So the great Battle for the Center, with everyone rushing to seem as much like everyone else as humanly possible, has come down to this: By handing them control of the U. S. Senate, voters have given the Republicans a green light to loot the country, with nothing but the occasional filibuster to stand in their way.
Predictably, the Democrats, gearing up to fight the last war and eager to do anything but be perceived as standing in anyone’s way, are already blaming Ralph Nader.
The logic goes something like this: if Nader runs in 2004, it will be his fault the Democrats lost the Senate in 2002. It makes about as much sense as blaming Nader for Gore’s botched candidacy in 2000, when polls showed that voters respected Nader and loathed Gore. The fact that just about everything Nader said in his campaign has been shown to be true, starting with Enron, just rubs salt in the wound.
At least in 2000 voters got to choose among Gore, Bush and Nader. In 2002, in most states, they didn’t really have a choice. It was the Republicans or the No One in Particulars, the Nobodaddies, the Stood-for-Nothing Good-for-Nothings.
In Oregon, a Democrat who never so much as mentioned the environment in his campaign eked out a win over a Republican who almost managed to look and sound like everyone else but couldn’t quite get it right. Had the Republicans nominated anyone but a real Republican, they’d have coasted to victory.
Elsewhere, the symbol of all things Republican was Jeb Bush, who looked put-upon at having to campaign against a guy so clueless you’d be disappointed to have him as your waiter, much less your governor. The Democrats, meanwhile, could find no more telling symbol than Walter Mondale, who seemed genuinely surprised to learn he was still alive.
Dick Gephardt woke up to find his presidential aspirations “comatoast,” as a friend of mine would say.
Nancy Pelosi, the new Dick Gephardt, had no sooner pledged her undying support of Bush’s war effort in Iraq than she was attacked by other Democrats for being too far to the Left, out of touch with the mainstream, etc. (With Democrats like Tenn. Rep. Harold Ford, who needs Republicans?)
Now the Democrats are in disarray, convinced that it would be suicidal to attack Bush and all clamoring to see who can sound more supportive of him than the others. It may soon be the core Republican base’s time to start feeling betrayed. It will be Clintonism in reverse. The right nominated these people but the center elected them. Holding onto power is likely to be far more attractive than delivering on promises, especially in the social agenda.
Here is the real question for history: who, in the long run, will prove more successful at “centerizing” his party, Clinton or Bush? Clinton centerized his own party and radicalized the opposition. However, he didn’t energize it to the extent that they were willing to nominate “one of their own.” Instead, they looked for someone “who can win” and got Bush.
That appears to be the emerging new Democratic strategy: not find someone who stands for something, but find someone who “can win.” But Bush is counting on co-opting his opposition, as he did in Texas, rather than radicalizing (and energizing) it.
The late George Wallace of Alabama used to like to say that there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the two major parties. In Alabama this year, .23 of one per cent of the vote separated the two gubernatorial candidates.
DAVID VEST writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He is a poet and piano-player for the Pacific Northwest’s hottest blues band, The Cannonballs.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit his website at http://www.rebelangel.com