When Harry Reid announced our unconditional surrender in the Iraq War early this year, Vice President Dick Cheney had a few choice words to say. Reid was informed of Cheney’s chiding and his response was to scoff: “I am not going to sit here and debate someone who has a 9% approval rating.” The Veep’s poll positives were actually at 29, but the Senator from Las Vegas knows his odds: he had a point. He was still basking in the afterglow of the Democrat romp in the midterm elections and he saw the White House crowd as holdovers from an already eclipsed era.
Now we are approaching the end of the first half-year of this Congress on July 20 and its own half-life seems to be on the fizzle. The President’s enthusiasts may still only number thirty-five out of every hundred citizens, but that is a veritable mob compared to the twenty-four of those hundred who are enamored with Congress. The difference between more-than-a-third and less-than-a-quarter are statistically huge in this game, not quite the gap between a .350 hitter and a .240 hitter in baseball but very big nonetheless.
This does not translate into a direct gain for Republicans. It is not exactly a case of “And when he goes downhill, you can throw his yoke off your shoulders”, as in Genesis (27:40), but it can be a genesis of sorts for reviving Republican hopes. There are very significant elements here that can be assimilated, then employed, in beneficial ways. When you are being pinned to the mat, the trick is to wait for that imperceptible diminution of pressure, that subtle shifting of weight, before marshaling the gusto for an explosive upward thrust.
At the very least, it is clear that the Democrats’ utopian scenario has been thwarted. That would have involved the decisive electoral victory being followed in short order by a series of defining legislative achievements, punctuating the image of substantive transition in governance. The Republican senators and representatives would be crawling into holes, the President would be beating a path to the Rose Garden to sign one bill after another and the people would await their standard-bearers back home waving laurels and garlands.
Instead, we not only have gridlock in our nation’s capital, we have it in our nation’s Capitol. More than merely being stymied in moving legislation, the Democrat caucus has not even succeeded in assuming a clear posture that communicates a vision for America. All we get from them is grumbling about Iraq, much of it over the top in ways that seem to undercut our men and women in uniform. Some vague murmurs about the minimum wage, and some carping about Executive-branch arrogance, round out the rest of their chorus. This hardly qualifies as an agenda for a majority party.
This may not quite be a setback yet but it is certainly a slowdown. There can hardly be said to be a Democrat juggernaut hurtling through political space anymore. They are still on top, and still a threat to rise further, but they are showing a little lag, a sickly sag. The people in turn are rewarding them with a nervous nag, a raucous rag. 24%?! Two dozen out of a century. People who run for office and get less than a quarter of the vote usually face two options: a career in pizza delivery or a discreet suicide.
As always in such instances, the burden shifts to the contender. If the Republicans want to be seen as a viable alternative, so soon after having been run out of town on a rail, they need to do more than rail, they need to run, starting now. The leadership, if there is such a thing, needs to unite their merry band of followers behind a message. A simple, concise, doable approach: keep tax rates low, budgets in check, and take our security seriously at the borders no less than at the airports. A plan to bring the Iraq situation to a successful but fairly expeditious conclusion would be helpful. (Yes, it can be done.)
Politics is defined by metronomic swings, with occasional sudden jerks in one direction or another. The midterm advantage gained by the Democrats has already proven that it has no truly durable core. It was a mood: that is, something more than a whim and less than a revolution. It could not proceed seamlessly from conquest to dominance and is now legitimately vulnerable. Harry Reid is right: his surge “has not worked”