Politics & Policy

We Didn’T Tell You So

The call, and the aftermath.

Those of us in the trade get asked the question (inevitably), “Who do you think is going to win?” Years ago I embarked on the most tedious bout of prolonged honesty by replying, “I don’t really know.” Inevitably the questioner suspected I was holding something back. I wasn’t — except, this time, on the final day. On November 1, I received two communications, privately tendered, that I attached meaning to.

The first originated with a professor of government in California who, it was bruited, had always succeeded in predicting the outcome of presidential-year elections. The news was given in telegraphic idiom, no curlicues, embellishments, appoggiaturas:

“President: Kerry wins the popular vote 50-49.

“Kerry wins electoral vote 291-247.

“Senate: GOP has net gain of two, for a 53-47 majority.

“House: GOP has net gain of one, for a 230-205 majority.”

That bulletin I disclosed to a few of my closest associates.

Bulletin #2 came under extraordinary auspices. A phone call from someone I love just after the woman who bore him. A master of the universe in the political-journalistic world, he had a working guest in house whence he would report on the elections. At 6 o’clock in the evening of Election Day a call came in from his newspaper’s equivalent of the CIA Board of Estimate.

That communiqué was delivered in a single word: “Kerry.”

So the guests filed in and, in my new role as soothsayer, I informed them, in humbled tones, but no less solemn, “It will be Kerry.”

Fiat Bush.

Four years from now I will return to my I-don’t-know mode, and that time, probably my last venture in coexistence with presidential elections, I will not be bent by any secret communication, from however august a source.

Added to what this columnist doesn’t know is: What exactly will President Bush do about the Iraqi mess? He has said over and over that a president must be prepared to make decisions, however difficult, and stick to them. But surely one decision he can have arrived at during the political purgation is that things are not going well in Iraq. It is one thing to reiterate during a political campaign that a president must make hard choices and stick to them, quite another to say that a president cannot draw back and recalculate at very basic levels.

The day the American people voted, the insurgents managed to clip off an oil export pipeline at Kirkuk. It will be fixed, one of these days. But it had been exporting 400,000 barrels of oil per day, and that means $20 million per day in lost revenue. Framed in a broader perspective, this means that the price of oil will continue to rise, and that to the extent there are cash inconveniences, Uncle Sam will of course come up with what’s needed. At some point President Bush is going to ask himself the question: Would it have saved a fair amount of money if we had made better provisions for security in Kirkuk? Even as the first Bush might have saved a lot of oil/money if in 1991 we had secured the oil fields against Saddam Hussein’s conflagrations?

There is so very much to think over, and the Democrats have their share of a via dolorosa. How will they do it next time around? Get Bruce Springsteen to sing one more song? Add another million protesters? But what will they have to protest, at this rate? — the democratic system? They can’t blame what happened on Tuesday on the electoral vote; can’t blame it on the popular vote. That doesn’t give them many other choices. Blame the candidate?

There’s always that. Two years after Dukakis was hailed as Democratic liberator, I had to ask a companion who was the unprepossessing but faintly familiar figure sitting at the other end of the table. Yes, it was Dukakis, of course. Kerry will be recognized more easily because his face is more distinctive, though if the events of Tuesday make his face more drawn than it now is, Teresa should will the cadaver to the Smithsonian.

The Democratic coroners will take the easiest pass at the expense of Kerry. But they will need to worry about much more. Kerry’s personal froideur can’t have been the single cause of the upset. It had to be that the venture by the contenders for the middle class vote didn’t work. Didn’t work why? Because there was a revolt on the part of citizens who earned more than $200,000 per year? Come off it. There were never enough of those to account for 58 million votes for Bush.

The Democrats will need to devise a means of making state socialism a reborn faith. Either that, or just go back to obstructionist tacaticss in Congress, and a renewed search for the golden boy. Maybe Edwards. He is photogenic and wears his afflatus confidently. Without exactly saying it in so many words, he can remind the gang that, after all, he gave the Democrats a chance to anoint him during the primaries — now look what happened when they merely gave him the #2 spot.

The Democrats’ wake will, one hopes, be as fully reported as their vaunted ascendancy was glowed over.

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