-
tive pundit who seems to know (and
have an opinion on) everything,
someone who reads Thomas Paine
for fun? Jo Collins Mathis, a
reporter and columnist for the Ann
Arbor News, was the first to hit the
obvious: (paraphrased) What hap-
pened with the midterm elections?
Safire, when he heard this ques-
tion, seemed to take on a "where to
begin?" sort-of look. He chose to
start with what he called the "con-
ventional wisdom:" The Democrats
had no message and moreover, they
had no messenger. Because of this

fatal coupling of fatal errors,
"they're all wringing their hands
now and flagellating themselves."
But it's not as simple as all this,
Safire seemed to qualify. Tom
Daschle ("I like Daschle ... he
knows ... how to tug his forelock
and look innocent"), Richard
Gephardt, Bill Clinton ("he
enlivened my life") and Al Gore did,
indeed, hit the campaign trail (but
granted, not nearly as hard as Presi-
dent Bush). However, their platform
was hazy: they "sort of oppose the
President on the war," but on this
issue, are still "dragging their foot."
The Democrats were lost in an
ambiguous stand on the hot topic.
The mistake that Safire clearly
identified as "a foolish exercise" on
the part of Democratic National Com-
mittee Chairman Terry McAuliffe was
the over-investment, in terms of
finance, time and effort, in Florida's
gubernatorial election. McAuliffe and
others tried to make a test of Florida,
believing that if they were able to
show that the Democratic candidate,
Bill McBride, could earn the mandate
of the people over incumbent Jeb
Bush (largely blamed for the 2000
election debacle), that vote would
make a sweeping statement: The presi-
dential elections were not legitimate,
thereby rendering President Bush an
illegitimate president. McAuliffe and
the DNC gambled and lost.
Safire, however, put this Novem-
ber's Democratic defeat into the per-

spective that seems to have lost itself
in the post-election analyses and
fatalistic predictions: The elections
were "not a sweep." There was a
two-seat switch in the Senate, which,
granted, changed a lot by virtue of
the January majority/minority party
swap. In terms of raw numbers, how-
ever, two out of 100 is not a dooms-
day omen. Me, I hope that it's
enough of a sign to warn the
Democrats to get their act together.
During the course of the conver-
sation, Safire made two surprising
comments. The wackier: When
asked if Hillary Clinton would ever
make a vie at the presidency, Safire
predicted ("Usually I do very well, I
get four or five out of 20 predictions
right every year") that Hillary will
not run in 2004, but in 2008 will
lose the presidential election to the
governor of California (dramatic
pause here), who will be Condoleez-
za Rice, currently President Bush's
National Security Advisor.
The second of these left-field
comments involved the drawing of an
interesting connection between
American and Israeli politics (which
he had hinted at in Monday's column
in The New York Times). He won-
dered to us whether the Democrats
would follow suit (if not exactly in
action, in principle) with Israel's
Labor Party, which left the governing
coalition earlier this month because
of irreconcilable differences with
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's pro-

posed budget. Will the Democrats fall
in love with minority status and come
to cherish the position of the down-
trodden dove, the principled margin,
of American politics? "If that's what
the Democrats want to do," Safire, a
conservative-libertarian, answered
himself, "then hey, great."
The Democrats need to shape
up. None other than my Greek pro-
fessor commented last Wednesday
morning that the Republican candi-
dates during this election were, on
the whole, younger and smarter
than those whom the Democrats put
forth. Safire noted that he likes
Rush Limbaugh because he "added
a touch of showbiz to right wing
politics." If the Democrats are in
the market for resuscitation, maybe
it's time they stop taking the glam-
orous thrill of left wing politics for
So what was my linguistic mis-
take? Oh woe upon woe, during a split
second of hesitation and a desperate
grab at a conversation-filler I uttered a
semantically vacuous "like:" that
faithfully persistent enemy of the pre-
scriptive grammanan.
I was embarrassed, of course, but
he was very kind and light-hearted
about my slip-up. Might as well
learn (or experience minor humilia-
tion) at the hands of the, like,

country are won-'
dering if it is the
Democrats who
are on the out.
While this election
was, in the end,
something short of
a catastrophe for
the Democrats, the'

Certainly, a
shakeup is needed
in the Democratic

this sets the trend
for the Democratic
Party for the next
few months, we
may well witness
the moderate estab-
lishment of the
Democratic Party
built by Clinton,

Johanna Hanink can be reached at


fact of the matter is this was just a
defeat. The Democratic Party is in as
much danger of extinction as is the
KFC genetically altered chicken.
However, the Democrats do have
much to fear in the next election.
It is important to realize in retro-
spect that this election was as much a
win for the Republicans as it was a
defeat for the Democrats. Certainly,
Democratic strategists made many
tragic mistakes in this election. Tom
Daschle dragged his feet on the Iraq
resolution so long that Republicans
were able to make political hay out of
it much longer than they should have.
Dick Gephardt avoided this misstep,
and instead relied on the economy as
his issue. However, he never articulat-
ed a cohesive Democratic counter-
plan to Bush's economic program.
Overall, Democratic "get out the vote"
efforts were pretty lax, and failed to
really mobilize key Democratic con-
stituencies, such as the black commu-
Nevertheless, Republicans deserve
a fair bit of credit for the results too.
Republicans masterfully played their
advantage on issues such as domestic
security. President George W. Bush
put the presidency on a near hold in
order to put his high approval ratings
to good use in tight races. But, most of
all, the Republicans deserve praise for
their stellar recruitment efforts in this
election. This time around the party
eschewed ultra-conservative candi-

and key to his popular appeal in this
country, completely dismantled. Cer-
tainly, a shakeup is needed in the
Democratic leadership. However,
skewing the party even further to the
left, and further away from the 35 per-
cent of the electorate that identifies
itself as independent and moderate,
will do nothing but hurt the Democrat-
ic Party and make '02 seem gentle in
comparison to '04.
The Democratic Party is at a cross-
roads right now, much as Republicans
were in 1992. With the defeat of Bush
Sr., Republicans faced a government
completely controlled by Democrats.
Rather than make a shift to the right
and blame moderates for their failures,
the Republicans decided to endorse a
popular plan and stage a comeback.
By 2000 Republicans were in control
of Congress, the hard-liners of the
party were satisfied with victory
rather than ideological purity, and a
Republican was entering the White
House. }It is time for the Democratic
Party to follow suit. The Democrats
must find a charismatic leader to keep
the Naderites placated, a moderate
who can relate with the public, and a
clear set of issues on which to cam-
paign. Nancy Pelosi is not that leader,
and if Democrats fail to realize this,
the Democratic Party may die of a
self-inflicted wound rather than popu-
lar preference.

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