Fear, like fire, is an effective teacher, and grades on a sharp curve. It’s fear, not fire, that some of the Democrats in the U.S. Senate now feel in the belly.
They sense control of the Senate slipping away, resigned to enough losses to return the Republicans to the majority and the perks. They’ll join Harry Reid on a back bench, where he’ll nurse the sore rear end he deserves.
Some Democrats are looking in all the wrong places to find good news, or at least some not-so-bad news. They’re even, like The New York Times, making up encouraging poll numbers as they whistle past the congressional graveyard. The fear of graveyard haints and boogermen is real.
The Democratic senators understand that the times, they are a-changing, and they’re worried that once the recognition of the new reality descends on the White House, Barack Obama, desperate to avoid the legacy of sloth, weakness and incompetence that is his due, will cut deals with Republicans to paper over the worst of his misfeasances. He always runs at the first sound of the guns. Nobody in his party actually trusts him.
It’s a concern that keeps Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut awake nights, he tells Politico, the capital daily. “From [the president’s] standpoint, better to advance the ball and maybe give away some stuff rather than leave nothing at all,” he says. “From our standpoint, better to fight another day than to give away our core principles and convictions.”
This sounds exactly like a disgusted Tea Party Republican, worried that the leaders of his party are always eager to give away “core principles and convictions.” From a Democratic senator, it sounds like resignation to defeat as the congressional campaigns of 2014 are about to get seriously underway. Premature as expectations always are before fickle April and balmy May give way to the hot iron of summer, a Republican wave seems to be gathering on the horizon. Not a tsunami, by any means, but nevertheless a rising tide deep enough and powerful enough to drown wary and unwary alike. Democrats in the Senate want to make as much hay as they can before the sun takes a holiday.
Authentic compromise, which diehard Democrats regard as surrender of “core principles and convictions” as long as they have the numbers, however frail, is nevertheless a staple of presidential second terms (and sometimes even of the fading months of a first term). George Bush the Elder kept his lips tightly sealed, defying anyone to read them, and accepted the Democratic tax increase he vowed he never would. Bill Clinton, trying to swim through a bayou bank full of cottonmouth moccasins, hungry ‘gators, and women scorned, adopted Republican welfare reform as if it were his own idea. George W. became a late if reluctant convert to bailing out Wall Street.
Senators who actually feel the hot breath of revenge and retribution on the back of their necks are concerned only with their own survival — the survival of “core principles and convictions” would be nice, but is not necessary — nevertheless fret that key issues, such as the budget, trade and energy will suffer the death of a hundred cuts. “It’s a concern congressional Democrats have voiced every time [Mr.] Obama and Vice President Joe Biden tried to cut deals with Republicans,” Politico observes, “and the panic is more palpable with the growing prospect of a Senate [Republican] majority.”
That prospect grows despite the search for good news. There’s a new corpse of the month every week — Kay Hagan in North Carolina, Mark Pryor in Arkansas, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana. The latest is Mark Begich in Alaska, who warns that if he’s bounced out of the Senate along with the other corpses, the Republicans will throw Alaskan old folks into the snow to starve (unless they freeze first). He promises to stand fast against Mr. Obama’s willingness to postpone annual cost-of-living increases if that’s what it takes to make a deal with the Republicans.
“Am I worried about it?” he asks. “Yes. Should Alaska seniors be worried about it? Absolutely.”
Not so long ago the Democratic idea of compromise was a willingness only to take Republican surrender. Not now. You can’t expect a senator to worry about a soon-to-be ex-president’s legacy when his own survival is at stake. Going back to Nome or Fairbanks to look for a job is an awful prospect. Besides, the president should have thought about his legacy when he was making one.
Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.