Ken McElroy Online

Get Serious

Ken McElroy
November 17, 2002

When America needs the big, important stuff done, it's better to have adults in charge. Thus, even many who complained that "Bush stole the election" in 2000 and said he was "selected, not elected" breathed a sigh of relief after September 11, 2001, when they realized that Al Gore was not in the White House.

If you want to give free condoms to teenagers or fund some obscene art, a Democrat will do. But if you need to win the Cold War or defeat global terrorism, call in the grownups. (This lesson hasn't yet made it to California, where the last election showed that no amount of corruption and ineptitude is too much). Nationally, however, Americans went to the polls on November 5th and demonstrated their confidence in the leadership of the Bush Republicans.

Bucking the historical trend, the party of the sitting president gained seats in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to give control of both Houses of Congress and the presidency to the Republicans for the first time since 1954.

The United States certainly has some serious challenges ahead, and now that the Republicans control both the legislative and executive branches, they will be held accountable for meeting those challenges. But the Democrats thought, wrongly, that they could gain power simply by carping about the problems and blaming Bush for all of them. The stock market's down? Blame Bush. Lost your job? Blame Bush. Your kid can't read or write? Blame Bush. Your love life isn't as exciting as you'd like it to be? Blame Bush.

Thankfully, voters didn't fall for such simplistic tactics this time. With terrorists still plotting against us and war with Iraq likely, the people wanted serious leaders running the country.

The Democrats have said they are with the president on the war against terror, and they have largely followed his lead, but they've refused to offer unified support on possible war in Iraq or to acknowledge the connection of Iraq to the fight against terrorism. A majority of Democrats in the House of Representatives, and 21 Democrats in the Senate (plus former Republican, now 'Independent' James Jeffords of Vermont), voted against the resolution authorizing President Bush to use force against Iraq. Just as in the past they opposed the Gulf War and Reagan's efforts to win the Cold War, the Democrats were soft on an important national security question, and the voters recognized that fact.

And what did the Democrats really offer the electorate domestically? We heard from the media that Democrats would be favored on domestic issues. Democrats said they were "for education" as they always do, but what does that mean exactly? Senator Tom Daschle said we need to "improve our entire system of education and training, so that kids come to school ready to learn and leave college and trade school ready to work." Who could disagree with that?

According to a release by the Senate Budget Committee, the Democratic budget plan "provides a $6.8 billion increase in budget authority over the 2002 program level for discretionary education programs and Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) funding, compared with the $1.4 billion increase requested by the President."

That's it, the sum total of the Democrats' education strategy - "spend more." But even on that score, the Republicans had already agreed to spend a lot more federal money on education - Bush wrote his education bill with Ted Kennedy, remember - so the Democrats were left just quibbling about the amount, less than one percent of an estimated $732 billion being spent nationwide on education at all levels for school year 2001-2002.

Similarly, the Democrats offered voters complaints about the economy, but no plan for making it better. In September, Senator Dachle said, "It takes leadership not only with regard to international and foreign policy, but to help here at home on economic policy as well. We haven't seen it to date."

Alleging ill effects from the Bush tax cut, Daschle said, "What we got instead was the most dramatic fiscal deterioration in our nation's history."

Has Senator Daschle forgotten about the Great Depression and the Carter years, or was he just fibbing there?

What is true, and what was acknowledged by voters on November 5th, is that there wasn't any leadership shown by the Democrats, including Senator Daschle, on economic policy. Simply saying, "the economy is bad, blame Bush" is not an economic policy, and voters recognized that fact.

On all the important issues facing the nation - terrorism, Iraq, education, the economy - the Democrats offered no ideas or leadership, and they paid the price on election day. Now is no time for simplistic rhetoric and poll-tested campaign slogans. Thankfully, voters recognized that in the last election. Hopefully, they will remain as focused in the years ahead. Serious times call for serious leaders.