Out of the Frying Pan 

Democrats may well win this November, but they can’t deliver like they used to

Wednesday, Oct 11 2006

For those of you who follow such things, the reports of my impending severance from and by the Weekly are not exaggerated. For readers who developed a chemical dependency on me during the past 17 years in which I’ve been writing this column for the Weekly, I do appear every Wednesday on the op-ed page of the Washington Post. My work can also be found in the pages of The American Prospect (www.prospect.org), the Washington-based liberal monthly where I’ve worked for the past five years and where I’m taking the helm next week as executive editor. And all my work is glumped gloriously together on my own Web site, www.haroldmeyerson.com. (Note to editors: Yeah, it’s not a word. What’s it to you?)

I’ll miss, of course, the camaraderie of my colleagues at the Weekly (abovementioned editors very much included), and the opportunity to write regularly in an L.A. publication, frequently about L.A., the city that remains the object, I confess, of the longest love affair of my life. With that in mind, I’ll devote this penultimate column to some thoughts about the future of national politics and the economy, and close out in two weeks with a column on the future of Los Angeles.

At the current happy moment, the Republicans seem devoted to resolving one of the Democrats’ long-running disputes for them. You’ll recall that the Democrats have spent much of this year in their biennial quest for an overarching theme and easy-to-market program, with one faction insisting that all they needed to do was call attention to the Republicans’ manifest misrule. The slogan this faction put forth was, simply, “Had Enough?” And bless those little Republicans: Over the past two weeks, they so monumentally augmented the stuff that people have had enough of that the Had-Enoughers have clearly carried the day. As they will, I now expect, on November 7, when the Democrats will win both houses of Congress.

Part of the reason the Dems will have themselves a fine congressional election is that they have found, in this cycle, candidates who fit the states and districts they’re running in. Go online and take a look at Jon Tester, the Montana populist who will surely oust incumbent Republican Senator Conrad Burns. Tester is not only a gun-totin’ cowboy who opposes the Patriot Act on libertarian grounds; he’s also the first Democratic candidate I can recall who looks like Homer Simpson. He’ll also vote to preserve Social Security, promote alternative energy and resist Wall Street’s vision of free trade.

Or consider Harold Ford, the young, black Democratic congressman from Memphis who is likely to be elected to the Tennessee Senate seat currently occupied by Bill Frist (who is leaving the Senate under the clinical delusion that he can run for president and win votes from actual people). I’ve seen Ford on the stump in the suburbs of Nashville, and he is easily the best campaigner in American politics since that Clinton feller — perhaps because you have to be a good campaigner to win statewide as a Democrat (much less a black Democrat) in the South. I’ve seen Ford talk to a diner full of white Republicans and win over a number of them by some mysterious combination of energy, delivery, substance (against the Dubai port deal), looks, old-fashioned good manners and persistence. Ford is running as a young, hip, alt-energy, religious-traditionalist, nationalist, Wall Street–friendly, anti-Bush neohawk, or something like that. About half his votes will piss off liberals like me, and he’s as good as it’s going to get in the South, and a vast improvement over what the Republicans have to offer.

The genuine liberal in a key race this November is Ohio Senate candidate Sherrod Brown, who holds a narrow lead over incumbent Republican Mike DeWine, and who’s as articulate a spokesman for both social and economic liberalism as the Democrats have had in some time. Add ’em all up, these Democratic challengers likely to win, and you have a Democratic Senate delegation that will be more populist economically and more centrist culturally than the one now in office. This is what happens when the Democrats start to win states outside the blue belt of the coasts and the upper Midwest.

The Republican collapse is a big step forward for civilization as such, but it enables the Democrats to put off the question of what, exactly, they stand for. They’re united, to be sure, on the easy stuff — raising the minimum wage, reining in drug costs, that sort of thing. They’re also more united than they seem on “redeploying” our forces out of Iraq. Problem is, all Congress can really control is how much funding the armed services get, which means, the Dems would have to cut off funding for the war — as Congress eventually did in Vietnam — to end it. That’s a bridge the Democrats haven’t crossed yet. The question hasn’t even shown up in the polls.

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