Giving Democrats rope

ORANGE COUNTY, Calif., Nov. 18 — The beautiful 77-degree weather aside, it’s something of a shame that I wasn’t in Washington today to see a rare brilliant move by the Republican House leadership.

Confronted with the sudden declaration by a key pro-war Democrat that U.S. troops must be immediately withdrawn from Iraq, acting Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) brought a resolution to the floor to do just that. It failed by a vote of 403-3.

Don’t get me wrong: had I been a congressman, I would have voted with the three. The Iraq War was a mistake from the beginning, and in every possible way — from the damaging daily casualty reports and violence to the recent indictment of Scooter Libby — it has weakened President Bush’s ability to govern as a conservative, had he ever wanted to do so.

Still, one cannot but admire the tactical genius and subtlety displayed by Blunt and the House leadership. The usual story for Republicans in the House had become the four-hour roll call during which a handful of congressmen are taken out back and shot in the head until they change their votes. This was different — it was subtle, and it demonstrated a valuable political lesson to Republicans.

Give the Democrats a chance, and they will hang themselves every time.

Democrats’ best hope in the 2006 midterm election is that voters will become fed up with an apparently corrupt status quo — a ruling party whose leaders are constantly living under a cloud of legal and ethical suspicion. Republicans, on the other hand, can only hope that Democrats continue to be themselves — overreaching, arrogant, and unbearably shrill.

The 2005 Election

We all know how unpopular President Bush is these days. A recent Fox News poll puts his approval at 36 percent, and congressional Republicans behind him at 34 percent. But what few noticed is that the same poll, taken at what is so far the worst point of the Bush presidency, puts congressional Democrats even lower, at 33 percent.

There are surely many explanations for this, but one of them has to be the fact that as bad as GOP rule has been for the country, the Democrats are out of power at the moment because no one wants what they have to offer.

If there is any lesson from the Election of 2005, it is that Democratic candidates can win when they can avoid a battle of ideas. This is nothing new — it was the watchword of the Clinton Era, and it remains equally true today.

Let’s recap the races. Democrats kept the governorship in Virginia this month (note that they lost the other two statewide races there) because they faced a lousy Republican candidate with no principles, whose cynical ad campaign on the death penalty backfired. They won over a proven loser in New Jersey, where they can hardly lose even in a bad year. Their biggest victory came here in California, where they defeated Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s (R) slate of reform initiatives on the back of a massive, unprecedented campaign by the public-sector unions. It did not happen because Democrats had a better plan to salvage the state’s dismal financial situation (in fact, they offered no plan at all) but rather because the beneficiaries of taxpayer subsidies spent millions to preserve their privileged status.

The standard analysis of Election 2005 is that the results were an electoral rebuke of President Bush. I happen to disagree only because I believe that these were local races, less about an unpopular president than about local candidates and issues. But no matter. Whether it is a rebuke of Bush or not, there is one explanation that no one is giving: no serious commentator of any stripe has suggested that this was an election in which Democrats’ ideological views and agenda were vindicated or accepted by the public.

A Lot Can Happen in a Year

Today’s withdrawal resolution is a perfect example of what Republicans must do if they are to turn the tide on what still looks like a truly lousy election year for them. Let the Democrats throw up their bombastic cries, and then induce vomiting by taking their own words and shoving them right back down their throats.

If the Dems had wised up, they would have laid off as Republicans continued to immolate themselves. They really did show an uncharacteristic restraint right up through the Libby indictment, and as a result they had Bush dangling by a thread as they silently shook their heads and let the public watch.

Sadly for them, they are wholly incapable of maintaining such restraint for long. With their overreaching demands for withdrawal, they have already thrown President Bush a lifeline. They have all now put themselves on the record as still supporting the ill-conceived, pointless and deadly three-year war they had hoped to use against the president. This vote will come up again and again in next year’s campaign, bet on it.

I suspect that Democrats won’t be content to stop there. Facing the prospects of victory in 2006, Democrats may still manage to defeat themselves. They will now enter the confirmation hearings of Judge Samuel Alito decrying the notion that parents should have a say when their minor daughters seek abortions. At the demand of the more radical members of their caucus, they will probably conduct an unpopular filibuster against him, and they will lose that battle anyway, thus simultaneously alienating both their own base and the public at large. They will rail against extension of business-friendly investment tax cuts, resist attempts to preserve the Pledge of Allegiance or curb the advance of same-sex marriage, and condemn Wal-Mart, the store where all the ordinary people go to shop.

All of these will be signs that Democrats are still living in the wrong era, backing ideas that haven’t had any currency in years if they ever did. This is the blueprint for squandering a historic opportunity and a victory they are still due for in 2006.

David Freddoso, a native of Indiana, is a political reporter for Evans and Novak Inside Report.

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