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Damn Dirty Democrats

Once the party of hope and idealism, the Democrats are now the party of dirty tricks.

11:00 PM, Nov 3, 2002 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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A DEFINING MOMENT isn't about reality, it's about unconscious public perception. For example: Dan Quayle will forever be remembered for his "misspelling" of the word potato, not because it was an important event, but because the public already suspected he might be a dummy. John Ashcroft will forever be a religious nut because the curtain over the boob symbolized what people suspected--that he was a little too devout for centrist America. Never mind that Quayle is both bright and capable or that Ashcroft isn't a Wahhabi nutcase (or that he never asked for the curtain). Those caricatures are now cut into stone.

And so it may be for the Democratic party today. For two generations Democrats have coasted on the caricatures established by FDR and JFK. The Democrat from Central Casting was a slightly corrupt, slightly dopey do-gooder with stars in his eyes and gold in his heart. But a new Democratic caricature emerged this fall: One of the power-obsessed politician who will do anything to win.

Just consider the face of the Democratic party over the last few months:

-In South Dakota this fall, Democrats have pushed heavy voter-registration drives with Indians. So heavy, in fact, that lots of dead Native Americans signed up. State and federal authorities are investigating.

-In a September memo from the Detroit mayor's office, it was revealed that Detroit has 600,000 registered voters, only about 450,000 of which are legitimate. And you can bet those phantom voters haven't been trending Republican.

-In New Jersey, Democrats stood behind embattled senator Robert Torricelli, despite the fact that he was under federal investigation. Until he fell behind GOP challenger Doug Forrester in the polls. On the last day of September, Dems pushed Torricelli aside and brought in replacement candidate Frank Lautenberg, even though the law clearly stated that it was too late for a substitution. Democrats broke the law because, they insisted, New Jersey's citizens were entitled to a choice between major-party candidates. (In a related story, Democrats declined to field a candidate against Republican Virginia senator John Warner since Warner looked so formidable in early polling.)

-At a September debate in Maryland between the candidates for lieutenant governor, supporters of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Kennedy Townsend passed out Oreo cookies to mock black Republican hopeful Michael Steele. At another debate that month, between Townsend and Republican Bob Ehrlich, Democrats also passed out Oreos--and then led the crowd in raucous booing of Ehrlich's wife and elderly parents. Afterwards, Democrats keyed the cars of several Ehrlich supporters.

-During October in Montana, Democratic senator Max Baucus ran an ad not-so-subtly insinuating that his opponent, Mike Taylor, was gay--closing the attack spot by saying darkly, "Mike Taylor. Not the way we do business in Montana."

-In an October debate in South Carolina, Democrat Senate candidate Alex Sanders attacked Lindsay Graham for having Rudy Giuliani stump for him. About Giuliani, Sanders said, "His wife kicked him out and he moved in with two gay men and a Shih Tzu. Is that South Carolina values? I don't think so."

-A few days ago in Hawaii, GOP gubernatorial candidate Linda Lingle, who's running neck-and-neck with her Democratic opponent, became the target of a whispering campaign claiming that she, too, is homosexual.

-In Iowa, Tom Harkin spent autumn in Tape-gate. As the Washington Post explained, "Harkin's campaign provided a digital recorder to a former Harkin aide to take to a Sept. 3 strategy session of the Ganske campaign, to which the former aide had been invited. The campaign then leaked a copy of the recording to an Iowa reporter. Harkin's campaign staff first denied any involvement, then admitted to it. Harkin dumped his campaign manager and fired a young, low-level aide, whom the campaign said was solely responsible for getting the former Harkin aide, Brian Conley, to record the session."

-And then, of course, there was the Wellstone affair last week (see the above now-famous photo). At the memorial service Democrats whipped the crowd into a partisan fervor, chanted "We Will Win," and generally had a rollicking good time while the 20,000 attendees booed Wellstone's Republican colleagues who had come to pay their respects.

The Democrats haven't just become Nixon, they've become the exaggerated liberal nightmare version of Nixon: Today Democrats are what they believe Nixon was.