It’s no longer about
polls and pundits’ political prognostications; the votes that will determine
the Democratic presidential nominee will soon be cast. Will it be Howard
Dean? Or will second thoughts brought on by recent Dean gaffes – e.g.,
his refusal to “prejudge” Osama bin Laden – lead to a Wesley Clark boom or
revive the fortunes of such Washington Democrats as John Kerry, Dick Gephardt,
John Edward or Joe Lieberman?
Many conservative Republicans have been hoping that the Democrats will nominate
the looniest, most left-wing Democrat possible to pave the way for an easy
reelection victory for President George W. Bush. Early on, many joked
about supporting Al Sharpton. As he exploded from insurgent to front-runner,
many have similarly focused on Dean.
Popular conservative pundit Jonah Goldberg is an example. In a recent
syndicated column, he laid out the “conservative’s case for Dean” even while
conceding that the former Vermont governor would be the most damaging to
the republic of any viable Democrat running, with the possible exception,
in his opinion, of Kerry. Some of this “endorsement” was of course
tongue-in-cheek – he referred to the Dean presidential campaign as “the unofficial
Conservative Pundit Full-Employment Act” – it does reflect a sentiment genuinely
shared by many Republicans.
Yet it is a mistake for conservative Republicans to root for Dean or otherwise
derive pleasure from the spectacle of the Democratic Party going mad.
The result will likely be short-term GOP electoral gain at the price of long-term
damage to the country.
For starters, as Enter Stage Right editor Steve Martinovich noted
in a recent editorial, a sane Democratic Party is necessary to keep the Republicans
honest. Pushing national politics leftward may quite possibly push
the GOP to the left as well. Consider the immigration-liberalization
proposal President Bush recently unveiled. The Democrats have drifted
so far into left field that the administration could feel confident – once
most of the deadlines for Republican presidential primary opponents had passed
– that it could introduce a plan that would offer another amnesty to millions
of illegal immigrants along with a temporary workers’ program that essentially
globalizes the entire U.S. labor market during an election year without any
serious consequences from a GOP base certain to bitterly oppose such an initiative.
Although some conservatives have talked about withholding support from Bush
based on the immigration issue, most are likely to conclude that any Democrat
likely to win the nomination will be even worse while being horrible on countless
issues where the president has been fairly conservative.
Nor is amnesty the only policy area where this is the case. Opposed
to the recent expansion of Medicare, the biggest new entitlement in 40 years?
Disgusted by rapid increases in discretionary spending? Interested
in seeing bloated transportation, education and farm-subsidies bills vetoed?
Bush doesn’t need to risk political capital with swing voters to satisfy
conservative concerns on any of these issues. Why? Because conservatives
have nowhere else to go. Although some are hopeful that a Democratic
president checked by a Republican Congress would slow down the increase in
federal spending, most conservatives are likely to swallow hard and conclude
that they are a worthwhile price to pay to avoid a Dean administration.
But it isn’t just a matter of the impact a radicalized Democratic Party will
surely have on Republicans. There will also be consequences for the
country. America cannot afford to have an irresponsible major political
party, especially in the context of a looming international terrorist threat
that was brought home with terrifying brutality on 9/11.
Today’s renegade campaign that goes down to defeat can provide a training
ground for tomorrow’s leadership. As outside of the mainstream as some
of Dean’s pronouncements have been, he has energized many voters like no
one else in this race has. He has brought in new political involvement,
recruited large numbers of volunteers and won support from middle-class,
educated people who will vote and make political contributions. Even
if the 2004 presidential race is a complete debacle for the Democrats and
he goes down to defeat by an embarrassing margin, the Dean campaign of today
is a harbinger of the Democrats of tomorrow.
Conservatives remember how Barry Goldwater’s landslide defeat in 1964 nevertheless
helped reshape the GOP into a force for conservative principles, laying the
groundwork for Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980. More recently, Pat
Robertson’s failed 1988 presidential bid sowed the seeds of the Christian
Coalition and a new, more politically professional religious right that has
made Christian and other socially conservative voters an integral part of
today’s GOP at all levels. Among the Democrats, Jesse Jackson’s two
presidential bids during the 1980s raised the political profile of many minority
activists within that party’s nominating process and made it possible for
someone like Al Sharpton to be taken seriously as a presidential candidate
It’s foolish to think that even if he loses to Bush by a wide margin that
Dean could not have the same impact on the Democrats. Ideas that today
are being articulated by fringe candidates like Dennis Kucinich or Sharpton
might one day be defended by White House or major congressional leadership
This is because of the unavoidable fact that one day, no matter how popular
President Bush is now or becomes at any point in this election cycle, the
Democrats will regain national power. They will retake one or both
houses of Congress. They will win the presidency and sit in the Oval
Office. What kind of party do we want them to be when that day comes?
As it stands now, they are a party that views the values of those dismissively
called “Red State Americans” with contempt, that believes increasing marginal
tax rates on middle-class families will somehow help them and that wants
to return to the failed policy of treating terror as a criminal-justice issue.
This is by no means true of all Democrats. But if some of the most
enthusiastic activists get their way, it will accurately reflect the positions
of those leading the party.
Republicans who in their zeal for President Bush’s reelection are also cheering
on the zanier elements of the opposing party ought to think carefully about
the ramifications of them getting their wish.
W. James Antle III is a Senior Editor for EnterStageRight.com and a primary columnist for IntellectualConservative.com. He is a freelance writer from Boston, Massachussetts.