Current opinion polls suggest that the Republican Party may be in trouble going into the 2006 mid-term elections, largely as a result of the public's increasingly acute perception that the administration's Iraq war follies are, well, just that. But the numbers also show that the Democratic Party is getting virtually no benefit from the fact that President Bush's approval rating is sinking like a stone.
Why are we not surprised? Since 2002, when then-leaders Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt lined up a majority of their colleagues to join with Republicans in giving Bush war-making powers in Iraq, the Democratic Party has been badly split between those who continue to "go along to get along" and those who believe that forthright opposition to the Bush administration's illegal and immoral Iraq war is not just the party's only ethical alternative but its only long-term path to electoral success.
Democratic Party pragmatists have managed to hold the upper hand, but indications are that reality is finally catching up with them. Two crushing national election defeats have proven the eternal wisdom of Harry Truman's observation that "When voters are given a choice between voting for a Republican or a Democrat who acts like a Republican, they'll vote for the Republican every time."
Now the public is restless. The negativity extends directly to every member of Congress, Republican and Democrat, who lacked either the intestinal fortitude or the common sense to stand up to this administration's mad rush toward war.
Here in Tennessee, Democratic candidate for senator Harold Ford Jr. not only supported the Iraq War Powers Act, he was one of the co-sponsors! To his credit, Ford has stuck to his guns. ("I support this war in Iraq," he reiterated last week. "I supported it from the beginning for one reason: Saddam Hussein was a bad guy.") And since that 2002 vote, Ford has continued to ignore Truman's dictum. He has been the very model of a "Democrat who acts like a Republican" by supporting the Terry Schiavo bill, by failing to show up to vote against this year's heinous budget, and by voting for the administration's corporate-friendly bankruptcy and energy bills.
Cynics suggest that Ford is simply trying to strike the kind of "moderate" pose that enhances his chances in Republican East Tennessee. The facts suggest otherwise. Indeed, the vehemence with which Congressman Ford defended the administration last Friday ("I love my president. I love him personally," the congressman avowed) inclines us to suggest that Ford take President Truman's advice to its logical conclusion:
Congressman Ford, we suggest you immediately declare your candidacy for the Republican nomination for the Senate. Your words, your political contributors, and your votes make it clear that's where you belong. As the Republican nominee, you would become the favorite to be Tennessee's next senator. And you could go before the voters as what you are: a centrist who believes in the war in Iraq and who favors the budgetary, economic, and environmental policies of the Bush administration.
Best of all, your move to the Republican Party would clear the air in state politics. In 2006, the voters of Tennessee might be given a real choice at the polls: between a Republican candidate who stands on his record and for the status quo and a real Democratic candidate who might have the political courage to articulate a viable alternative to the mess in which we presently find ourselves at home and abroad.
Let's make Harry Truman proud and give Tennessee voters a real choice.