Why is everyone surprised by last Tuesday’s election results? The Republican debacle of 1998 was as predictable as the 1992 and 1996 votes. Even more so.
When no clear alternative vision is offered, Democrats will always win. Why? Because they promise to say yes to everything. They pander. They promote fear and divisiveness in order to mobilize their base. And they will always get a free ride from the media, no matter how outrageous their claims.
Only once since 1992 have Republicans offered a cohesive, if flawed, agenda to counter the Democrat strategy. That came in 1994, and the result was the most startling off-year election upset of our generation.
Republicans must have scared themselves in 1994, because they haven’t acted sensibly since. They haven’t lived up to their promises of restructuring and downsizing the federal government. They haven’t even tried.
Instead, for the last two years, especially, the ruling Republicans have acted like a party out of power. They said they couldn’t pass tax cuts because they would simply be vetoed. So what? Isn’t that the point? Shouldn’t opposing parties do all they can do to demonstrate to the public the philosophical differences between them? How better to do that than by doing what you say you believe?
When Republicans act like Democrats, the public will always choose the real McCoy rather than the imitator. That’s what happened in ’98, ’96 and ’92.
In 1992, George Bush promised there would be no tax increases. He lied. And it didn’t matter how good he looked during those post-Gulf War parades when his approval rating soared into the 90 percent stratosphere. His goose was cooked by that most basic broken promise and his inability to articulate “the vision thing.”
In 1994, Gingrich and company seemed to have learned a lesson from the Reagan years. They ran on a platform of real change, real progress, smaller and less intrusive government. The people followed.
In 1996, Bob Dole replayed the ’92 race. No unifying theme. No philosophical message. He did everything in his power to alienate his base — to run away from what had made the Republicans successful in 1980, 1984, 1988 and 1994. Clinton cleaned his clock.
In the two years leading up to 1998, the Democrats carried the baggage of the most scandalized president since 1973. But the Republicans decided to “rise above” partisanship. They let Clinton get away with unprecedented abuses of power — even participated in some of them. They must have figured Clinton would sink himself and his party along with him.
So Republicans gave their base nothing. They insulted their core constituents. They wouldn’t even give them the time of day. They had no record of achievement to run except for a phony budget surplus — and Clinton took credit for that.
It was either a terrible miscalculation or, worse, a conspiratorial collaboration. Take your pick. The result is the same. Americans had no choice in 1998.
For those of us who believe in simple things like constitutional, limited government, freedom, self-reliance, individual rights and personal responsibility, there was nowhere to go.
The choice, as I have said before, was between the highway to hell and the expressway. Even I have to admit that if we’re headed to a destination — even a bad one — we might as well get there quick and get it over with. So, on Tuesday, America took the expressway.
But you can’t just blame the politicians. I believe that Americans pretty much get the government they deserve. America has grown fat, lazy and dishonest. Clinton, in many respects, is a reflection of America’s worst characteristics. You can look around this once-great country and be hard-pressed to find even a trace of any visionary leadership, any commitment to the principles upon which the nation was founded.
One thing about expressways, there are no exits, no u-turns, no way out until we get to our destination. Buckle your seatbelts. We’re goin’ the distance, America. I hope you’re ready for what lies ahead. But I doubt it.