THE BROKEN ARC
11:00 PM, Nov 24, 1996 • By TOD LINDBERG
The chief characteristic of such ideological rigor is that those who use it believe it reveals to them the answers to all important questions. For them, politics is just a matter of implementation. But most people do not think in ideological terms and are confused and offended by grand theories like the Third Wave (Gingrich's) and libertarianism (Dick Armey's). Gingrich and his troops put their conservative ideology on parade during the 104th Congress, and that may have proved as off-putting as naked liberal ideology has been in the past -- not because of its content, but because of the certitude and insistence of those propounding it. The Republican realignment of 1994 has endured, but it may have contained the seeds of its own reversal. It may be that Democrats have learned from it and may gain from it in ways Gingrich (and many of us) never expected.
Election night 1996 might have gone a different way. The Democratic administration might have collapsed, the Republican presidential nominee might have crushed Bill Clinton, Republicans might have continued making gains throughout the country as they did in 1994, and Americans, grateful for the GOP's success in protecting and preserving Medicare, might have stood and applauded as the Republican government proceeded to enact a flat tax and privatize Social Security. But it didn't work out that way.
Instead, the Democrats fought back, vigorously. And they have much to show for their efforts, including the broken arc. Democrats will be studying their gains in the arc, as well as the potential limits to GOP expansion in the South and West. And since they are not and probably never will be in a surrendering frame of mind, they will conclude, quite rightly, that they have opportunities. How much they are able to make of them will depend, in part, on how complacent the GOP is.
Tod Lindberg, whose work appears regularly in these pages, is editorial-page editor of the Washington Times.