Saturday, November 18, 2006

Conventional Wisdom (The Hidden Rich)

Frank Rich takes on the growing "conventional wisdom" from the MSM orators that the recent Democratic sweep was aberrational and that, as usual, the Dems are back to fighting an intra-party war (It’s Not the Democrats Who Are Divided fully available to Times Select subscribers):

Right now the capital is entranced by a fictional story line about the Democrats. As this narrative goes, the party’s sweep of Congress was more or less an accident. The victory had little to do with the Democrats’ actual beliefs and was instead solely the result of President Bush’s unpopularity and a cunning backroom stunt by the campaign Machiavellis, Chuck Schumer and Rahm Emanuel, to enlist a smattering of “conservative” candidates to run in red states. In this retelling of the 2006 election, the signature race took place in Montana, where the victor was a gun-toting farmer with a flattop haircut: i.e., a Democrat in Republican drag. And now the party is deeply divided as its old liberals and new conservatives converge on Capitol Hill to slug it out.

The only problem with this version of events is that it’s not true. The overwhelming majority of the Democratic winners, including Jon Tester of Montana, are to the left of most Republicans, whether on economic policy or abortion. For all of the hyperventilation devoted to the Steny Hoyer-John Murtha bout for the House leadership, the final count was lopsided next to the one-vote margin in the G.O.P. Senate intramural that yielded that paragon of “unity,” Trent Lott. But the most telling barometer is the election’s defining issue: there is far more unanimity among Democrats about Iraq than there is among Republicans. Disengaging America from that war is what the country voted for overwhelmingly on Nov. 7, and that’s what the Democrats almost uniformly promised to speed up, whatever their vague, often inchoate notions about how to do it.

Even before they officially take over, the Democrats are trying to deliver on this pledge. Carl Levin and Joe Biden, among the party’s leaders in thinking through a new Iraq policy, are gravitating toward a long-gestating centrist exit strategy: a phased withdrawal starting in four to six months; a loosely federal Iraqi government that would ratify the de facto separation of the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds and fairly allocate the oil spoils; and diplomacy, diplomacy, diplomacy to engage Iraq’s neighbors, including Iran and Syria, in securing some kind of peace.

[...]

Already we are seeing conclusive evidence that the White House’s post-thumpin’ blather about bipartisanship is worth as little as the “uniter, not a divider” bunk of the past. The tip-off came last week when Mr. Bush renominated a roster of choices for the federal appeals court that he knew faced certain rejection by Democrats. Why? To deliver a message to the entire Senate consonant with the unprintable greeting Dick Cheney once bestowed on Patrick Leahy, the senator from Vermont. That message was seconded by Tony Snow on Monday when David Gregory of NBC News asked him for a response to the Democrats’ Iraq proposals. The press secretary belittled them as “nonspecific” and then tried to deflect the matter entirely by snickering at Mr. Gregory’s follow-up questions.

Don Imus has been rerunning the video ever since, and with good reason. The laughing-while-Baghdad-burns intransigence of the White House makes your blood run cold. The day after Mr. Snow ridiculed alternative policies for Iraq, six American soldiers were killed. It was on that day as well that militia assailants stormed the education ministry in Baghdad in broad daylight, effortlessly carrying out a mass abduction of as many as 150 government officials in some 15 minutes. Given that those kidnappers were probably in cahoots with a faction of the very government they were terrorizing, it would be hard to come up with a more alarming snapshot of those “conditions on the ground” the president keeps talking about: utter chaos, with American troops in the middle, risking their lives to defend which faction, exactly?

Yet here was what Mr. Snow had to say about the war in this same press briefing: “We are winning, but on the other hand, we have not won” and “Our commitment is to get to the point where we achieve victory.” If that’s the specificity the White House offers to counter the Democrats’ “nonspecific” ideas about Iraq, bring back Donald Rumsfeld.

[...]

Everyone outside of the Bush bunker knows that’s where we’re heading. As the retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey told Keith Olbermann last week, “The American people have walked away from the war.” The general predicted, as many in Washington have, that the Baker commission, serving as a surrogate Papa Bush, would give the White House the “intellectual orchestration” to label the withdrawal “getting out with honor.” But might this Beltway story line, too, be wrong? Everything in the president’s behavior since the election, including his remarkably naïve pronouncements in Vietnam, suggests that he will refuse to catch the political lifeline that Mr. Baker might toss him. Mr. Bush seems more likely instead to use American blood and money to double down on his quixotic notion of “victory” to the end. Not for nothing has he been communing with Henry Kissinger.

So what then? A Democratic Congress can kill judicial appointments but cannot mandate foreign policy. The only veto it can exercise is to cut off the war’s funding, political suicide that the Congressional leadership has rightly ruled out. The plain reality is that the victorious Democrats, united in opposition to the war and uniting around a program for quitting it, have done pretty much all they can do. Republican leaders must join in to seal the deal.


Speaking about that "squeaker" of an election that brought the Dems control of both Houses of Congress, Hendrik Hertzberg at the New Yorker pulls together some numbers for comparison:
Thanks to the computer-aided gerrymandering that is the only truly modern feature of our electoral machinery, the number of seats that changed hands was not particularly high by historical standards. Voters—actual people—are a truer measure of the swing’s magnitude. In 2000, the last time this year’s thirty-three Senate seats were up for grabs, the popular-vote totals in those races, like the popular-vote totals for President, were essentially a tie. Democrats got forty-eight per cent of the vote, Republicans slightly more than forty-seven per cent. This time, in those same thirty-three states, Democrats got fifty-five per cent of the vote, Republicans not quite forty-three per cent. In raw numbers, the national Democratic plurality in the 2000 senatorial races was the same as Al Gore’s: around half a million. This time, despite the inevitably smaller off-year turnout and the fact that there were Senate races in only two-thirds of the states, it was more than seven million.

That's right. Seven million. It wasn't even close. He also takes issue with the conservative Democrat CW:
Or maybe those Blue Dogs won’t hunt. In truth, the great majority of Capitol Hill’s new Democrats will be what used to be called liberals, and in every case Tuesday’s Republican losers were more conservative than the Democrats who beat them. Moreover, the fate of ballot initiatives around the country suggests that, on balance, the conservative tide may be ebbing. In six states, mostly out West, proposals to raise the minimum wage won easily. Yes, seven ballot measures banning same-sex marriage passed, albeit by smaller margins than has been the pattern; but one, in Arizona, was defeated—the first time that has happened anywhere. Missourians voted to support embryonic-stem-cell research. Californians and Oregonians rejected proposals to require parental notification for young women seeking abortions, and the voters of South Dakota overturned a law, passed by the state legislature and signed by the governor eight months ago, that forbade abortion, including in cases of rape or incest, except when absolutely necessary to save the mother’s life. Rick Santorum, the Senate’s most energetic social conservative, went down to overwhelming defeat—man on dog won’t hunt, either, apparently.

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