On election morning, I opened the front section of the New York Times and immediately got a bad feeling. Positioned prominently on page A3 was an eye-catching and ominous ad. It was not a political ad per se, but an offering from Tiffany & Co. for a jeweled brooch in the form of a waving American flag. In tasteful type just below the ruby, diamond and sapphire rendering of the red, white and blue was this message: “Vote! The privilege is precious.”
It was the perfect pitch to rally the privileged to the polls for their President–a fellow who, after all, had provided a generous tax cut that makes trifles like this $8,000 brooch so easily affordable for those at the top. The ad said to me that the comfortable set was feeling its oats and would be turning out in droves to support their precious W. And why wouldn’t they turn out? Their flag-bearer had been energetically crisscrossing the country, proudly holding the conservative banner aloft, promising to make that tax cut permanent, and saying in no uncertain terms: “I’m on your side, and I’ll deliver for you.”
But where was the flag of the once proud and mightily progressive Democratic Party? For most Americans, it was nowhere to be seen. Instead, the party of Daschle, McAuliffe, the DLC and their clique of overpaid and clueless consultants was campaigning on the slogan: “We-back-tax-cuts-for-the-rich-too-and-we-support-Bush’s-Iraq-
we’re-not-quite-as-sure-about-it-all-as-the-Republicans-are.” Some bumper sticker. It’s hard to rally to a flag that’s not waving.
Mandate? What Mandate?
What to do? First, don’t despair, for our base is still there, still huge and still available for building a progressive future. Despite the pronouncements of the institutional pundits, America has not lurched to the right or turned Republican. Yes, BushCo gained five seats in the House and two in the Senate, but they’re trying to throw a mighty big loop with that short rope, loudly proclaiming that they’ve won a mandate from “the people.” Mandate? Hold your tiny pony right there, George. The great majority of the people either didn’t vote or voted against your autocratic, plutocratic regime. Curtis Gans of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate reports that in the Congressional races, where Bush claims his mandate, only 33 percent of eligible voters could stomach casting a ballot. And 15 percent of the electorate voted for Democrats while 1.1 percent voted for candidates from Libertarian, Green, Working Families, Independent or other parties. So Bush’s big “mandate” consists of a mere 17 percent of the people.
That’s the Republican base, not a juggernaut. It’s the same 17 percent that they won twenty years ago in the midterms following Reagan’s election, and it’s three points below what they got in the ’94 midterms, which swept Newt Gingrich into power. Moreover, given the odiousness of the corporate, antidemocratic, right-wing agenda of the Bushites (now embodied in the House by the messianic madman, Tom DeLay, whom they’ve chosen as their majority leader), they’re not going to expand beyond this 17-20 percent base. The question is, will Democrats expand beyond 15 percent? Only if the party gets a clue, gets a program and gets with the people.