Sunday, January 21, 2007

Time Magazine: Western stars are shining

Joe Klein's piece in Time Magazine, The Democrats' New Western Stars, is worth reading. The "Bill Clinton on methedrine" quip alone makes the article a hoot.

It touches on many points that should make Montana Republicans sit up straight and pay attention. When Republicans are elected but don't deliver on fiscal restraint and good government, but rather depend on a few hot-button issues like 2nd amendment rights, abortion, gay marriage, or the war on terror to carry the day, smart Democrats can and will clean their clocks -- especially in the intermountain west.

This is particularly true when the Republican party loses touch with its populist side at the same time that the Democrats rediscover theirs -- a side that played such key roles in GOP presidential wins (a number of them landslides) in the last 40 years. Tell a Republican of 25 years ago that his party would be the one supporting an intrusive government policy like the Patriot Act rather than opposing it tooth-and-nail, and he would have asked what kind of hippie weed you were smoking.

There are flies in the Democratic presidential ointment, though. As Klein points out, "the real flaw in the Rocky Mountain Blue electoral fantasies is that the Democrats' leading candidates... elicit groans in the Rockies."

And elsewhere in a discussion of the West's traditional libertarian leanings, he admits (in one of the biggest understatements of the piece) that "Democrats have not been very good traditionally at leave-me-alone politics."

The truly troubling issue that the Democrat surge in the West raises is not the Presidency -- a good Republican candidate will still defeat a good Democrat candidate in the West in 2008 and to the near political horizon. The fact also remains that only Democrat presidential candidate to break 50% of the national popular vote since the Goldwater debacle of 1964 was Jimmy Carter in 1976 (with a whopping 50.1%), and that was with a dream team of a southern governor and a classic midwestern liberal running against an unelected President Ford crippled by Watergate, the Nixon pardon, and the most bruising battle for a presidential nomination in modern times.

By contrast, Republicans have done it 5 times in the same time-span, including victories over a sitting president, a sitting vice-president, and a former vice-president.

While coastal Democrats want to win badly enough that they will act like it is really cute that a Western governor reaches into his pocket for a pen and pulls out a rifle cartridge "by mistake," there is an inevitable collision course in store. If the Western Democrat winks and nods at the coastal Democrat establishment as though to say, "don't worry, I don't really believe all of this gun and energy and tax-cutting stuff," the West will view it as having all the same winning charm of John Kerry and that goofy salute.

This is the same problem faced by the slate of "blue-dog" Democrats that swept their party into power in the 2006 elections -- now they have to deliver on their pro-life, pro-gun, fiscal conservative promises without running afoul of Pelosi and company.

But this is a digression into Republican fantasies of perpetual Democrat self-destruction, never exactly a good long-term political strategy.

No, the real trouble for Republicans in the West is rather the fact that, as conservative Montanans are learning, Democrats are flat-out beating them on the ground in local and state races -- the grooming grounds for future Senators and Congressmen and the stuff of reapportionment nightmares like Montana Republicans are living through. Turning this around is going to take a dramatic change on the national party level -- and working hard and smart at the "retail level" of government and politics.