Democrats: The Big Surprise

Perhaps, just perhaps, the 2006 mid-term elections will give pause to the “long-term trend” school—industry, actually—of American politics. For years, pundits have been telling us, and it became the received wisdom, that the Republicans have been and will continue to be dominant in American politics. We have been through this many times: Richard Nixon, with the advice of the young political analyst Kevin Phillips, was building a “New American Majority.” That lasted eight years at the most. Then, during the Reagan years, we had the “Republican lock” on the Electoral College—the theory that Republican domination of Southern and noncoastal Western states gave them a permanent edge in the Electoral College vote. (Inconveniently, Democratic presidents interrupted these “trends.”)

More recently, political commentators have bombarded us with the theory that George W. Bush’s guru (or “architect”) Karl Rove had designed a successful strategy to achieve lasting Republican dominance. This strategy was more thorough, if not more cold-blooded, than earlier ones—building a new base of right-wing conservatives and Christian evangelicals combined with the money-raising power of K Street lobbyists, and the companion efforts to assure Republican rule by such enforcers as Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform.

In fact, K Street will not change a great deal even though the Democrats are in charge on Capitol Hill and Tom DeLay is gone. Democrats have their own K Street connections, and the lobbying firms, anticipating a Democratic win in November, had already begun recruiting more Democrats, and raising more money for the Democratic Party. The Republican lobbyists have no lack of business: they will now devote their efforts to trying to block new Democratic legislation that their clients oppose, such as lower drug prices in the prescription drug program, or elimination of tax breaks. The question is whether, like the Republicans, the Democrats will allow their own lobbyist allies to have the run of Capitol Hill, even letting them write bills there.

Another question is how strong Bush’s base will continue to be, against other forces in the electorate. After the 2000 election Bush and Rove concluded that the way to preserve power was to build a conservative base that would turn out in force the next time. They courted the Christian right by opposing stem-cell research using human embryos; calling for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage; signing a law against “partial birth abortion”; and putting conservative, apparently anti-abortion judges on the Supreme Court and the lower courts as well. Bush also set up in 2001 the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, from which both its first head as well as a deputy head later resigned, saying that it was being exploited for political purposes.1 (David Kuo, the former deputy, has written that it was used in 2004 to target evangelical voters in twenty races.2 ) From Ronald Reagan on, Republicans have appealed for support from Christian right organizations, but now the Christian right has become not only an integral part of the Republican Party…

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