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Dead Man Spinning

Terry McAuliffe wants you to know that the Democrats did just fine yesterday--and that they're still mad about 2000.

11:00 AM, Nov 6, 2002 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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THE BIG STORY of last night's elections was that America overwhelmingly chose the Republican vision of the future over the Democratic vision (or lack of vision). The big story today is what the Democrats will do in the face of their resounding defeat. By all indications, they still don't understand that they have a problem.

Late last night, amidst the wave of Republican victories, there were two beacons of establishment liberal thought who previewed the lack of understanding among Democrats. In the Washington Post's News Analysis, David Von Drehle wrote that "the story of Election 2002 seemed to be the continuing inability of both parties to form a strong governing majority"--this as the electorate was handing the reins of both houses of Congress to the party that controls the White House.

In the New York Times's News Analysis, R.W. Apple wrote that "the nation voted yesterday in a mood of disenchantment and curious disconnection from the political system." Which is a curious way to look at a historic election. More Apple: "Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican, said, 'I see a Republican breeze blowing'--but if there was such a breeze, it was more an autumn breeze than a cyclone." Tell that to Walter Mondale, Jean Carnahan, Jeanne Shaheen, Erskine Bowles, Max Cleland, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, and Roy Barnes--all of whom went to bed on November 4 thinking they had good chances of winning.

But the most revealing comment in these analyses came from Von Drehle, who said of the Democrats, "Party leaders had boasted that they would make [Jeb] Bush pay for his role in the choice of his brother as president two years ago." [emphasis added] Here we are in 2002, and the Washington Post still doesn't think that George W. Bush was elected.

Which makes sense, of course, since most Democrats don't either. Party chairman (for now) Terry McAuliffe sure doesn't. Remember, he's the guy who said, in May of 2001, "We won that election, and they stole that election. President Bush tells us to get over it. Well, we're not going to get over it."

Since then, the Democratic party's obsession with electoral victory over ideological principle has lead them down a dark alley. Through a series of actions this fall, they became, in the national consciousness, the party of dirty tricks. Still, the electorate seemed to tolerate their avarice, and they were poised to hold their own in the elections--until the Paul Wellstone memorial/pep rally.

The Wellstone rally instantly polarized the race and defined Democrats as the party of do-anything-to-win. Christopher Caldwell explained what was so uncomfortable about this image: "One of our major political parties, or at least a sizable wing of it, appeared to be dancing a jig on the grave of a particularly beloved fallen comrade. What must they think of the rest of us?"

As people began asking themselves this question, Republicans instantly started gaining in polls. The issue festered over the weekend, and, much like George W. Bush's drunk-driving arrest story did in 2000, produced a modest, but palpable, across-the-board shift in the electorate in just a few days.

So where do the Democrats go from here? As late as yesterday afternoon they were still up to no-good, as McAuliffe put out an blatantly dishonest statement accusing Republicans of voter fraud in an attempt to stimulate the Democratic base with memories of 2000. This morning, McAuliffe said that he thought Democrats actually had a strong showing because of their gubernatorial victories in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Illinois. Tom Daschle told CNN that he blames last night's losses on . . . the media!

But it isn't the media that sparked last night's Republican surge. It's that people don't like this face of the Democratic party. Unfortunately for the Democrats, as Anna Quindlen once wrote, they just don't get it.

Jonathan V. Last is online editor of The Weekly Standard.