Tags: Analysis: | Bush | Broadsword | Beat | Dems

Analysis: Bush Broadsword Beat Dems

Wednesday, 06 November 2002 12:00 AM

The Democrats, by contrast, we said were trying to win with lots of local pinpricks inflicted with the likes of rapiers. They were fighting the campaign on a host of local "bread and butter" issues.

Well, Bush and his big broadsword strategy won the day.

We took our image of contrasting swords from the classic adventure movie "Rob Roy" in which the eponymous 18th century hero, played by Liam Neeson and the villain, played by Tim Roth, held their death duel at the end with vastly different weapons. Rob Roy whirled an enormous Scottish broadsword with vast strength but no skill.

His foppish English aristocrat archenemy, played by Roth, danced with a light, precise rapier, which he welded with dazzling accuracy. The fascination of the battle was in seeing how these completely different styles of fighting interacted and neutralized each other.

The Democrats have been exponents of the rapier approach for a long time. It served them well during the 40 years they held the House of Representatives, with its fiscal powers, in a tight grip from 1954 to 1994. They followed the dictum of late House Speaker Tip O'Neill that 'All politics is local."

The only trouble is, as analyst Nicholas Confessore presciently noted in the October issue of the "Washington Monthly" magazine, since 1994, this approach has gotten a lot of individual Democrats elected and re-elected. But as a strategy for retaining or regaining control of the House, it failed four times in a row, even though other national factors in the 1996, 1998 and 2000 elections should have favored the Dems over the GOP.

Now, it has failed successively five times.

Even worse for the Democrats, they have lost control of the House of Representatives as well. And all their comfortable assumptions about an emerging Democratic majority across the nation have been confounded by the skill with which the politically canny Bush whirled his great tax cuts and national security broadsword.

In 1996, an effective sitting Democratic president, Bill Clinton, was re-elected to a second term, the first Dem since Franklin Delano Roosevelt himself 60 years before to pull that off. Yet he failed to regain the House or even significantly dent the comfortable Republican majority of 1994 with his coattails. He didn't have any.

By contrast, Bush has won his first midterm election as president as decisively as Clinton lost his. Clinton lost the four-decade-old Democratic patrimony of the House, which even Republican president Ronald Reagan had never come near prying loose.

By contrast Bush not only retained the House for the GOP, he won back the Senate too. And he won big in both sets of elections having put his own personal prestige very much on the line, campaigning in no less than 23 states.

As a result, Bush now has the chance to actively ram through conservative legislation as dramatically and effectively as liberal Democratic Presidents Franklin Roosevelt from 1932 to 1936 and Lyndon Baines Johnson from 1964 to 1966 pushed through Congress the legislation of the new Deal and the Great Society.

His mastery at swinging that big issues broadsword has given him the opportunity for sweeping legislative changes that may transform the entire nation for generations to come.

Bush followed the strategy developed by Georgia Rep. Newt Gingrich when he led the Republicans to win control of the House in 1994. Like Gingrich, he transformed the multitude of 435 House races all the Senate ones into a national referendum on key issues.

The Democrats, by contrast, kept to the same old Tip O'Neill strategy that has kept them losers in the House since '94. They campaigned on local issues and effectively ceded the key arguments to the Republicans who were seeking to win broader support across the nation by emphasizing national concerns.

Bush and his key political strategist Karl Rove carefully calibrated the debate on going to war with Iraq to push through the Senate authorization they won in early October, just four weeks before the November elections. As we predicted in UPI Analysis, this successfully maximized the patriotic "bounce" the GOP expected to get -- and did -- from the much higher trust and rating the public still gives them on national security issues over the Democrats.

Usually, when elections are held in the middle of wars, the party in power controlling the Executive Branch takes a hammering. The only time this did not happen in modern U.S. history was the 1944 elections when Franklin Roosevelt won an unprecedented fourth term and the Democrats kept control of Congress.

In the midterm elections of 1862, at the height of the Civil War, in the 1918 elections right after victory in World War I, but when the nation was still reeling from the shock of 100,000 dead boys in three months of climactic fighting on the Western Front, in the 1952 presidential elections at the height of the Korean War and in the 1966 congressional elections as the fighting in Vietnam escalated badly, the incumbent party took a hammering on each occasion.

In UPI Analysis, however, we predicted, "That is unlikely to happen this time precisely because the vote will be held before hostilities have either started, or too soon after they have started for serious casualties to probably have been incurred yet." And sure enough, Bush-Rove strategy paid off handsomely.

Voters did not dwell on the Enron or other major financial debacles, or the fading value of their 401(k) balances when the third quarter figures came in during October. Instead they focused on the broad hope of more tax cuts and the president's reassuringly tough line against terrorism and Iraq, exactly as the White House masterminds had hoped.

Bush and Rove correctly realized that the president's continued 70 percent plus approval ratings on national security issues were insufficient to serve as coattails in state races for the House and Senate if the Democrats were allowed to choose the ground of economic and social "bread and butter " issues on which to fight the campaign.

But the Republicans succeeded in moving the ground away from the slip-sliding stock market, the mushrooming federal budget deficit and the worrying upward creep of unemployment figures to the war on Iraq and against terror, and this maximized their chances.

In UPI Analysis we concluded before the election, "The patterns of previous elections and opinion poll results not just nationally but in key states suggest that the Republicans do indeed have a narrow but clear chance, significantly over 50-50, of retaining their House majority and retaking the Senate." And they sure enough did both.

The President crisscrossed the nation, brandishing his great Rob Roy Iraqi-war broadsword. The Democrats hunkered down, trying to duck his blows and probing with their little rapiers on every local and bread and butter issue they could find. It wasn't enough.

The president and his big issues broadsword smote Democrats across the nation. As a result, the future direction of the United States is in his hands in a way no president has enjoyed at least since LBJ's landslide carrying the House and Senate with him back in 1964.

Rob Roy, no doubt, would have approved.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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The Democrats, by contrast, we said were trying to win with lots of local pinpricks inflicted with the likes of rapiers. They were fighting the campaign on a host of local bread and butter issues. Well, Bush and his big broadsword strategy won the day. We took our...
Wednesday, 06 November 2002 12:00 AM
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