Columns » John Brummett

The Republican nation

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If it wasn’t official before, it surely is now. Republicans own the place -- America, I mean. Democrats are just paying rent. Democratic primary voters clearly overvalued war heroism in their expeditious coronation of John Kerry in the winter and spring. Maybe now they can come to the obvious conclusion: It is no political advantage in America to have been an American war hero. Our last two presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, have been variations of draft dodgers who got more votes than war heroes. Maybe that’s not surprising in a nation that likes its wars fought far away and by the lower classes. Politically we prefer those who send others over those who actually go. Kerry lost a race that a Democrat with less baggage and more political skill conceivably could have won. His loss of the popular vote was not at all debatable or narrow. By less baggage I mean a candidate not a Massachusetts liberal. I mean one who did not cast conflicting and politically expedient votes on war. I mean a Southern or Western governor, maybe, with a fresher face, warmer manner and no endless litany of defining floor votes in Washington. Our presidents are governors anymore, and they come from places like Arkansas, Texas, Georgia and California. This election demonstrated more than ever that the nation remains starkly divided politically, culturally and geographically. But a trend clearly has set in. Where the Democrats are unpopular, the South and much of the West, they are far more hopelessly unpopular than are Republicans in Democratic strongholds -- New England, the Northeast, the Pacific coast and parts, and only parts, of the upper Midwest. Bush lost no state, save Massachusetts, in the overwhelming way Kerry lost places like Wyoming and Alabama and Oklahoma. Most tellingly, a plurality of late-deciding independent voters told exit pollsters -- if they can ever be believed again -- that they based their votes not so much on terrorism or Iraq or the economy, but moral values. The real and devastating problem for Democrats lies in the rural and suburban areas of middle America and the South’s Bible Belt. Democrats got drubbed there again, presumably by conservative and churchgoing white Christian voters who don’t like cultural liberalism, mostly, I guess, regarding gays. Churchgoers have come to favor Republicans. America, unlike other industrialized democracies, is a churchgoing society. Intensive Democratic turnout efforts for black voters appear to have been matched by Republican turnout drives among white churches. The presidential race was maybe the least of it. The Democrats lost precious ground in the U.S. Senate by getting swept across the South -- in both Carolinas, Georgia, Florida and Louisiana. That enhances conservative chances of Senate confirmations that could alter the federal judiciary for a generation or more. And that, insiders know, is what a presidential race is really about. Now will come the all-out war over the Democratic soul. Some will want to move left for purity. But that’s a loser in the South and the country’s middle. Others will want to move to the center for electability. But Democratic centrists ran away from Kerry across the South and got beat anyway. Early Democratic contenders for four years hence are more of the same, and probable losers -- Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. The Republican favorite might be John McCain, except that he sacrificed militarily for his country. The quickest fix for Democrats is another political talent like Bill Clinton, someone who can straddle the left and center and make both sides like it. But that’s a rare person and not a lasting solution, obviously.

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