Metaphorically minded Oregon Democrats might have reckoned last week's pre-election torrential downpours as talismanic of the drubbing-to-come for the GOP in the 2006 mid-term. Oregon's Republicans can be forgiven for switching en masse from Tuesday coverage of floods and electoral wash-outs to 'Dancing With The Stars.' At two wildly disparate election night headquarters, the Kulongoski/Saxton denouement provided a microcosmic study of a perfect political storm long in the brewing. By the next morning, 12 years of the elephant had ended.
This political sea-change was in no way 'out of the blue,' and evident on the horizon for any reasonably astute political observer.
Conservative and moderate voters who were vilified for sending George Bush to disputed victory in 2000 felt vindicated, if heartbroken, on the morning after 9/11, when Bush stood in the ruins and promised that the perpetrators would 'hear from us soon.' Seeming to crush the Taliban, our armed forces drove home that you don't mess with Uncle Sam, and Bush's approval ratings skyrocketed.
Then, with only paleo-conservative Patrick Buchanan shouting 'Nay' from the rooftops, came the left turn into Iraq. When early reports of WMD's proved wrong, the justification became 'to topple a tyrant,' a reasoning that rang hollow as many ultimately wondered if leaving Saddam in power might have been a lesser of evils bargain. 'Bringing democracy to a troubled region' was also cited, another spurious goal the failure of which is counted in carnage on the streets of Bagdad each day.
Finally, 'fighting them there so we don't have to fight them here,' became the war cry. Only time would tell on this accord, time and treasure it seems now that the American people are not willing to expend.
Conservatives and many centrists stuck with Bush through 2004, soon after which cognitive dissonance began to set in. The Harriet Miers debacle had many thinking the Bush dyslexia jokes might have some basis. The Dubai Ports fiasco had corporate suits handing vital infrastructure to the very Arabs we had been conditioned to fear. Well-meaning entitlements like the prescription drug bill topped out in the trillions, giving lie to the purported Reagan legacy of smaller government. Chances for meaningful immigration reform withered on the vine as Dems held out for votes, vested interests for cheap labor.
On the issue of Iraq, by the time the summer of '06 rolled around the mantra 'stay the course' revealed that the Bush administration had a tin ear to rival John Kerry's. For a party saddled with corruption and a war that threatened to rewrite the definition of quagmire, any suggestion of 'business as usual' registered as dangerously disingenuous.
Now, a decade and two bloody years after Newt Gringrich swept to power with his Contract For America, old Buchanan looks something like a prophet. Oregon, with its staunch leftiness and disdain for GW, does not stand marginalized with other progressive enclaves. Bush has said, rightfully so, that you can't run a country based on polls. He has pointed out that 'historians are still studying the presidency of George Washington,' and leaves it to history to sort out the tumultuous years of his term. For a new majority on both left and right coasts, and even in the heartland, such distant perspective is obviously perceived as a luxury we may not be able to afford.
Thomas Frank, in the post-2004 afterword to his best-selling deconstruction of red-state mind-think, 'What's The Matter With Kansas?' wrote about how 'dazed Democrats wandered upstairs for another long winter's nap.' Though the mid-term election of 2006 may not yet herald dawn, Democrats can be forgiven for any visions of the future that may be dancing in their heads.
Mark Ellis is a resident of Lake Oswego.