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The perfect storm

By Bruce Walker
web posted August 8, 2005

On August 2nd, Democrats had Republicans caught in "the perfect storm," and Democrats lost. When Congressman Portman left Congress to become President Bush's trade representative, he vacated a seat that he had held for over a dozen years. The special election to fill that vacancy took place at a time when the Ohio Republican Party was wracked by a major scandal.

Paul Hackett, the Democrat nominee, was a veteran of the Iraq War and so could credibly challenge President Bush on that issue at a time when the American people were growing increasingly disenchanted with the war and when Ohio soldiers were dying on the field in Iraq. His opponent, Jean Schmidt, had held only state elective offices and she was not a veteran.

The "spin" is that Republicans have plenty to be worried about because Schmidt won with only fifty-two percent of the vote, while Portman had been routinely winning with about seventy percent of the vote. This spin means nothing. Incumbent congressmen, particularly majority party congressmen who have won six straight general elections, always win by huge margins. The opposition party has trouble even finding a candidate or coming up with enough money to run a modestly competitive race.

Ten years ago, Republicans proposed a constitutional amendment which would create term limits for Congress and which would build into our political system some much needed competition. The proposed amendment did not get the two-thirds majority required to send it to state legislatures for ratification because Democrats overwhelmingly opposed it in Congress – I wonder what would happen if the House Republican Leadership pushed term limits now? – gambling that they would retake the House in 1996.

Jean Schmidt, running as an incumbent member of Congress in 2006, will have a much easier time defending her seat than in winning it, and the House leadership can do a dozen different things to help her to win reelection next year, after which she will coast to reelection, just as Portman had done in his multiple reelection campaigns.

Close is losing, and Democrats are finding that out bit by bit. Ohio is a key state, the only one that Bush could not afford to lose and might have lost in 2004, but winning by a little in Ohio is still winning, and what must worry Democrat strategists is that this was the "perfect storm" and their guy lost.

Touting losing by a little as victory is an indication of just how much the partisan pendulum has swung. Perhaps – and I have suggested this in a number of past articles – now that Democrats are going to be the minority for the foreseeable future, it is time to make a "reach across the aisle" that is in the interest of all Americans.

What might that be? Bipartisan support for a term limits amendment would be a good start (maybe even adding a ten year limit for all federal judges?) Bipartisan support for a federal law requiring that all federal, state and local legislative districts be compact, contiguous and configure by a non-partisan panel chosen at random, as the Govenator has proposed, would be another.

How about a real effort to end pork? If Democrats have not noticed it yet, pork is now being used to elect more Republicans than Democrats. While Republicans still are willing to compromise in principle, Democrats have a chance to seize the day or lose forever. If Democrats do not care about wasteful spending now, then how can they expect Republicans not to do what Democrats did for decades: tax and tax, spend and spend, elect and elect?

Real reform would be in the interest of America and there are probably enough Republicans now to agree for the right reason to undertake reforms that are in the interests of all honorable Americans. Or…or Democrats will learn that they cannot win when the Republican majority determines that they will not win, even when there is "the perfect storm" is in the Ohio Second Congressional District on Tuesday, October 2nd.

Democrats have now lost six straight House elections (i.e. Republicans have elected more congressmen than Democrats and Republican candidates have won more votes than Democrat candidates in House races for six straight general elections, and just now, in the "perfect storm." The obvious question for Democrats, now, is whether or not they should embrace the principles that brought Republicans to power (limited government, federalism, judicial restraint, taxpayers rights) or whether they will chase the increasingly elusive goal of majority status against a party who has learned all the lessons of minority status and have proven, now, able to withstand "the perfect storm."

Bruce Walker is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right. He is also a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.


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