On Donkey-Kicking and Crow-Eating


By Ciro Scotti For the next several weeks or more, the country will be lousy with Monday morning quarterbacks, pontificating pundits who got it right, and nauseatingly smug Republicans. And there will be umpteen calls from every quarter (some perhaps even sincere) for both sides to put the vicious campaign behind them, reach across the aisles, and get behind George W. Bush for a second term.

But the defeated did that in 2000, and where did it get them? After Democrats linked hands with Republicans on No Child Left Behind and the two parties came emotionally together in the aftermath of September 11, the Bush Administration created an atmosphere of unmitigated partisanship and secrecy that reached into every agency of government -- even those that had previously remained studiously nonpartisan. The Washington of Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, and Tom DeLay became an armed camp.

BITTER POLITICS. In the 2002 midterm elections, Democrats like Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who had been a frequent ally of the President, were especially targeted by the Republicans. And as the country moved closer to Election 2004, and divisions over the war in Iraq and so-called moral values heightened, politics got nastier and nastier.

In a capital in which every branch of government will be even more closely controlled by Republicans, the Eeyore Democrats -- gray, depressed donkeys that they are -- will be tempted to once again mope along and forge ties with the GOP, supposedly moving toward a better tomorrow. But if they have any sense of survival or retribution, they will rethink, regroup, rally the armies that they amassed for this historic election, and begin immediately to plan for the midterm elections of 2006.

They need a leader who knows how to win against Republicans. With the rout of the Kennedy Wing of the Democratic Party, there's only one real contender for the job of turnaround CEO: the now-reconstructed Bill Clinton. Once he fully gets his strength back, the party should put its future in the hands of its grandest old man.

A CHAFEE DEFECT?. With the Republicans kicking donkey and taking names in the Senate race, the lineup as of Nov. 3 looks like a 55-44-1 split, with the independent vote belonging to Jim Jeffords of Vermont, who most often lines up with the Democrats.

The Dems could change that to 54-45- or 54-44-2 if they could convince Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island to bolt from the Republican Party.

Before the election, the moderate Chafee said he would have a hard time voting for the reelection of President Bush -- treason to the loyalty-obsessed White House. With his vote no longer as important as it was in the last Congress, when the Republicans controlled 51 seats, Chafee will have even less traction than before.

NEUTRAL'S BLOOPERS. And now, it's crow-eating time. A column posted on Nov. 1 said the Democrats would recapture the Senate (see BW Online, "Seven Steps to a Democratic Senate"). That, of course, didn't happen. Neutral said Democratic Attorney General Ken Salazar would beat Republican beer mogul Pete Coors in Colorado. He did.

Neutral said Democrat and former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles would be defeated by Republican Representative Richard Burr. He was.

In Florida, Neutral said Democrat Betty Castor would edge out former Housing & Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez, the White House candidate. It looks like Castor probably won't make it.

But Republican Senator Jim Bunning in Kentucky managed to hold off an unexpectedly strong challenge from state Senator Dr. Daniel Mongiardo, 51%-49%. Neutral had picked Mongiardo.

In Alaska, Neutral said former Democratic Governor Tony Knowles would best Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski. It doesn't look as though he did.

In Oklahoma, Neutral suggested that wild-man conservative Dr. Tom Coburn would prove too controversial for voters, who would elect Democratic Representative Brad Carson. Instead, Coburn won handily.

In South Carolina, Representative Jim DeMint, the Republican, whipped Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum. Neutral had picked Tenenbaum.

Neutral said that in South Dakota, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle would pull off a squeaker against a powerful opponent, John Thune. Instead, the Democratic leader provided one of the most dramatic losses on the night.

And Neutral thought the three-way contest in Louisiana was too confused to call and probably headed for a runoff. But no. David Vitter surprised everyone and became the state's first Republican senator since Reconstruction.

I also called the election 51%-48% for Kerry -- pretty much the opposite of the way it turned out. My only pathetically weasely reminder: I did say Bush was a strong closer, too (see BW Online, 06/30/04, "Bush vs. Kerry: Watch the Last Lap").

Here's a flash: Crow isn't all that tasty. Scotti is a senior editor for BusinessWeek. Follow his columns, only on BW Online


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