- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 30, 2002

History would seem to be in a puckish mood this election season. The nation has experienced a year of terror, war and the imminent threat of new war and more terror. The economy has been in recession, recovery and is now headed back to stagnation. The stock-market collapse has vaporized much of the middle class's life savings. Many of America's leading CEOs are being carted off to prison for unspeakable financial crimes. A majority of the public believes that the country is seriously going down the wrong track.
Congress is in partisan gridlock, having failed to pass almost all the important legislation it has considered. And the consensus of political experts is that there are no national issues or events likely to affect the voting decisions of the public.
Like all the other pundits and columnists, I have seen the same polls, talked to the same political consultants, campaign managers and pollsters.The consensus would appear to be right. The public seems poised to make no changes in Washington the Senate would seem to be likely to stay Democratic; the House, Republican. In short, the world is going to hell, and the public is curled up like a purring cat on an overstuffed pillow, contentedly undisturbed. It may happen that way. But I can't help thinking we are missing something. At the minimum, history is moving in mysterious ways.
A month ago, the two most vulnerable incumbent senators were Robert Torricelli of New Jersey and Paul Wellstone of Minnesota. Republicans were already counting those two fat, though unhatched, eggs. But then, in an act of cynical creativity, the national Democratic Party leadership realized they could just bump Mr. Torricelli off, politically speaking. While the public may never know the exact nature of the national Democrats' persuasive argument, obviously it had to be an offer that the tough, smart and ambitious Mr. Torricelli couldn't refuse. Perhaps the senator will soon end up in a high-paying job in the New Jersey waste management industry. Or perhaps?
Then, last week fate struck down Mr. Wellstone's airplane, opening up new possibilities for a Democratic Party that, like Dracula, apparently needs a stake through its heart before it succumbs. By chance, the Democrats already had experience in such matters. Two years ago this month, another Democratic candidate for Senate, Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan, was in a close race and then got killed in a plane crash (you really don't want to tempt fate by being a Democrat in a close Senate race and an airplane simultaneously). They learned that the sympathy factor arising from such tragedy could elevate to office whatever mangy substitute the party might offer up for the unfortunate corpse. With the Democratic electorate inspired to come, weeping, to the polls, the key to victory is to deter the hapless Republican candidate from continuing his campaign. Thus, the Republican voters, uninspired, stay home and, voila: The mangy Democratic substitute wins.
Thus, last Sunday, only two days after Mr. Wellstone's death and before he was buried, the Democrats, like the Washington sniper, played their death card. According to the liberal New York Daily News on Monday, one Democratic source said Democrats running from New Hampshire to Florida are rallying troops with a call "to win one for Wellstone." It could help turn out our votes everywhere, the source said. Sen. Tom Daschle, according to the Chicago Tribune, "suggested the story of Mr. Wellstone's death may help Democrats, especially in the Midwest. 'This has energized people. It has really connected. Paul Wellstone in many ways was the soul of our Democratic Party … I was very disappointed with the very negative tone that Mr. Coleman (Mr. Wellstone's Republican opponent) took in this race. I just hope that he can refrain from being as negative as he has been.' "
Mr. Daschle seems to have perfected the art of salivating and weeping at the same time. His last line is the key to the Democratic death strategy: Intimidate the surviving Republican opponent into not campaigning, while waving the bloody flag in front of the "energized" Democratic voters. Mr. Daschle's deputy in the Senate, Harry Reid of Nevada, immediately followed suit, and attacked Republicans for pointing out the policy positions taken by Walter Mondale (the presumed mangy substitute for Mr. Wellstone) and accusing them of "trashing Mondale before the body is even buried." (I assume he meant Mr. Wellstone's body.)
Even the Widow Senator Carnahan is trying to play the death card. When she heard, Sunday, that her Republican opponent Jim Talent's father died, she rushed out the statement: "He has my heartfelt sympathies. I know what families go through at times like these," thus trying resurrecting her dead husband for a few more votes. Her widowhood had been wearing off recently as she fell behind in the polls.
So, the Democrats' closing strategy for this so-far-themeless election is to pitilessly execute an intimidating death strategy against the too-polite and considerate Republicans. But perhaps the Wheel of Fate has one last turn to make. Here is one possibility, for what it is worth, of how this election campaign may end. Later this week, as Colin Powell hinted on Monday, President Bush might call the U.N.'s bluff (he will surely do it within the next two weeks). The U.N. would either give in (which will be a great substantive and media triumph for Mr. Bush), or it will refuse. If the U.N. refuses, Mr. Bush will walk away from the U.N. and announce our own alliance for victory in Iraq. This historic announcement would dominate the closing days of the campaign and end the election on a serious, historically worthy topic. Which party it benefits, I don't know. But the public would be focused on a subject worthy of a great democracy.

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