• U.S.

Happy Days Are Here Again

4 minute read
Bruce Handy

The day after elections last week, facing interviewers on the White House lawn, chief of staff Leon Panetta looked even more Oscar Levantlike than usual as he tried to put the best face on a vote that hadn’t really gone the Administration’s way. While other commentators, overwhelmed at the turn of events, had been forced to consult thesauruses in an effort to find synonyms for “wholesale repudiation” and “visceral disgust,” Panetta had a slightly different take. Bill Clinton had been elected on a platform of change, Panetta explained, and now the voters had expressed a desire for even more change — in other words, the historic rejection of Democratic candidates was in some sense an extension of the Clinton mandate. That afternoon the President gave % matters his own spin: It wasn’t that voters were upset about what his Administration had done; rather, they were angry that they didn’t feel more involved in the governmental process.

Ah, yes. More face time with politicians — that’s what voters really want! Once you get going in this gently revisionist vein, as the Administration no doubt hopes you will, it becomes clear that there are many previously undiscerned reasons why this election was, in fact, a Democratic boon:

— No incumbent Republican Governors, U.S. Senators or Representatives were defeated. Scores of Democratic officeholders were dumped. Clearly the Democrats are more in tune with the nation’s mood of anti-incumbency.

— Only 39% of voting-age Americans voted. Therefore it’s mathematically possible that 61% of voting-age Americans actually approve of Administration policies. And don’t forget kids.

— Exit polling showed that Democrats drew a plurality among elderly voters. As all Americans are growing older, this trend bodes well for the party.

— Democrats can now refer to members of the G.O.P. as “Sonny Bono Republicans.”

— Arthur Schlesinger Jr. has posited that the American political mood sometimes evolves in 30-year cycles, swinging from activism to conservatism and back again. But consider the electorate’s volatility during the past three years, from 1991, when George Bush’s approval ratings were at historic highs, to Bill Clinton’s election to the recent Republican landslide. Evidence indicates that we are operating under 30-week or possibly even 30-day cycles. Thus the odds are virtually even that November 1996 will hit an activist phase. A caveat: the Leap Year Day in February 1996 may invalidate these calculations.

— Democrats also lost control of both houses of Congress in elections in 1946 — and Harry Truman went on to defeat Tom Dewey two years later. A caveat: Republicans show no inclination to nominate a presidential candidate with a mustache.

— The new Congress will probably have 47 Democratic Senators and 204 Democratic Representatives. Forty-seven plus 204 is 251. Two plus 5 plus 1 is 8. Rumor has it that 8 is Dee Dee Myers’ lucky number. This too bodes well for 1996.

— The results of Virginia’s Senate race indicate that the President will be insulated from political fallout should disgruntled state troopers ever reveal that he got a back rub from Tai Collins.

— Another time a Speaker of the House was voted out of office was in 1860, when William Pennington lost his re-election bid; at the same time, however, a member of the same party, Abraham Lincoln, was elevated to the presidency. A caveat: Lincoln’s nickname wasn’t “Slick Abe.”

— Ann Richards is now free to star in the next Linda Bloodworth-Thomas sitcom.

— The elevation of the pumpkin-like Newt Gingrich to national prominence as Speaker of the House will distract late night comedians from the President’s weight problem.

— The elevation of Alfonse D’Amato and Jim Leach to the chairmanships of the Senate and the House banking committees ensures that Whitewater hearings will bedevil the White House for the next two years. The good news: the exposure of the pathetic, somewhat shady attempts to get rich quick will help convince voters that the President and First Lady are normal Americans.

— Losing the ability to shape the legislative process means Clinton will have more time to concentrate on the finer things in life, like making lots of sightseeing trips to New Hampshire.

— The rise of a new Republican “Solid South” means future Democratic presidential candidates will no longer have to pretend to enjoy stock-car racing. There is a dilemma for Clinton, however, in the fact that there is also no more political capital to be gained in eating prodigious amounts of cooter.

— Despite the success of the “Contract with America,” the media are unlikely to popularize the word Gingrichonomics.

— The new lines in George Stephanopoulos’ face give him some gravitas.

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