Thursday, November 07, 2002

Adios, Dick-Another piece of Washington news is that Dick Gephardt is stepping down as House minority leader. Gephardt is a bit of a class warrior, but he has shown streaks of common sense, geniality and occasional bipartisanship. He is more of the old New Deal (great oxymoron, huh?) laborite school of Democratic politics that isn't as socially liberal or anti-military as the McGovern babies. The plurality of the Democratic leadership of today cut its teeth on the protest movements of the 60s and early 70s; that anti-establishment New Left is now the Democratic establishment. Gephardt is a bit of a throwback to the pre-60s Democratic Party. He also knows that he's not going to become speaker any time soon, so he'll become a back-bencher/elder statesman and possibly look towards a presidential run. If he touches on enough truly populist points, he's got a shot of winning if Bush doesn't bring his A game for the next two years. He's championed tax simplification in the past, as he was one of the fathers of the 1986 tax cuts-he could run on that. If he can be somewhat pro-Second Amendment and run as a patriotic liberal who's not afraid to go after the bad guys of the world, he could cut into some of the blue-collar conservative vote that made the difference in a lot of states in 2000. However, Gephardt's passing the torch leaves two factions fighting, the DLC/Blue Dog crowd and the McGovern Babies. Nancy Pelosi is the champion of the left wing while Martin Frost seems to be the choice of the centrist wing. I think Pelosi would be a mistake for the Democrats, for her stridency might not go over well on TV and play into Republican stereotypes of liberal Democrats. Frost will be out of step with the majority of the Democrats in the House and might not be electable within the party. The best response at this point is "none of the above," but that might not be an option. At this point, the Democrats will likely be stuck with naming Pelosi and going for the idea of creating a difference with the Bush administration, running a left-populist rhetoric for the next two years. It will be a convenient straw man that the Republicans can use to scare swing voters with and pick up a half-dozen or more swing districts in 2004. The rhetoric in Washington will get a lot more shrill, as Republicans pass a bit more of their agenda and Democrats fight a rear-guard action protecting their statist fiefdoms.

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