Good news is bad news

Oct 12, 2005 at 7:00 am

These are halcyon days for the Schadenfreudists, formerly known as Democrats. From San Fran to Boston, Miami to Seattle, and more locally from Paducah to Ashland, the out-of-powers are sitting back and drinking the nectar of Republican self-destruction. Last year’s winter of discontent has become this year’s “fall” of the GOP.

Everywhere we look, the news for Republicans is awful and getting worse. President Bush has his lowest job approval rating ever. Support for his policies, including the war in Iraq, are at embarrassingly low levels. A substantial majority of Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. Bush is hemorrhaging trust and confidence from his base. And key Republican figures, including Tom DeLay and maybe Karl Rove, are mired in deep legal doo-doo.

In Kentucky, Republicans find themselves in a similar spot. Gov. Fletcher has pardoned a whole cellblock full of aides after their indictments for violating merit system laws, and a grand jury may still indict him for his involvement. His job approval rating is in the 30s, and in one poll only 17 percent of Kentuckians indicated they would vote to reelect him. In a sign of the times, The Courier-Journal last week ran a long piece on possible contenders for the Democratic nomination for governor in a race that is still two years away. Talk about sharks smelling blood.

The nomination of White House counsel Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court is perhaps the best example yet of the plight of the GOP. The same righteous partisans who have spent months and months preaching the inerrant judgment of the president on judicial matters, have turned on him like scorned lovers. Yes, when Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, George Will, Bill Kristol and Pat Buchanan are red-in-the-face angry at George W. Bush, you know we’re not in Crawford anymore.

The Schadenfreudists have been eerily silent, legitimately realizing that there is nothing they can do to accelerate the pace at which the Republicans are cannibalizing themselves. Not that they didn’t see it coming. Last year, several Kerry campaign officials were in Louisville to meet with local supporters. At one session, this observer suggested Kerry take an issue he was passionate about and show that he was willing to lose votes over a principle. One official responded, “We don’t think we need to do that as long as Bush keeps shooting himself in the foot.” Unfortunately for Kerry, his supporters and the rest of the country, Bush proved he could run pretty well on one foot.

Like many Schadenfreudists, I cannot help but smile at the troubles now facing the Bush administration in Washington, and the Fletcher crew in Frankfort. Both scenarios are classic illustrations of the eternal truth that power corrupts, and the corollary principle that the retention of power always becomes the top priority. Both men came to office largely on the premise of moral superiority, and both seem to be failing because they, or those around them, are quite a bit less holier than thou thought.

But for those of us who care more about policy than partisanship, this turn of events is anything but good news. If things don’t get better for Republicans in Washington and Frankfort, Democrats could very well get a free pass in the next two election cycles. They could very well retake the White House and the Governor’s Mansion, not to speak of the Congress and the General Assembly, without earning them. This would not be a good thing for America or Kentucky.

Most Democrats I have talked to over the past year had finally conceded that their party really didn’t know what it stands for. Thousands of conferences, symposia, think-tank meetings, prayer groups, lunches and coffees have agonized over what Democrats are and where they should be going. The heavy lifting of responsible policy making was finally being pursued. Now, I’m afraid, these efforts will be abandoned in favor of candidate recruitment, fundraising and attack ad development. In the contemporary political world, those campaigns are so much easier.

But the country and the Commonwealth won’t benefit. Democrats may not have to develop a practical and affordable plan to provide basic health care for every citizen. Instead of coming up with a plan to reform the state and federal tax systems, Democrats can simply continue to scream (with considerable justification, mind you), “no tax breaks for the rich,” without proposing a fair and balanced alternative for generating necessary revenues.

Unless things change, Democrats won’t have to come up with a progressive energy policy, a plan to improve access to quality education for everyone or a solution to the impending disaster in Medicare funding. Some of us were looking forward to a battle of ideas for making this a better society. Republican ineptitude and hubris may mean we continue to debate the lesser of two evils.

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