Page 14


The End of the Democrats BY JAMES K. GALBRAITH THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY as we knew it came to an end on November 8. A map tells the story. Democrats lost just one House seat in Chicago, one in New York City, none in Boston, Philadelphia, the Bay Area or Los Angeles. But across the upper South, through the Midwest and over the plains, Democratic seats turned over. These districts, in North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana and Kansas, had been voting Republican for President for decades. Only the Congressman had stayed Democratic, through constituent service, pork and PACs, because the Congressman was himself conservative and because voters saw good sense in a link to the majority party. It became a corrupt system, which many Congressmen exploited with skill. Tobacco subsidies, sugar quotas, ethanol, defense contracts, tax breaks for timber and oil and much else survived as favors given or tolerated to retain the loyalty of the minority within the majority party. In return, the conservatives voted to organize the House, and were sometimes loyal, but often not, on national issues. Though corrupted, this system could work: Appeals to “save the President” rescued Clinton’s 1993 budget by one reluctant vote. But when it broke down, defections were doubly harmful. They could kill a President’s agenda and yet spare the Republicans from blame. Or they could pass it under duress, with such sour spirit that it would become easy political pickings later on. And then too, the conservative Democrats would humiliate the President, as they did to Carter in 1980, Mondale in 1984 and Dukakis in 1988, by running away from their national party leader at election time. With exceptions notably in East Texas, the conservative Democrats are now gone. Their party is also not the majority any longer. The Republicans who replaced them will serve local purposes well, and will raise even more political money from all the same special interests. Smart voters will hang on to their new Republican incumbents, as they did to their old Democrats, and for the same reasons. The Democrats who were replaced last week James K. Galbraith teaches at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, the University of Texas at Austin. He will be a regular contributor to the Observer. will not return. It’s a brave new Republican world in Congress, and it’s likely to stay that way. BILL CLINTON WILL now face history as the President who brought the Democrats down. And with ruthless efficiency: Clinton lost both Houses in only two years; Jimmy Carter took four years to GEORGE HIXSON lose only one. It will now take two more painful years for the tragedy to play out, and for the Administration to die. The outlook afterward, from January 21, 1997 onward, is for unified Republican government, world without end. It is true that Clinton is not solely to blame. The system was rotten beforehand. And Clinton suffered a vicious, premedi tated personal attack, creating a caricature which was part of what the voters rejected. But it’s also true that Clinton was vulnerable. He should have been prepared for the personal attacks, and he wasn’t. He should have realized that to elevate the conservative “New Democrats” to national leadership status would tie them to the Party liberals and doom them along with himself. He didn’t. Given his personal history, Clinton’s Administration could have saved itself in only one way: by giving the country something to believe in. But this the President did not do. Deficit reduction blocked this course. The deficit hawks and the budget rules killed the administration’s investment drew Clinton into dependence on Alan Greenspan for salvation by low interest rates. Deficit reduction passed and Greenspan pulled the plug, leaving Clinton marked as a tax-raiser with nothing to show for it. Deficit cutting thus proved a sucker’s game. It was a policy to restore Republican credit, pure and simple, out of which they will now finance a new round of rich man’s tax cuts. And then: health carea disaster that will stand for decades as a monument to hubris. Clinton went into health care reform with a modest reputation for effectiveness. As polls now reveal, he emerged from it with no reputation at all. And rightly so. Health care reform was not really blocked. It collapsed, of the efforts to pre-compromise every issue, to short-circuit the legislative process, of its failure to confront costs, and most of all of Clinton’s own failure to think politically and to communicate with the people. Given that health care reform was, by choice, Clinton’s defining issue, this last failure is especially galling. WRE THE UNITED STATES a parliamentary democracy, its Government would fall. Presi dent Clinton would resign. And Newt Gingrich would be called upon to form a Republican cabinet. The Republicans, having triumphed, would have the responsibility, and the accountability that goes with it. In our system, there is no such orderly transition. The most likely outcome is that the shell-shocked President will just let the THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5