Jewish World Review Oct. 16, 2003 / 20 Tishrei, 5764
The raging fury against the political establishment
There is always a temptation to put a partisan spin on voter anger and pretend it is directed at one or the other of our political parties. Republicans celebrate the upheaval of the Democrats in California. Democrats chuckle at Bush's dive in the polls. Republicans have their share of fun in watching first Howard Dean and then Wesley Clark eclipse the best and the brightest among the Democratic candidates.
But the fact is that none of these three political earthquakes is directed at a party.
All are directed against the political establishment in general. It is the political class that the voters are angry at, not just its practitioners in either party. Voters are in such a froth at the political establishment that anything is possible as this election year takes shape.
Leading all other causes of this massive anger is the sense of having been deceived over the issue of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. However aggressively the administration tries to spin David Kay's report to indicate that Saddam was, indeed, worth ousting, the plain fact is that any 7-year-old watching television believed that Bush and Co. had plain evidence of masses of weapons scattered about the country.
The fact that they are not there is galling to voters.
Just as Bush Sr. tripped over raising taxes after pledging "read my lips: no new taxes," so Bush Jr. is finding it hard to overcome his own statements earlier in the year. Bush is deeply wrong if he believes that the current good economic news will bail him out of his midterm doldrums. Bush I didn't lose over the economy. He fell over a lack of credibility. Bush II will not recover with a good economy. He needs to bridge the credibility gap he has created.
Most of us don't think Bush lied. We can't bring ourselves to think that. But we do think that we were misled through malfeasance or incompetence, and we don't like it one bit. The fact that Americans massively approve of ousting Saddam is quite beside the point. We don't like being fed a fantasy as a justification for a war.
But the anger in America has deeper causes than just Bush's credibility. Voters feel that the political class is introverted, self-absorbed and as impervious to outside influences as Catholic bishops. They see our political leaders as ignoring our needs and wishes in a self-perpetuating oligarchy of power. The lifetime tenure the members of the House awarded themselves in cahoots with their respective state legislatures through massive gerrymandering is but one example of this arrogance of power.
The hardest thing to do in politics is to be an insider and still think like an outsider.
Senators and congressmen must be able to dine with presidents and still think like factory workers. The groupthink inside the Beltway can be numbing and few politicians really understand how to reach out through it to grasp what Americans are thinking.
The hothouse of adulation within the capital and the frequent frost of public reactions outside of it create a fog through which it is hard to see.
But Arnold Schwarzenegger's election and the surge of Dean and Clark in the Democratic polls come as beacons reminding us of the voter anger that lies just beyond the Beltway. Its raw, almost uncivilized quality cuts across party lines and leads to a ubiquitous call to throw the incumbents out.
Ponder for a moment how the Democratic establishment, rooted so deeply in California so as to make it virtually a one-party state, could be so easily swept aside.
Think about the fact that four candidates representing the cream of the Democratic Party's congressional leadership a former vice presidential candidate, their former floor leader in Congress, their most charismatic senator and the latest Clinton Southern wannabe have been swept aside by an unknown former governor of Vermont with a good Internet list and a previously unknown general from the army, albeit one with no great military victories to his credit.
Only in an environment laced with voter discontent and anger could such drastic upheavals be possible. It's not a good year to venture out to the polls.
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JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, among others, Off with Their Heads: Traitors, Crooks & Obstructionists in American Politics, Media & Business"
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© 2003, Dick Morris