The politician’s voice rose to a passionate crescendo as he brought his speech to a rousing close. "And now," said the moderator, "we will take questions from the audience." Our stumping pol looked expectantly toward the audience, confident he could not be stumped. In the back a lady raised her hand and was recognized by the moderator to offer the opening query. Your question, ma’am?
"Who else is running?"
That seems to be the mood of the Republican voter this year. There is no newfound love of the Democrat. Certainly the approach of the Democratic Party to our wars at home and abroad are not reflective of some attractive new brand of statesmanship. More like the age-old mealy-mouthed weaselly avoidance of commitment. The Hollywood Democrats know how to show some leg but not how to show some spine. The New York Democrats talk big at their cocktail parties but when the enemy cocks his gun they are quick to turn tail. And the Washington Democrats are a raucous caucus who do math with an abacus (how else to explain the $2 billion programs blossoming into $200 billion?) and confer on the Iraq insurrectionists the nobility of Spartacus.
Still, your mainstream Republican voter feels a sort of malaise, you should excuse the (Jimmy Carter tainted) expression. What we are getting from our representatives is just not representative. The Reaganite vision that still brings tears to our eyes seems to have become fuzzy again: "that vision thing". The Reagan family never forgave the first President Bush for saying that there was a "kinder and gentler" Republican world that would modify the implied excesses of Reagan. What has happened now is that there is a "sloppier and more profligate" Republicanism, allowing money to hemorrhage out of federal coffers without really providing transfusions to important needs.
What to do? The guys who are in office seem to be milquetoasts and conciliators. The alternative is a dreadful Congress with committees headed by extreme left-wingers who range from the wacky to the nasty. We seem to be stuck between a sponge and a soft place.
The solution that seems to be evolving is this one. For a few months Republican voters walk around disaffected. They take out their frustration on the pollsters; they also donate less to the party. Then, officeholders go into panic. Meetings are held, campaign managers are yelled at, secretaries are overworked and interns are dispatched on interminable, pointless errands. Phone calls are made to friendly reporters and new phone calls are made to friends to complain that the reporters have grown unfriendly. Websites go up to get flies into the parlor, but wait … you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar … but don’t our voters complain we lack vinegar (and that other secretion) … but didn’t Teddy say to speak softly but carry a big stick … but can you use a big stick in a big tent?
So everyone is flailing about in all directions, looking to get traction without breaking a leg, momentum without losing control and a coalition without making too many contradictory promises. On alternating days, sometimes even hours, the mood shifts from insane optimism to bitter pessimism. One day the solution is to woo the base with tough talk, the next day the plan is to coax the undecided with smooth talk. A lot of F-words are hurled about; I mean words like frantic, frenetic and frenzied.
Last but not least, doomsday scenarios abound. People at lunches and dinners and events and parties and get-togethers speak mostly in numbers, as if a new civilization has evolved that has replaced English with Math. "I’m thinking the Democrats get 50." "I’m hearing 45." "Zogby says 30." "Gallup says 20." "Barone says 10." "Rasmussen says five." "Norquist says we gain 15; is that guy on crack or what?"
Finally, Judgment Day, a.k.a. Election Day, arrives. The people, sighing deeply, some moaning, a few groaning — the occasional primal scream erupts — arrive at the ballot box. After various preliminary acts of identification performed before one austere looking lady and one bubblingly cheerful lady, the booth is entered. Part confessional, part love-nest, part X-ray machine, there is no place quite like the voting booth. Only then, only there, will the Republican do what he has to do: vote Republican.
The vote will stay within the party and the seats will not go lost. There will still be sanity and security in this country. But the lazy politicians who took their voters for granted will have learned something very valuable: they may run for office but we can crawl to vote.