Towards A Good Samaritan World

Friday, August 25, 2006

THE PARTY OF NO IDEAS MIGHT WIN, BUT THEY'LL BE CIPHERS ONCE IN POWER

Peter Beinart, arguing that it's good (for Democrats) that Democrats' ideas aren't getting a hearing, thinks that the Contract with America victory of 1994 is a myth:

The "Contract with America" [is a] myth. In 1994, according to legend, Americans were frustrated with Bill Clinton and the Democratic Congress, but they only decided to vote Republican in the campaign's closing weeks--after Newt Gingrich and company strode onto the Capitol steps on September 27 and announced their ten-point "Contract" with the nation. Six weeks later, the GOP had picked up an astonishing 54 seats and taken control of the House for the first time in 40 years.

For newly elected Speaker Gingrich, who wanted to claim a mandate for his right-wing agenda, the myth proved useful--and it has stuck. But it's nonsense. Few Republican candidates mentioned the Contract in their TV ads. As Democratic pollster Mark Mellman has noted, a CBS poll one week before the election found that 71 percent of voters had never heard of the Contract--and those who had were just as likely to support Democrats.


Even if this is true, after the election, the Contract with America became very important. It gave Republicans a sense of mandate and purpose. So if Democrats want to do anything with their power after they get it, they should agree on what they want to do, pitch it to the people, and plausibly claim a mandate for it.

Because Democrats aren't doing that, and don't have what it takes to do that, if they do win in 2006, it won't be a comeback, just an interlude. They'll be unimpressive in office and give the Republicans time to reload. Beinart's cynicism just underlines how bankrupt the Democrats are.

For the record, though, I think Republicans will beat the spread this year, and hold on to both houses of Congress, taking minor losses if any. People are misreading the polls, I think. The government is unpopular right now because they've alienated both the right and the left, which leads to poll numbers that look grim, but right-wingers have nowhere else to go. In fact, if Republicans actually gain seats this election, I won't be at all surprised.

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