Jewish World Review Feb. 7, 2003 / 5 Adar I, 5763
The Dems give up the House
Have the House Democrats lost their minds? Why did they elect Rep. Nancy Pelosi
(D-Calif.), a certified liberal, as their leader? Why were they obvious in sitting down
during Bush's State of the Union to evidence their dislike of a war against Saddam
Hussein that 68 per cent of Americans support (according to the latest Fox News
Out of their minds? No. They have simply changed their priorities.
Too long out of power, the Democratic Party, both deliberately and subconsciously,
gave up its bid to win the House, settling instead for a lifetime guaranteed
incumbency for its congressmen that the GOP was only too pleased to offer.
In state after state, a tacit deal emerged between the parties as reapportionment of
congressional districts unfolded. Republicans, anxious to preserve their control, put
as many Democrats as possible into districts that already had Democratic
congressmen to make swing districts more likely to go Republican.
For their part, the Democrats welcomed the initiative. Even when the Democrats
controlled the reapportionment, they opted for safety for their incumbents instead of
a chance to pick up a House majority.
In California, for example, where Democrats control both houses of the state
Legislature and the governorship, Democratic strategists chose to reinforce the
incumbencies of the six new members their party had picked up since 1996 rather
than spread the Democratic voters more thinly in swing districts.
As a result, all six congressmen, who had won with less than 55 percent of the vote in
2000, won with 59 percent or more in 2002, including two who got more than 70
percent of the vote.
By contrast, the Republicans played reapportionment to win. In Pennsylvania, Ohio,
Michigan, Texas and, most notably, in Florida, they spread their party loyalists over
a host of marginal districts in the hopes of winning extra seats. With guts that the
Democrats failed to match, they bet that they could defend their incumbents in
their current districts and put new Republican voters into the swing seats they
wanted to pick up.
Only in Georgia did the Democrats play the game like the Republicans did. But they
so overreached that it blew up in their faces, costing them a Senate seat, a
governorship and both new congressional seats.
The Democratic Party knows that it so completely blew the reapportionment
sweepstakes, by its excess of caution and refusal to take risks, that the House will
remain Republican until the 2010 census, barring a political earthquake. Without
hope for power, they are settling for a hassle-free life of comfort, turning the House of
Representatives into a body with about as much instability and democracy as the
House of Lords.
The result has been a growing introversion among House Democrats - a desire to
protect their political base and assure themselves of safe seats.
In this light, the selection of Nancy Pelosi as the House minority leader, inexplicable
in any other way, makes lots of sense. Since half of the incumbents who lost in 2002
to non-incumbent challengers were defeated in primaries, not in general elections,
the Democratic focus has turned to keeping the base intact and happy.
Opposition to war in Iraq among many Democrats makes equal sense in the context
of these changed priorities. If you want to avoid a primary fight, most likely coming
from the left if you are a Democrat, you tack liberal to deny any potential
challenger running room. The introverted Democratic focus on its political base
changes totally the character of their House minority, its goals and its direction.
The House Democrats are back to the days of the 1980s when the party's primaries
made it impossible for a nominee to win the presidency. If you could get nominated,
you couldn't get elected. Content to be in the House for life, the Democrats are
growing fat and happy. As Shakespeare said, "Ambition should be made of sterner
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JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, among others, "Power Plays: Top 20 Winning and Losing Strategies of History's Great Political Leaders" Comment by clicking here.
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© 2002, Dick Morris