Monday, November 13, 2006

Rough Week for Republicans

I'm writing today for three reasons:

1) I don't own a gun permit.

2) I ran out of sleeping pills.

3) You can't get an honest razor anymore - just those disposable things that will only scratch you up a bit.

What a night last Tuesday was! Fortunately, I've been there before. While I was still a teenager I was a volunteer coordinator for Congressman Bob McClory - in the election of 1974, the Watergate election. It got better from there - until last Tuesday.

I am deeply saddened that some great candidates got swept away in the tide that washed across the country, but not entirely surprised by the outcome. Throughout this cycle the book, Animal Farm, by George Orwell, kept running through my mind. A lot of our guys had become indistinguishable from the guys we replaced 12 years ago. The commercials by both national parties were an abomination. They were not just negative, not just melodramatic, but downright macabre - like a trailer for The Texas Chainsaw Massacres. It made me ashamed.

In 1996 Bob Dole, who had once been dubbed the 'tax collector for the welfare state' campaigned haplessly as a born-again tax cutter. It lacked credibility coming from him. This cycle many Republicans ran gamely on behalf of a fiscal restraint we have not exercised in about six years. When your actions don't match your rhetoric, it's hard to win.

I have always been suspect of the vaunted Republican turnout machine. Ideas and performance drive elections. Everything else is a side dish. That 'machine' was a myth created by Democrats to explain why their ideas lost previously. Republican operatives ate it up because it made them seem more important than the actual candidates and ideas. Well, we didn't have a turnout machine in '94, but we had ideas and principles that we gave more than lip service to.

I am equally contemptuous of the glib assumptions of some Republicans that we will take it all back in two years and of some Democrats that they will now rule for a generation. A good rule to live by is when you have just gotten clubbed like a baby seal, you're not as bad as you think you are - and when you've just scored a huge victory, you're not as good as you think. Events will intervene - and ideas and performance will carry the day in the long run. I'm also contemptuous of the critics among Republicans who want to shoot the wounded. Most such critics have not done anything positive of any great weight. They're usually part of the problem; not part of the answer.

It seems to me that three things carried this election. First, the culture of corruption attack found its mark. We Republicans sure don't look like the bold idealists we were a decade ago. On more mundane matters, our performance did not match our rhetoric - the profligate spending had more of an effect than just profligate spending: it called into question our entire credibility. Do we mean what we say or are we just another group that will say anything to win? And finally it was, indeed, a referendum on the war on terror.

On the former two items, we Republicans are very much in need of serious reform. We deserved the rebuke we got. The latter is a matter of principle, which I would not change a bit. If Nancy Pelosi turns out to be right that terrorism is not a war to be won, but a situation to be managed, the Democrats will govern for a long time. If terrorists are an implacable foe bent on world domination (as I believe) the Democrats tenure will be very short. But if Republicans expect to fill the vacuum that would ensue, we will have to be a lot more honorable, a lot more principled, a lot more visionary than we have been in recent years.

A part of me wished that, just this once, the phrase 'none of the above' would have been on the ballot. If it had, I suspect both Republicans and Democrats would have good cause to gnash their teeth.

19 comments:

monelson 6:42 AM  

Amazing how people are surprised by last Tuesday. I hope no one is confused that the feelings that drove last Tuesdays result will be gone by the 2008 vote. Here's what a lot of democrats still passionately believe (and don't under estimate the passion they have for these):
- The 2000 election was stolen from them. It still irritates them significantly. And they are reminded every time Mr. Bush has a sound bite on tv.
- The 2004 election was stolen from them by fear politics resulting from 9-11.
- Mr Bush and Mr Chenney represent what is truly evil with conservative republican politics. They and anyone associated with them must go.
- The Clinton years represent a nostalgic past similar to the way my parents remember the 1950's. Like my parents ignore that the Korean war was fought in the 50's, democrats ignore all the bad things that happened while Clinton was in office. they yearn for those days again.

So all Republicans were running against a motivated opposition. And many republican and independent voters could not articulate why these Democrats were wrong. mmmm isn't hard to see.

The real question is, will Republicans and other conservatives figure out a message, not based on fear, that resonates with voters in the next 18 months? If not, last Tuesday was not the worst day for Republicans.

Charlie Johnston 9:42 AM  

I'm aware a substantial minority of Democrats feel that way. But make no mistake; it is not a strength that propels you, but a weakness that cripples you. If that is the passion that fires your governance the next two years it would be truly bad for Republicans because they would not need to reform to retake the majority. Obviously, it would be even worse for you Democrats.

grand old partisan 11:49 AM  

mosmess bring up some fascinating points that illuminate the cognitive dissonance within "the Democratic mind."

I agree that there is an unfortunately (and pathetically) large number of Democrats who still haven’t gotten over Bush simply being President in the first place, and feel that he and Cheney represent what is “truly evil with conservative republican politics.” But what does that say about the Democrats’ complaints that the Republicans are the ones “dividing” the country?

Similarly, as has been glibly pointed out else where, if the GOP was able to “steal” the elections in 2000, 2002, and 2004 – either through election fraud or “fear” tactics – why were they unsuccessful this year? Did they either not try, or did the voters who have been duped for 6 years finally see the light?

Finally, I’ll return to the notion of “fear.” Every pundit I’ve heard or read in the last week – even most liberal ones – acknowledges that the Democrats didn’t win, the Republicans lost. Why? Because Democrats made people AFRAID of 2 more years of unchecked Republican power. AFRAID of more death in Iraq. AFRAID of higher debt and a worsening economy. AFRAID of racist boogeymen. I am so freaking sick of this ‘Republicans are fearmongers’ notion that I could puke. Democrats practice the politics of fear just as much, just on different issues. Instead of ‘vote for us or the terrorists will strike again,’ it’s ‘vote for us or you’ll be broke and unemployed, your kids will die in a foreign land for a failed cause, and if you’re black – well then watch out!’ How is that any better?

Charlie is right. The Democrats weren’t campaigning for a chance to govern, they were leading a revolution. Now, they have to govern. If they can’t do that effectively, sentiment will turn against they just as well, and the House will be up for grabs again in ’08.

Skeeter 12:11 PM  

You left out a major issue.
The people running the GOP campaigns did a very poor job this year.
For instance, the person running Zinga's job got his candidate some very bad press and even screwed up a flag giveaway.
Around the rest of the state, the GOP did nothing more than to brand the opponent a "liberal" which just gets tiresome. Voters don't listen to that anymore.

The GOP has to find some new people to run campaigns.

Sorry Charlie, but you sure didn't help your people this year.

Charlie Johnston 1:24 PM  

Ahh, yes, Skeeter...the screwed up flag giveaway and profiling flap. That drove us up five points in polling over the course of a couple weeks. My only regret about it is that we couldn't keep the controversy going through election day.

That is one of your weaknesses. A lot of times when you think you have gotten us, you're really helping us because you have such a tin ear as to what the public wants. We had a horrible cycle - I had the worst night of my life. But posts like yours give me heart.

Andrea Zinga is the best candidate in the worst district I have ever worked with. It still astounds me that one local paper, while editorializing about how the Arsenal has become a shadow of its former self during the Evans/Hare watch, remarked how much worse it would have been had they not been there.

Skeeter 2:33 PM  

Way to spin, Charlie.
Too bad you are much better at promoting yourself than your candidates.
Zinga looked like a fool. She looked Not Ready For Prime Time and you made it worse.

I would like to see an alternative to Democrats in Illinois, because I would like to see my party stay honest and because I will always support true fiscal conservatives, no matter what party they call home.

But as long as you keep running elections that sure won't happen.

You worked for some other losers this cycle, didn't you Charlie?

Have you ever backed a winner?

grand old partisan 3:00 PM  

Wow, who knew that people in the 42nd Ward were following the Zinga/Hare race so closely. Skeeter, do you know anything about the campaign that Charlie ran other than what you read on the "progressive" blogs you frequent?

Whether it's due to Charlie's work or not - in a heavily Democratic year in a district that has been heavily gerrymandered to favor the Dems, Zinga did 4% better than in 04, and 5% better than the 02 Republican challenger.

Skeeter 3:57 PM  

I'm sure Rich Miller will be thrilled to be called "Progressive."

That being said, it is remarkably easy to follow a race outside your home district.

Finally, I encourage you to keep backing Charlie. I generally like to see Democrats win, and when Charlie gets involved that almost always happened.

"The candidate did not properly say what I told her to say."

That ranks up there with the great quotes of 2006.

grand old partisan 4:35 PM  

skeeter -

What do you make of the fact that Zinga - in an anti-Republican year - did the best of any Republican candidate in the 17th since it was re-gerrymandered to be a lock for Democrats?

I'm not saying Charlie didn't make mistakes - but even a flawlessly managed campaign wasn't going to flip that seat. And to Charlie's credit, this was hardly a stunning win for Hare or an unexpectedly bad loss for Zinga. On the contrary, Zinga - while unltimately a "loser" - beat expectations and did supringly well given the political hand that was dealt.

Skeeter 9:50 AM  

"What do you make of the fact that Zinga - in an anti-Republican year - did the best of any Republican candidate in the 17th since it was re-gerrymandered to be a lock for Democrats?"

I make of it that an opponent with good name recognition ran for an open seat. Of course she's going to do better against Hare, who nobody knew, than Evans.

Let's face it: The national tide was created by great political work by the Democrats. Rahm kicked Reynolds around. Given all the Republican gerrymandering, Rahm took 30. Reynolds took zero. You have to give credit where it is due. Somebody motivated the voters. It was Rahm.

And Rahm was helped by people like Charlie who have nothing to offer but "he's a liberal" and "my candidate is a patriot and yours hates America."

Keep hiring Charlie. And keep losing elections.

If Charlie had an decency (no evidence of that to date) he would take some of the blame for the Zinga loss. Or at least refund his unearned fees.

By the way -- He screwed up at least one more Illinois election this cycle, didn't he?

grand old partisan 10:18 AM  

"Given all the Republican gerrymandering"

Are you serious? You really think gerrymandering is a partisan problem?

Put the kool-aide down for a second and take a look around. Who drew Illinois's map last time? We're not the only state controlled by a Democratic legislature you know.

Skeeter 10:31 AM  

Whether the gerrymandering was by Dems or the GOP doesn't really matter.

What matters is that Dems were able to overcome it nationally by running good campaigns. The Dems knocked off 30.

BECAUSE OF people like Charlie Johnson, the GOP knocked off zero.

Support the guy if you want. I shouldn't tell you how to run your party, especially when you think that Charlie Johnson is a talented guy. Stay with that belief. Keep hiring him.

grand old partisan 11:20 AM  

"Whether the gerrymandering was by Dems or the GOP doesn't really matter."

Huh? You think that Dems would have gerrymandered districts that put them at a disadvantage? It matters very much WHO did the gerrymandering - and in Illinois, that was the Dems. And they redrew the 17th in such a way that Lane Evans got a 7% bump between 2000 and 2002. It was a Dem district in a Dem year, with a candidate supported by the Dem incumbent, and the Republican challenger did better than any other on the current map.

I've never hired Charlie for anything before, in fact, I don't know him personally. I don't know much about the race (except the outcome), so I can't comment authoritatively on whether Zinga's better than expected performance was due to his work or not. But the bottom line is that Zinga did have a better than expected performance, and if you want to agrue that Charlie did a poor job with the campaign, you need to back that up with something more than the fact than he lost.

Skeeter 2:21 PM  

Keep hiring him, GOP.
Fine by me.

grand old partisan 2:39 PM  

No offense to Charlie, but at this point I could care less about him, skeeter. This is about your inability to actually debate facts or details (despite your claim to be a champion of “intellectual honesty”).

If Charlie did a “very poor job” running the Zinga campaign, as you claim, then you should back that up with something. You say that he got Zinga some “very bad press and even screwed up a flag giveaway.” He responded that those incidents actually drove Zinga up “five points in polling over the course of a couple weeks.” He effectively invalidated the only specifics you offered to support your point. Perhaps a response is in order?

The only other thing you say that is close to specific is that Charlie had nothing to offer except "he's a liberal" and "my candidate is a patriot and yours hates America." I’m not so sure that’s true, but even if it is, the fact remains that in a Democratic year, Zinga increased the Republican take of a district that was gerrymandered to HEAVILY favor the Democrats. There was basically no way Zinga was going to win that seat, so beating expectations – which they did - is the best that could have been hoped for. Instead of addressing that in any rational way, you go off on a rant about “Republican gerrymandering”, even though the district in question was drawn by Democrats!

Intellectual honesty my a**. You’re just a petty, bitter partisan.

Skeeter 3:26 PM  

I'm not bitter at all.
My side won that race, and I believe every other race where Charlie has been involved.
Like most Democrats, I hope Charlie has lots of business in 2008.

Bitter? No. I'm pretty happy about this election and the role played by Charlie.

grand old partisan 3:41 PM  

skeeter, if you're interesting in scrapping the sardonic remarks and engaging reality here, answer me the following questions:

Am I wrong in maintaining that Zinga was gonna lose that race no matter who was involved in it? Yes or no.

Did she at least beat expectations? I say she did. If you disagree, explain why.

The fact that she did better expected means those involved in the race did a good job in a bad situation, and rubbing their noses in the defeat that was well anticipated is just spiteful and, indeed, bitter.

Skeeter 5:30 PM  

Yes, you are wrong.

It was an open seat in a marginal district.

A good campaign could have taken it.

I am not going to point out every mistake by Charlie Johnson.

If you think, after observing his work here and elsewhere, that he is a valuable part of the GOP, then continue to hire him. If not, then go in a different direction.

Ultimately, I found his analysis of the matter entertaining because HE BELIEVES he ran a great race, but when it comes down to it. But that is between him and his client.

But if you think that he ran a great race and continue down his path, then the 2006 tidal wave is going to look like a drop in pond compared to what will happen 2008.

grand old partisan 9:25 AM  

By refusing to point out even one mistake by Charlie, you are effectively building your case on a faulty premise - which is what irritates me more than any personal connection to Charlie (especially since I don't have one). Your logic is that Zinga lost, Charlie ran the campaign, therefore Charile did a lousy job. Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

Respectfully, I disagree. The 17th District was gerrymandered for the Dems just as much as any district in Texas is for the GOP. It is not "marginal." Since redistricting, Evans vote margin went from the low/mid-50's to the low 60's. That's not a coincidence.

The fact that Zinga did as well as she did in an an overwhelmingly Democratic district in Democratic sweep year is the story. The fact that Zinga lost isn't a suprise to anyone. The fact that she didn't lose as badly as everyone expected is.

Again, that's not to say Charlie didn't make mistakes. Perhaps he did. Perhaps Zinga's suprising showing was in spite or, not because of, Charlie's involvement. If you'd like to argue that position, you WILL have to cite some specifics. Or you'll have to explain why you maintain that the 17th is a marginal district.

BTW, I wonder: do you feel the same way about Jon Carson? I mean, Duckworth did lose, right? By your logic, that means he must have done a very poor job and made innumerable mistakes.

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