A Republican Recovery?
In 1932, when most Americans feared the wolf at the door, the Democrats swept to a tremendous electoral victory, capturing the presidency and both houses of Congress. It was more than a momentary triumph; the once-mighty Republicans were nearly wiped out and the Democrats remained dominant for the next generation.
Today the country is almost unrecognizably different. The Federal Government has become the wolf at the door. The Republicans have taken the place of the Democrats as the party of big government, and another electoral watershed looms.
How lopsided is it going to be?
That seems to be the only question about next months elections. The general feeling is that this is probably not going to be a continuation of the Republican Revolution. One symptom is that today, if you ask a candidate, Are you now, or have you ever been, a Republican? he may reply with an evasive mumble. If he is exceptionally brave he may say yes, but he is more likely to own up to being a member of al-Qaeda, which currently enjoys higher approval ratings. Only Karl Rove is still managing to feign optimism.
The Bush administration has announced that it is dropping the slogan Stay the course after the phrase provoked curses and catcalls from several focus groups. Next week President Bush himself is expected to change his name.
Why not? The administration has already overhauled its entire vocabulary, dropping such jaunty trademark expressions as mission accomplished, axis of evil, and global democratic revolution. It doesnt want to remind us of its confident insistence that the risks of inaction are greater than the risks of action and that the smoking gun may turn out to be a mushroom cloud. All these phrases now sound as passé as Mantovanis greatest hits.
The Iraq war has been for Bush what the Depression was for Herbert Hoover. Republicans who used to cling to his coattails now shun him like a lepers kiss. He has brought destruction on them.
Nobody will take greater satisfaction in the Republicans humiliation than the genuine conservatives who have suffered agonies of frustration for six years as Bush has usurped and discredited the honorable label of conservatism. He is more nearly their opposite than their ally; they have little in common with him. The damage he has done to their cause may be irreparable.
But if the Republicans have forfeited the voters trust, the Democrats have hardly earned it. They may well win a huge victory entirely by default. If they recapture both houses of Congress, nobody knows what they will do, except to make Bushs life miserable. He will still have the veto, and he may have to start using it. He may even revert to something like the limited-government conservatism he has so far spurned.
Which brings us to the only silver lining, if you can call it that, for the Republicans. Given a little power, the Democrats may reestablish their own unpopularity. However they may prosper in November, this is not, after all, 1932. They dont have the advantage of a Great Depression or a leader like Franklin D. Roosevelt to exploit the situation. Their only theme is negative: they are not the Republicans.
This means that any gains they make will probably be temporary and perishable. Bush is beyond recovery, but the Republicans, if they abandon him, will not be. They will get a severe shock from the voters; in fact, they are already bracing for it. They realize that they have to dissociate themselves from their disastrous president.
Its hard to say what todays huge and divided electorate wants; in 1932 it was relatively united in wanting the Depression to end. Today it has no such simple focus, but it overwhelmingly knows what it doesnt want: George W. Bush.
The sooner the Republicans can rid themselves of Bush who has made himself the Democrats greatest rallying point since Hoover the sooner they can begin their recovery as a reasonably conservative party.
Meanwhile, they are stuck with this albatross for the next two years. It will be interesting to see how they deal with such an embarrassment in 2008. They can neither run on his achievements nor pretend he never happened.
So George W. Bushs legacy will be his partys identity crisis.
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