There are many possible explanations for the Democrats’ defeat in the November election. President Bush’s party benefited from Sept. 11. The Democrats fielded a number of unattractive candidates. The Democrats waffled on their “message” until there wasn’t any message left.
There’s something true, in varying degrees, about all those explanations. But there’s another one that nobody in the media has identified, or will identify, and it may be as important as any of the rest. It’s this: the Democrats were perceived as nasty, nasty people.
Nasty. Personally unpleasant. Mean. Arrogant. Creepy. That’s the “N” factor, and it will continue to dog the Democrats until they get rid of all the unpleasant, mean, arrogant, creepy people who came into party leadership during the era of Mr. and Mrs. Clinton. Maybe it will dog
The Democrats have been the de facto rulers of this country since 1933. Hence their nastiness when opponents crop up.
them beyond that point: Al Gore, the Clintons’ principal rival, has been a nasty little man throughout his political career.
The national Democratic Party is currently being run by Clintonistas like Democratic National Chairman Terry McAuliffe, who entertained America on the morning after the election with a ranting speech in which he demanded that the Republicans be gracious in defeat. In what universe has the loser ever attempted to reingratiate himself with the populace by making such a demand? It didn’t help that the speech was delivered in the most ungracious words possible, with taunting references to President Bush’s obligation to put up or shut up, now that he’d won – or that even as McAuliffe spoke, reporters on every news channel were informing the nation that the president had commanded all Republican minions not to celebrate or gloat or even privately sneer about the election results.
It was national Democratic leaders like McAuliffe, it is rumored, who advised Minnesota Democrats that it would be to their political advantage to turn the funeral of the posthumously beloved Sen. Wellstone into Castro-length televised political rally, and to prohibit the vice president from attending this orgy, on the pretense of not wishing the privacy of friends and families to be mussed and pawed by Secret Service men. Meanwhile, just to make the snub more obvious, the clever decision-makers warmly invited former President Clinton and his Secret Service cohort. This weird electoral tactic was considered a guaranteed winner by Democratic leaders and their media clones, right up to the moment when the hastily nominated Democratic replacement candidate confessed his ignominious electoral defeat – defeat by the “N” factor in which his party had so recently been glorying.
Of course, the “N” factor had been prominent way before the Wellstone “funeral.” It showed in the staunch refusal of many Democratic leaders to admit that President Bush was a “legitimate” president; in the Democratic leader- ship’s public gloating over the ripeness of his brother for defeat in his bid for re-election as governor of Florida; in the illegal replacement of the New Jersey Democratic senatorial candidate with a candidate considered more likely to win, a self-righteous old windbag whose principal claims to fame were snotty remarks about his opponents and his success in prohibiting anyone under 21 from having a legal beer; in the declaration of Sen. Carnahan of Missouri that because the President had failed to do away with Osama bin Laden, he was now going after her; and in those strange reports that always issue, like frogs from the mouth of the False Prophet in the book of Revelation, out of Democratic Party spokesmen as an election nears – reports of shadowy “commit-
tees” dedicated to harassing minority voters at the polls, reports of leaflets tacked up in black neighborhoods, urging people not to vote or to vote on some other day, leaflets of which the source can somehow never be identified … Can anyone but a television interviewer fail to entertain the speculation that such patently ridiculous attempts to depress the minority vote are manufactured by the Democrats themselves?
While this stuff was going on, the Democratic senatorial candidate in South Carolina was attacking Republican hero Rudy Giuliani, remarking that “His wife kicked him out and he moved in with two gay men and a Shih Tzu,” and asking the vital question, “Is that South Carolina values?” Nasty? You might say so. Giuliani appropriately wondered what would have happened if the Republicans said such things about the Democrats. “I do think there’s a double standard,” the former mayor opined. Right, Rudy; indeed there is.
Double standards result from arrogance and entitlement. When entitled people are challenged, they very often turn very nasty. The Democrats have been the de facto rulers of this country since 1933. Hence their nastiness when opponents crop up. But the nastiness of the post-Clinton party sets entirely new standards.
Let’s call them the Minnesota standards. Few people who are at all interested in politics will ever forget the spectacle of jolly “Fritz” Mondale, the people’s friend, laughing it up with his buddy Bill (“Good Times”) Clinton at the funeral of the man whom Mondale was about to replace on the Democratic ticket. Few people will forget the television interview in which the governor of Minnesota angrily explained why he stomped out of the funeral in protest against its tastelessness and nastiness. Few people will forget friendly “Fritz” Mondale, the elder statesman, using his campaign to prolong the spirit of the funeral – delaying debate on the pretense that he wanted to get to know the people of his own dear state and, when he finally debated, accusing his liberal Republican opponent of being a sold-out slave to his party’s Satanic “right-wing.” There was real hatred in Mondale’s tone – and arrogance, and entitlement, and, as it turned out, stupidity, too. Because he lost.
It must be said that Mondale was comparatively gracious in defeat. Compared, that is, to Chairman McAuliffe, or to that other Democratic Party senior statesman, lovable old Bill Moyers, who two days later told his audience on PBS that the Republican victory was a triumph of the “right-wing” and that the Republicans would now proceed with their plans to give “corporations a free hand to eviscerate the environment.” Of course, Moyers has credibility. After all, he is where he is today because he was once press secretary to Lyndon Baines Johnson.
Now, Lyndon Baines Johnson was one of the nastiest guys whoever corrupted the American political system. And the people got rid of him, when they would have stuck with Kennedy, had he lived – Vietnam or no Vietnam. The next Democratic president, Jimmy Carter, was a very nasty man, and I have no doubt that when he ran around the country calling Ronald Reagan a racist, he contributed significantly to his defeat by Reagan. Few people believe that the next in this strange line of Democratic Presidents, William Jefferson Blythe Clinton, would have won re-election if he had been able to stand for a third term. It was simple good judgment, on Al Gore’s part, not to invoke the spectre of the lying, cheating, finger-pointing Clinton during his own campaign for the presidency. Clinton had become too obviously nasty for any but the truly brain-dead to admire. As long as President Bush continues to present a vivid contrast between the nasty Democrats and the nice (if somewhat slow and dumb) Republicans, he will have a tremendous edge on his opponents.
But can the Democrats get rid of their nastiness? Like it or not, George Bush’s leadership was validated by the public in the election of 2002: As I write, however, the Clintonistas are maintaining their hold on the Democratic Party. McAuliffe still has his job, and, according to Deborah Orin, writing in the New York Post, internal critics of his performance still insist on anonymity. She suggests that Clinton’s hold on the party may even be strengthened in the near future. Al Gore has started blabbering again about how he actually won the election of 2000, and soon-to-be-former Senate majority leader Daschle has started whining about how Bush still hasn’t caught Osama bin Laden – as if Daschle or any of the other Democrats had put forth any idea of his own about how to do that. There seems to be a psychological problem here.
And there’s a practical problem. The Democrats can’t get rid of their nastiness until they stop seeing it as the last, best way to energize their base. The fact that their base was not particularly energized during the very nasty 2002 election may possibly lead to a change of heart – or at least of mask. But what else have the Democrats got to offer? It.must occur, even to them, that the answer to that question is, “Very little, and even less than the Republicans.”