Shouldn’t Rejoice if the Democrats Go Mad
W. James Antle III
It’s no longer about polls and pundits’ political
prognostications; the votes that will determine the Democratic presidential
nominee will soon be cast. Will
it be Howard Dean? Or will
second thoughts brought on by recent Dean gaffes –e.g., his refusal to
“prejudge” Osama bin Laden – lead to a Wesley Clark boom or revive the
fortunes of such Washington Democrats as John Kerry, Dick Gephardt, John
Edwards or Joe Lieberman?
Many conservative Republicans have been hoping that the
Democrats will nominate the looniest, most left-wing Democrat possible to
pave the way for an easy reelection victory for President George W. Bush.
Early on, many joked about supporting Al Sharpton.
As he exploded from insurgent to front-runner, many have similarly
focused on Dean.
Popular conservative pundit Jonah Goldberg is an
example. In a recent syndicated
column, he laid out the “conservative’s case for Dean” even while
conceding that the former Vermont governor would be the most damaging to the
republic of any viable Democrat running, with the possible exception, in his
opinion, of Kerry. Some of this
“endorsement” was of course tongue-in-cheek – he referred to the Dean
presidential campaign as “the unofficial Conservative Pundit
Full-Employment Act” – it does reflect a sentiment genuinely shared by
Yet it is a mistake for conservative Republicans to
root for Dean or otherwise derive pleasure from the spectacle of the
Democratic Party going mad. The
result will likely be short-term GOP electoral gain at the price of
long-term damage to the country.
For starters, as Enter Stage Right editor Steve
Martinovich noted in a recent editorial, a sane Democratic Party is
necessary to keep the Republicans honest.
Pushing national politics leftward may quite possibly push the GOP to
the left as well. Consider the
immigration-liberalization proposal President Bush recently unveiled.
The Democrats have drifted so far into left field that the
administration could feel confident – once most of the deadlines for
Republican presidential primary opponents had passed – that it could
introduce a plan that would offer another amnesty to millions of illegal
immigrants along with a temporary workers’ program that essentially
globalizes the entire U.S. labor market during an election year without any
serious consequences from a GOP base certain to bitterly oppose such an
initiative. Although some
conservatives have talked about withholding support from Bush based on the
immigration issue, most are likely to conclude that any Democrat likely to
win the nomination will be even worse while being horrible on countless
issues where the president has been fairly conservative.
Nor is amnesty the only policy area where this is the
case. Opposed to the recent
expansion of Medicare, the biggest new entitlement in 40 years? Disgusted by rapid increases in discretionary spending?
Interested in seeing bloated transportation, education and
farm-subsidies bills vetoed? Bush
doesn’t need to risk political capital with swing voters to satisfy
conservative concerns on any of these issues. Why? Because conservatives have nowhere else to go.
Although some are hopeful that a Democratic president checked by a
Republican Congress would slow down the increase in federal spending, most
conservatives are likely to swallow hard and conclude that they are a
worthwhile price to pay to avoid a Dean administration.
But it isn’t just a matter of the impact a
radicalized Democratic Party will surely have on Republicans. There will also be consequences for the country.
America cannot afford to have an irresponsible major political party,
especially in the context of a looming international terrorist threat that
was brought home with terrifying brutality on 9/11.
Today’s renegade campaign that goes down to defeat
can provide a training ground for tomorrow’s leadership. As outside of the mainstream as some of Dean’s
pronouncements have been, he has energized many voters like no one else in
this race has. He has brought
in new political involvement, recruited large numbers of volunteers and won
support from middle-class, educated people who will vote and make political
contributions. Even if the 2004
presidential race is a complete debacle for the Democrats and he goes down
to defeat by an embarrassing margin, the Dean campaign of today is a
harbinger of the Democrats of tomorrow.
Conservatives remember how Barry Goldwater’s
landslide defeat in 1964 nevertheless helped reshape the GOP into a force
for conservative principles, laying the groundwork for Ronald Reagan’s
election in 1980. More
recently, Pat Robertson’s failed 1988 presidential bid sowed the seeds of
the Christian Coalition and a new, more politically professional religious
right that has made Christian and other socially conservative voters an
integral part of today’s GOP at all levels.
Among the Democrats, Jesse Jackson’s two presidential bids during
the 1980s raised the political profile of many minority activists within
that party’s nominating process and made it possible for someone like Al
Sharpton to be taken seriously as a presidential candidate today.
It’s foolish to think that even if he loses to Bush
by a wide margin that Dean could not have the same impact on the Democrats.
Ideas that today are being articulated by fringe candidates like
Dennis Kucinich or Sharpton might one day be defended by White House or
major congressional leadership positions.
This is because of the unavoidable fact that one day,
no matter how popular President Bush is now or becomes at any point in this
election cycle, the Democrats will regain national power. They will retake one or both houses of Congress.
They will win the presidency and sit in the Oval Office.
What kind of party do we want them to be when that day comes?
As it stands now, they are a party that views the
values of those dismissively called “Red State Americans” with contempt,
that believes increasing marginal tax rates on middle-class families will
somehow help them and that wants to return to the failed policy of treating
terror as a criminal-justice issue. This
is by no means true of all Democrats. But
if some of the most enthusiastic activists get their way, it will accurately
reflect the positions of those leading the party.
Republicans who in their zeal for President Bush’s
reelection are also cheering on the zanier elements of the opposing party
ought to think carefully about the ramifications of them getting their wish.