JAMES GALBRAITH The End of the Campaign IT WAS ALL OVER SO…suddenly. One minute our nine Republican candidates were flooding the airwaves, om nipresent on CNN, doing cattle-call debates in Iowa and New Hampshire, threatening, one after the other, to pack Senator Robert Dole off to retirement. And then, the next minute, they’re all gone, Dole is the nominee, and we’re back by mysterious timewarp to the political landscape of 1992, with a President, a challengerand Ross Perot. We had Gramm the mean, and Lugar the dull. We had Steve Forbes the neo-supplysider. We had Lamar Alexander the Republican Clinton clone. We had the spectral Arlen Specter. We had Alan Keyes the moralist, Robert Dornan the paranoid, and Patrick Buchanan the social nationalist, to use Sid Blumenthal’s splendid phrase. We had issues: moral collapse, affirmative action, the assault weapons ban, even downsizing. We had miracle cures: protectionism, the big fence on the border, a flat tax. All gone. Looking back on the Republican campaign, the word that comes to mind most vividly is…”sham.” Dole had the thing in the bag, if not from the very beginning then from the moment that Phil Gramm bombed in Louisiana. And Gramm was the only other serious national politician in this year’s race. All the others were lightweights, without staying power, momentarily blown up by media attention, as events proved. The fact that Buchanan ran the longest challenge does not tell us about the power of the neo-nazi fringe in the Republican party, nearly so much as it does about the power of Bob Dole’s machine. Indeed, this year’s Republican campaign was not really about the 1996 nomination. It was a trial run for the year 2000. As such, it generated no winner but one clear loserGramm, who now ranks with John Connally in the disastrous annals of Texas Republicans seeking the White House. And once that question was decided, the race was over. The small-state contests that Dole lostNew Hampshire, Arizona, Delawarewere meaningless. Big money, James K Galbraith teaches in the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. big organization and the big states were destined to rule. That the Republican Party does not take risks with its presidential nomination should not be surprising. The astonishing brevity of the show is something else. Here we see the creeping effects of the Super Tuesday movement: by the end of March, virtually every big state will have voted, and Dole already has more than enough votes to secure the nomination. What this means for the future, I think, may be the virtual disappearance of the nominating process as a distinct political process, perhaps in both parties. We have been living through an era when Washington outsidersGovernors Carter, Reagan, Dukakis and Clintonhave enjoyed an edge. This was because they could culti vate the long road of the primaries and fund-raising circuit, while their many rivals were kept in Washington by official duties. That era of the outsiders had serious drawbacks. Constant campaigning produces candidates who are dangerously in tune with what people seem to want. They then prove helpless in office, as the promises made to voters prove unkeepable, something which is itself bad for the reputation of the system. Moreover, the uncertainties involved in having the voters in on the game are enervating, not to mention the difficulties of raising money and the personal toll of long months on the road. The system now seems to have gotten rid of these annoyances. We may therefore be seeing the end of that odd moment in political discourse known as the “primary campaign,” of which the rhetoric of the recent Republican contest was a blissfully lunatic example. There were a few times, particularly when mainstreamers like Lugar and Dole tangled with Buchanan over NAFTA and GATT, when one could hear the trace of a coherent opinion. But only in a campaign like this, without the check of a legislative process in which the opposition can always reach the microphones, could a candidate running on a scheme so fraudulent as the flat tax have gotten as much favorable attention as Forbes did. And only in a campaign like this could Pat Buchanan’s fake populism have seemed to rear its head inside the Republican Party. From now on, we may see Presidential nominating campaigns emerging which are much more directly the extension of the battles of government. The principal players will be Vice Presidents, Senators, and the leadership of the House. The forum will be Congress. And in this world legislation will become, even more than it already is today, the main weapon of media politics. The Act of Congress as campaign ploy is, of course, no new thing. But the continuing organization of the entire legislative session in election years around Contracts for America, punitive welfare “reform,” debtlimit donnybrooks and similar wedge issues is probably one consequence of the disappearance of the separate campaign. I suppose this is a bad thing as an old congressional staffer I remember a more serious and intelligent Congress than exists today. But then again I’m not so sure. Did we really gain anything, aside from illusions, by having a Presidential nominating process connected to the voters but disconnected from the government? Did Clinton’s 1992 campaign manifesto, “Putting People First” serve any purpose in the end apart from deception? Did the Republicans do that badly, this time around, when they redesigned the system so that it would nominate their established, tested, trustworthy Senate majority leader in the shortest possible time? It is possible, in the end, that the joke may be on the system. The campaign has been a great device for taking the voters for dupes, and it may not prove so easy to transfer that function to the legislative process. The great Republican congressional revolution of 1995 was, after all, not only a fraud, but also a flop. And if the real concerns of the voting publicjobs and wages, more than anything elsecan no longer find their tribunes during the outdoor carnival acts of a campaign, then perhaps that show will move indoors. People may start expecting the government to do something. I wonder what would happen, if the Democratic Party actually got serious about the economic anxieties on which Pat Buchanan was the only voice this year, in the last Republican campaign. Big money, big organization and the big states were destined to rule. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11
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