Republicans have long been rubbing lamps, seeking the magic one containing the genie who would grant them the three wishes they have wished the most: control of the White House, the House and the Senate. The new millennium, fittingly enough, looks like the year the genie has made his appearance at last.
But, in the nature of genies, this was no friendly genie, but rather a dark and vengeful one in particular, a stickler for the enforcement of the provision of the Genie Code that holds, “Be careful what you ask for, lest you get it.” Thus the terms on which the genie granted the three wishes: “You wanted control of the House of Representatives, and you shall have it. But you shall have it by the narrowest of margins, no more than five seats.
“You wanted control of the Senate, and you shall have it. But the body shall be divided equally, and you shall exercise your control by having your vice president, in his constitutional capacity as president of the Senate, break partisan ties.
“And you wanted the White House. Oh, how you wanted the White House. And you shall have it. But, of course, the president who occupies it shall do so having won less than 50 percent of the popular vote. In fact, he shall have lost the popular votes to his opponent. And he shall have received a majority in that Electoral College of yours of but a single vote. And he shall have won that single-vote victory by no more than a few hundred votes out of the 6 million cast in a single state. And his opponents shall forever believe to their bones that if the votes had been counted properly, the result would have been reversed. And you shall have no proper transition, for you shall be in court for more than a month after the election.”
Democrats seeking to cheer themselves up about losing everything in 2000 would seem not to have to look too far. The book in Washington is for protracted misery for the GOP. Heartfelt condolences on your victory that sort of thing.
The political challenges ahead (on the assumption that this is, indeed, the outcome) are probably about as difficult as they come, especially given the darkening clouds over the economy. On the other hand, reports of the demise of the GOP are greatly exaggerated.
In the first place, given the roller coaster ride that American politics has been since the election, the mere fact of coming to the end of it will be a relief. It strikes me as likely that all one need do is appear calm and sober in order to win points with the American people. Americans have a tendency, probably rooted in the longstanding conviction that the nation is providentially blessed, to believe that things come out for the best. Mr. Bush need only avoid self-inflicted injury to benefit from that sentiment.
It is also quite possible that once George W. Bush is in office, the public will increasingly judge Vice-President Gore’s effort to keep him out as ill-advised sour grapes. So long as Mr. Gore still has a chance to prevail, people have less reason to view Mr. Bush as a victim of Mr. Gore’s legal maneuvering. But should Mr. Gore’s efforts come to an unsuccessful end, Mr. Bush might end up the beneficiary of people’s after-the-fact sympathy.
Turn then to the expectations for performance. The fact that they are so low actually works to Mr. Bush’s advantage, in a way that should be familiar to anyone who watches politics. Tell everyone for eight months that Mr. Gore is the most formidable debater in the history of the world, and all of a sudden even a showing against him no better than fair can be portrayed as a big win and throw Mr. Gore off stride. For a newly inaugurated President Bush, even modest success on the legislative front could yield ample political credit in a hurry.
Note also that the agenda Mr. Bush ran on was hardly full of novelty. In fact, it represents the culmination of a generation’s worth of GOP thinking about policy. None of what he proposed came as a surprise to Republicans and even most Democrats. A lot of the legislation he would like to sign has already been in the queue for a while. If you want to know what legislation Congress will enact, the first place to look is legislation that Congress has tried to enact and failed.
Finally, if the 1990s taught each political party a lesson, it’s the danger of hubris. In 1993, when Democrats ruled the White House and the Hill, they seemed to be acting as if some sort of natural order of things had been restored to the land. They paid a huge price for it in 1994. Republicans, for their part, thought the 1994 election meant that history had rendered its judgment on their opponents and swept them away. They, too, paid a price. It strikes me as highly likely that under current conditions, the Bush administration will seek to be “prudent,” to pick a word out of a hat.
To be sure, this is one mean genie. But in the end, it may prove better to have your wishes granted, even with tough conditions, than to have them denied.