While I wasn’t surprised that President Bush won last week, I couldn’t figure out why Democrats took such beatings. To find out, I ate lunch with Dale Bumpers, a Democrat who was one of our most popular governors and our U.S. senator for 24 years, and asked questions.
What’s wrong with the Democrat Party?
“It’s not in shambles but it is in pretty bad shape,” Bumpers said. “It can come back in four years with a centrist who is articulate, has good values and a good record and, best of all, a proven track record. But that’s a big if.”
Would one of the Democrats who wanted the nomination have done better than Kerry?
“I doubt it. I think John Kerry by far was the best candidate. One small magazine in Washington printed that Kerry was the most liberal person in the Senate. Not even close to the truth. Repeat a lie long enough and people believe it.”
Will Sen. Hillary Clinton run in 2008?
“She will think long and hard about it. Most people think it’s a given, but I don’t. She’s a very cerebral, realistic person, and I don’t think she has ambition to be president bad enough to fly into the face of reality. Senators don’t get elected president, and don’t think that Hillary won’t give that a long thought.”
Why did the voters like Bush so much?
“With a war going on, people had more confidence with the president who started it. Upper-income people liked his tax philosophy. Many voted for Bush because they didn’t like Kerry. Eighteen percent of the voters were religious fundamentalists opposed to abortion and same-sex marriages, which was on the ballots in Arkansas and 10 other states. Like a lot of people, I believe marriage ought to be between man and woman, but if people want to live in a civil union, I see nothing wrong with that.”
Arkansas and the South used to be Democratic. In Arkansas with 75 counties, Kerry won only 21 counties, those that have most of our black citizens. Now the only Democrat states are on the two coasts and around the Great Lakes. Why is that?
“When I was a kid — I’m now 79 — you couldn’t find a Republican with a search warrant. But even when Roosevelt was president, most Republicans were in the north, and Southerners didn’t like them because of the Civil War. And there are still a lot of Southerners who have difficulty accepting civil rights laws.”
Four more Republican senators were elected, and Sen. Tom Daschle, the Democrat’s minority leader, was defeated. Does that mean no more filibusters to keep Bush from putting conservatives on the Supreme Court?
“No. Republicans say the Constitution doesn’t say the Senate can filibuster the president’s choice for judges. But it also doesn’t say whoever the president chooses must be confirmed. It says presidents must serve the consent of Senate Rule 22, which says 60 votes are enough to keep something from being brought up. In four years, only 10 appointments have been filibustered while 200 have been confirmed. I will never get over Republicans demonizing Daschle in South Dakota with pictures of him and Saddam on the same billboards. Daschle is one of the most decent, thoughtful men I have ever known. His replacement will be Harry Reid, who has to be more conservative because he is from Nevada, but he is very bright .”
Do you favor getting rid of the Electoral College?
“David Pryor was for it but I was prejudicial that we two senators from a small state had as much clout in the Electoral College as Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer had coming from California with 33 million people. But I think we are headed to get rid of it because very few people understand how the Electoral College works.”
What other things about the Bush administration scare you?
“How can we expect other countries to follow our lead when we invade countries preemptively that have no nuclear weapons? We have 20,000 nuclear weapons right now. We have the ability to destroy the planet, and we have not yet changed man’s thinking to keep it from happening. North Korea has at least six nuclear weapons. Iran is not quite as advanced but it is busy building them. There are rogue nations and Muslim nations. Anybody who can’t see the horrible future that bodes for all of us is simply not paying attention. It doesn’t matter whether the Bush administration tries to stop this because we have lost not all but virtually all of our moral authority. We used to be admired and respected by almost every nation. Now polls tell us only seven nations have favorable opinions of the United States.”