Now I'm back, with some thoughts on the election that was.
Over the course of my life, I've voted Republican more often than Democratic. On most issues, I consider myself a conservative-leaning libertarian. I'm also glad the Democrats have taken Congress, if for no other reason than that undivided government (as we have seen over the past several years) breeds arrogance.
In October, The Washington Monthly ran an interesting feature: essays by several prominent conservatives/Republicans on why the Republicans deserve to lose in November. These essays are worth reading today, particularly the ones by Jeffrey Hart, William Niskanen (president of the Cato Institute with which I am affiliated in an unpaid position), Bruce Fein, and Christopher Buckley. I don't agree with them on everything, but I do think they make, collectively, a pretty strong case that Republicans under Bush have not been the party of common sense or the party of liberty.
Personally, I think the GOP deserved to lose Congress just for the "vote Democratic and get killed by the terrorists" scare ads. Sure, there are scare tactics on the left as well (see, for instance, this rant by Keith Olbermann about how any one of us could be declared an unlawful enemy combatant and indefinitely detained), but at least such rhetoric was not, as far I know, routinely deployed in Democratic campaigning.
I think the terrorist threat is very real, just like the Communist threat was real in the 1950s. But the Communist threat did not (pace Ann Coulter) justify McCarthyism; and the terrorist threat does not justify a mindset that equates disagreement with treason or disloyalty. Sadly, such implied equations now emanate from the upper echelons of the GOP. See, for instance, Lynne Cheney's October 27 CNN interview with Wolf Blitzer, in which the Second Lady transparently accused CNN of wanting the terrorists to win, or this exchange from Bush's post-election press-conference:
QUESTION: A little earlier, you said that you truly believe that the Democratic
leaders care about the security of this country as much as you do. Yet just about at every campaign stop, you expressed pretty much the opposite. You talked about them having a different mindset...
BUSH: I did.
QUESTION: ... about having a different philosophy, about waiting, about being happy that America gets attacked before responding.
BUSH: No, what did you just say? Happy?
QUESTION: You said they will be satisfied to see America...
BUSH: No, I didn't say "happy." Let's make sure...
QUESTION: You left that impression. Forgive me.
BUSH: With you. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, I'm wondering: Looking back at the campaign and previous campaigns, do you think that it's been harder to pull the country together after the election by making such partisan attacks about national security?
BUSH: I do believe they care about the security. I disagree -- I don't -- I thought they were wrong not making sure our professionals had the tools. And I still believe that. I don't see how you can protect the country unless you give these professionals tools. They just have a different point of view. That doesn't mean, you know, they don't want America to get attacked. That's why I said what I said.
In addition to the hair-splitting between "happy" and "satisfied," there is also the underlying charge itself: the other side is not patriotic enough.
And that's partly why I'm glad this message has been rejected. I don't believe the new Democratic Congress will put America in danger, particularly when its Democratic ranks include conservatives such as Joe Lieberman and James Webb. What actual policy changes will take place, particularly with regard to Iraq, no one knows yet. But the party in power has been humbled; and that's a good thing.