Column for 5 November, 2006
“Cursed is the man who leads the blind astray on the road. Then all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’”
When William “Boss” Tweed, the corrupt gang leader of the Democratic Party machine in New York City, saw how he was being savagely caricatured by the famous political cartoonist Thomas Nast, he supposedly said, “Stop them damned pictures. I don't care so much what the papers say about me. My constituents can't read, but, damn it, they can see pictures.” Nowadays, the politician’s enemy isn’t some newspaper cartoonist (or newspapers at all, as they become increasingly irrelevant) but rather YouTube, allowing their every moronic utterance to instantly become a viral video, spreading around the country and the world at the speed of email. So George Allen, the redneck wannabe Senator from Virginia by way of Southern California, gets roasted for using an obscure West African racial slur (then his staff inexplicably tackled and roughed-up a blogger at a campaign rally); Rush Limbaugh spews his venom at the disabled; and John Kerry, who has even less comedic timing than Al Gore, flubs a joke and causes the Right Wing Feigned Outrage Machine to kick into overdrive. By the time you read this column, probably be one or more such “controversies” will have come and gone. All of this, of course, leads to a round of the usual whining and hand-wringing about how “mean” politics has gotten lately. Isn’t it amazing how it’s always the Party currently getting its butt handed to it that complains about a “lack of civility” in elections? And asinine comments like that only illustrate our short attention span for history; American elections have always been full-body-contact affairs. George Washington was attacked and criticized when he ran for re-election. Read what Democratic newspapers wrote about Abraham Lincoln or Republican newspapers wrote about Franklin Roosevelt (switchboard operators at the Chicago Tribune, owned by paleo-conservative Robert McCormick, answered calls with “Do you know you only have 97 days left to save your country?” counting down to the 1936 election). Read what Whig newspapers wrote about Andrew Jackson. Well, scratch that last one; Jackson had it coming. The point is, the nastiest attacks being floated today, questioning a candidate’s patriotism, religion or even sexuality, are like minor tiffs in a Sunday School class compared to elections past. They are ultimately distractions, intended to redirect voters away from uncomfortable truths, like stage magicians using sleight-of-hand. LBJ is said to have once told his aides to spread an awful rumor (unprintable in a family newspaper) about a political enemy. We can’t do that, his aides replied in horror. It’s a lie. I know, LBJ said, I just want to hear him deny it. Which brings me to the biggest loser in the 2006 elections, if the Democrats do manage to take one or both Houses of Congress: Turd Blossom himself, Karl Rove. Frankly, I’ve always thought that Rove was overrated as an evil genius. He’s no Lex Luthor. Much of his success was due to factors way beyond his control. For example, given Ann Richards’ high approval ratings, it’s extremely unlikely that George W. Bush could’ve beaten her without the GOP’s 1994 electoral tsunami at his back. And it was Rove’s clever idea to send candidate Bush to California, a state he had no chance of winning, in the last days of the 2000 election in a misguided attempt to show confidence instead of keeping him in Florida. But for the Supreme Court, Rove’s blunder would’ve cost Bush the White House. And what a tragedy that would’ve been. I will give Rove credit for 2004, though. Deciding to blow-off the Independents and concentrate solely on getting out the base was a brilliant, if evil, move to exploit an already badly-divided electorate. But then, Rovian strategy has never been about governing; it’s all about power, obtaining it, jealously hoarding it, and especially denying it to others. Very likely, you will see a civil war (excuse me, I meant “insurgency”) break out among the Republicans, and probably the end of the militaristic neo-conservatives. Bush’s status as a lame-duck will be sealed and the surviving Republicans in Congress will see him even more as an anchor and will likely be squirming even harder to get away from him in anticipation of 2008. If, as the polls seem to indicate, the Democrats take at least the House, there will be a confrontation with the White House. It’s inevitable. Nancy Pelosi has pledged not to impeach Bush, but this Administration has repeatedly snubbed its own Party in refusing to turn over documents or cooperate in investigations. The stonewalling will only get worse if it’s the Democrats demanding accountability. The best we may be able to hope for is two years of gridlock, though frankly, doing absolutely nothing would be a vast improvement at this point. So, what elections to watch on Tuesday? Congress, obviously. There may be a Democratic blowout in the House, with a gain of thirty-plus seats, but I’m still thinking it will be more modest. In the Senate, I remain skeptical of the Democrats’ ability to pick up the six seats they need for control. Too many variables have to all break in their favor. Actually, it would be supremely ironic if the Democrats ended up with fifty Senators and have to rely on Joe Lieberman, jilted at the altar by Connecticut Democrats, to get them over the top. Here in Texas, Chris Bell seems to be trending up, but he’s having trouble maintaining a sufficient cash flow to stay on the airwaves. John O’Quinn can only write checks so fast. Ironically, Carol Strayhorn may ended up re-electing that nitwit Perry, by draining just enough of the Democratic base, which is really all Bell needs to win. Barbara Ann Radnofsky has run a brilliant campaign for US Senate, but she’s badly outspent by Kay Bailey Hutchison, even though she did get her below 50% in the polls for awhile. Watch the mid-ballot statewide races, like Agriculture Commissioner, where Democrat Hank Gilbert is running hard against Republican Todd Staples. Surprises have been known to happen mid-ballot. Democrats could pick up as many as six or seven seats in the State House, not enough to take control, but maybe enough to embolden Republicans to throw universally-detested Speaker Tom Craddick under the bus. Here locally, of course, the biggest question is just how much of a whupping Chet Edwards will put on Vancampen Taylor. More to the point, can Chet carry Johnson County? Or has this county become so reflexively Republican that they will vote for literally any buffoon with an “R” beside his name? The Johnson County Democratic Party, after several years of lying fallow, has a number of active, hard working, well-funded (for Democrats, anyway) candidates this year, who seem to grasp that in order to actually win elections it is necessary to campaign for them. A Chet victory in the county might have enough coattails to pull some of them along for the ride. If that happens, then Johnson County will become a real rarity in this state: a contested county where the voters actually have a choice, as opposed to the one-party monopolies that exist in most of the other 253.