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Political Animal

Wither Democrats?

By Brian Morton | Posted 11/20/2002

Doooom and gloooooooooom. Doooom and glooooom!

Oh, woe be we, sayeth the party of the liberal. Rend the garments, tear the hair, ready the long knives. Get the hair shirts out of storage (limousine liberals, yours are next to the furs in the climate-controlled closet), and a little autoflagellation might be order for those in certain parts of the far left. Oh, wait--you're doing that already. Never mind.

Can we please get it over with?

OK, having had two and a half weeks to digest the results of the election, there are a couple of truisims that remain in full effect:

1) You can't beat somebody with nobodies. This is actually true closer to home here in Maryland, where Kathleen Kennedy Townsend tried to prove that, with money and a name, you don't need organization, charisma, experience, poise, or African-American voters. Sadly enough, sometimes that gets lost. Here in West Baltimore, in the secret underground lair of Animal Control, an occasional peep out the air vent showed that Robert Ehrlich had a get-out-the-vote organization.

Maybe you missed that, so we'll say it again: He had one in West Baltimore, people, where Republicans are usually only seen on the drive in to Camden Yards when the traffic gets backed up on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard This is an interesting development for 2004: Will the Ehrlich-Steele organization be marshaling these same troops for George W. Bush's re-election campaign? We can hardly wait.

2) It is proved once again that it's better to have something to run for than it is to run against. Frankly, the average black voter probably gets tired of having the button marked fear pushed constantly. If Townsend had picked Montgomery County Councilman Isiah Leggett as a running mate, she arguably would have had more black folk coming out to the polls in an off-year election, as they'd have someone to vote for, as opposed to having to explain who this guy is she was running with. And Leggett, having a record to run on, could simply say, "Well, I'm known for more than being Mike Tyson's brother-in-law."

So, in the end, Messrs. Ehrlich and Steele will go to Annapolis, where they will have to deal with the campaign's elephant in the room: the budget deficit. It is unlikely that either will attempt the same sort of supply-side economic voodoo that the Republican commander in chief is trying at the national level; here in Maryland the budget has to be balanced, so we doubt that the "tax cut equals revenue" argument will be tried. As for slots, well, good luck in trying. And let us be the first to start the official "Blame Parris Glendening" tote board--it'll be the one that sits next to the one that counts the times the Democratic-controlled General Assembly is blamed for something not working.

At the national level, what can we say, besides, "Sayonara, Dick Gephardt--hope your presidential campaign goes about as well as it did in 1988. . . ."

The ascension of Nancy Pelosi, an old-school politico with deep Baltimore roots, to the House minority leader's position means a number of things for the Democratic side. For starters, if you drop a nickel into a jar for every time you hear the phrase "San Francisco liberal" in the mass media, you should be able to finance a run for elective office in 2004. If you add in the times you hear it from any conservative commentator, you might be able to run for governor of California in 2006. The phrase itself conjures up all sorts of coded visuals, something the conservatives will do their best to link to pictures of Gay Pride Day parades and any other flamboyant activity that goes on in the City by the Bay.

One certain effect will be that the word "liberal" will once again be used not only by conservatives, but by "New Democrats," as some sort of epithet to be avoided. Pelosi is far too canny to be nailed to a label, but that won't stop people trying to affix it to her from both sides of the aisle.

Something we can be sure of in the future, given the tactics of this past election: ugly campaigning is here to stay. You'll recall back in the Newt Gingrich era, his school of politics stated that calling one's opponent anything up to the term "traitor" was fair game. But now there's Saxby Chambliss' tactic in Georgia of assailing Max Cleland's patriotism (despite Cleland losing three limbs in Vietnam), and the John Thune tactic in South Dakota of linking Tim Johnson to Saddam Hussein--the fact that Chambliss won and Thune came close will not go unnoticed by the campaign managers of the future. And let's once again recall South Carolina's Rep. Joe Wilson accusing California Rep. Bob Filner of "hating America."

We can't wait to see that tactic taken to paid media: "Jim Johnson loves America. He voted for a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning six times. His opponent Dave Davis apparently hates America. He wants to allow people to burn the flag--probably right on your street. Call Dave Davis and ask him why he hates America. . . . "

So the student of politics will have a lot to look forward to in the coming years. But let's not forget one cardinal rule: If anything goes wrong, it's still Bill Clinton's fault.

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