ed111502: Goodbye to 2000
It's been only two years since the closest and most disputed
presidential election of modern American politics. Considering how
far President Bush has come since those rancorous days, it feels
more like a lifetime.
Determined to put 2000 behind him, Bush barnstormed for Republican
candidates from Florida to South Dakota, placing his reputation on
the political line. It was a gutsy gamble that paid off
Republicans control the White House, the Senate and the House of
Representatives for the first time in almost 50 years. The net gain
in congressional seats in a mid-term election was the first for a
Republican president since 1902.
The man still derided by some as the "Accidental President" turned
out to have rather lengthy coattails. Of the 23 House members he
stumped for, 21 won or were leading right after Election Day. He
campaigned for 16 Senate candidates; 12 won or were leading. And
many of these campaigns were neck-and-neck races right up to the
To see the presidential effect in action, consider what happened
in Georgia, where Rep. C. Saxby Chambliss managed to defeat Sen.
Max Cleland, an incumbent who had never lost an election. According
to Chambliss' campaign manager, few voters outside of the
representative's home district had ever heard of him. But reminders
that Chambliss "was the guy President Bush endorsed" were enough to
wring promises of support.
Of course, traditional factors such as money, organization, issues,
and the candidates themselves played a distinct role in the
election. But President Bush made the difference in close
senatorial races in Missouri, Georgia, and Minnesota by boosting
the IQ (intensity quotient) of Republican workers and voters. And
his campaigning ensured that Republicans would hold on to
governorships in Florida and Texas.
Bush accomplished this not with slashing attacks on the opposition
but by asking the voters to give him principled men and women with
whom he could work to advance his agenda of homeland security and
Republicans ousted a senatorial incumbent in Missouri, nearly upset
the incumbent in South Dakota, and easily elected their man in
Tennessee. Democrats are reduced to bragging about the return of
78-year-old Frank Lautenberg as a senator for New Jersey and the
reelection of California Gov. Gray Davis, whose negatives
approximate those of former Washington mayor Marion Berry. As they
debate their future -- go further to the Left, stick to the Center,
tilt a little to the Right? -- Democrats would do well to look to
the grassroots and to the winners who will occupy the statehouses
and city halls in the next several years.
But Republicans shouldn't puff themselves up like the Jumping Frog
of Calaveras County. While historic, the 2002 elections weren't a
sweeping mandate. They do not signify a grand alignment. The
country is still largely divided between the blue coasts and the
red heartland. Rather, the elections constituted a calculated
go-ahead from the voters for the president to proceed with his
promises to protect the homeland from terrorists and get the
country moving again economically.
The election results suggest strongly that the majority of the
American people have accepted the 2000 election results and want to
move on. President Bush comprehended that desire, campaigned
accordingly and helped produce a remarkable victory for himself and
his party. Obviously, many Democrats cannot forget 2000; they spent
an inordinate amount of time, money and energy in Florida trying to
defeat Gov. Jeb Bush and bloody George Bush's nose. Instead, they
knocked themselves out of control of the Senate.
President Bush can be expected to crank up the pressure on Iraq
and al-Qaeda and craft a center-right legislative program,
including the appointment of federal judges who respect the
Constitution and a prudent approach to welfare issues, to persuade
the electorate that their faith in him is well-placed.
It's still too soon to say how history will judge President Bush --
if he will continue to confound his critics and perhaps someday
take a place alongside America's other exceptional presidents. But
those who consider such an elevation highly unlikely should ask
themselves what they predicted the outcome of the 2002 elections
, a senior
fellow at The Heritage Foundation, is the author of several books,
including "The Conservative Revolution: The Movement that Remade