October 19, 2004


The End of Democracy: Losing America's birthright, the George Bush way (Rick Perlstein, October 19th, 2004, Village Voice)

Once upon a time, not too long ago, the president of the United States declared that the war on terrorism was the most important issue in this year's presidential campaign.

Then every time his opponent brought up this most important of issues, George W. Bush cried foul, accusing John Kerry of hindering the war on terrorism. (America might be a democracy, but that doesn't mean the Democrat has a right to campaign.)

The president's campaign enlisted the taxpayers' servants as agents of his re-election, with Secret Service officers submitting attendees at Bush rallies to ideological X-rays, and election officials systematically suppressing the franchise of groups most likely to vote Democratic. Meanwhile the president, who earned some 500,000 votes less than his opponent, busied himself ramming through a radical legislative program as if he had won by a landslide—his congressional deputies all but barring deliberative input from the opposition party in order to do it and gaming the legislative apportionment system in ways, as the counsel to one Texas representative bragged in an e-mail to colleagues, that "should assure that Republicans keep the House no matte[r] the national mood."

In Washington, it has turned some once calm souls into apocalyptics.

Thomas Mann is a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, noted for his deliberateness of manner, his decency, and his near religious devotion to the ideal of bipartisan comity. Now, he says, "I see the damage to our system and our sense of ourselves as a democratic people as really quite substantial. . . . The consequences of both the policies and the processes have been more destructive of our national interest and our democratic institutions than any president I know." When someone as level-headed as Tom Mann begins to worry for the future of our democracy, that's news.

Friend Perlstein continues in this vein for quite awhile, the gist of his argument being that Republicans, and only Republicans, play political hardball (well, actually he'd say they stage beerhall putsches); that his thesis is proven by the opinion of impartial commentators like Mr. Mann (who has been widely regarded as a partisan shill for the Left, along with his frequent fellow guest Norm Ornstein, since the Reagan administration); that Democrats have been intimidated into silence (though what he thinks that makes his essay, never mind the Kerry campaign, is beyond us); and, of course, that this all furthers the Christian conspiracy to establish a theocracy in America.

When you see a previously sensible liberal reduced to such ravings by the reality that power has shifted from Democrats to Republicans you can get a sense of why Father Coughlin's similar conspiratorial dementia won 30 million listeners when power switched to Democrats in the first place, 70 years ago. The realization that your political viewpoint, which used to be on the 60% side of the equation, is now on the 40% side appears to drive folks over the edge.

Here's the kind of thing Mr. Perlstein insists his side would never do, manufacture a draft scare for partisan political advantage, Feeling the Draft (PAUL KRUGMAN, 10/19/04, NY Times). You'll also note that instead of appearing on some obscure website or in some minor direct mail campaign, this Big Lie is coming from the nation's leading daily paper.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 19, 2004 12:53 PM

Just so. The issue now is how they will adapt to the wilderness. Without the wisdom or wits of Robinson Caruso they are more apt to emulate "The Lord of the Flies".

Posted by: luciferous at October 19, 2004 1:01 PM

Agree but let's get Bush reelected and increase the majorities in the Senate and House before we start discussing the Dems in the wilderness.

Posted by: AWW at October 19, 2004 1:07 PM

America's birthright, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Posted by: Sandy P at October 19, 2004 1:18 PM

And on the Supreme Court. That's the biggie as far as I'm concerned.

Posted by: Bartman at October 19, 2004 1:20 PM


...and a Democratic president and Congress.

Posted by: oj at October 19, 2004 1:26 PM

Robinson Caruso

I loved him in The Flying Dutchman but thought he was indisposed in the Pirates of Penzance.

Posted by: Eugene S. at October 19, 2004 1:49 PM

Wow, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution is upset at a Republican president? I'll bet that's never happened before! Who will be the next "level-headed" people to express concern: union organizers? NY Times editors?

Posted by: PapayaSF at October 19, 2004 1:51 PM

The nation's leading daily newspaper? When did Krugman start writing for the Wall Street Journal?

Posted by: Bart at October 19, 2004 2:01 PM

but PapayaSF:

can't you see that Mann possesses a: '.. near religious devotion to the ideal of bipartisan comity.' ?

which, loosely translated means: 'as long as I get to keep scoring the touchdowns, I won't take my ball and go home.'

but, would please try to parse this sentence from Mann:

'The consequences of both the policies and the processes have been more destructive of our national interest and our democratic institutions than any president I know.'

? huh?

Posted by: JonofAtlanta at October 19, 2004 2:48 PM

..would SOMEONE please try to parse..

(stupid keyboards that require fingers!)

Posted by: JonofAtlanta at October 19, 2004 2:50 PM

I'd translate that as: "Bush does things I don't like without permission of the UN, France, and the left wing of the Democratic party."

Posted by: PapayaSF at October 19, 2004 6:00 PM

Orrin, please try to answer the arguments in the piece. And Krugman's arguments, too. Do you disagree with his premises or his reasoning from those premises?

Posted by: Rick Perlstein at October 19, 2004 6:01 PM

What arguments, Mr. Perlstein? As far as I'm concerned, that article is an unrelieved hysterical fit - the kind of fit that, in the movies, one has to be slapped out of.

Posted by: Joe at October 19, 2004 6:13 PM

Joe, did you read the whole article? I refer to "gaming the legislative apportionment system in ways, as the counsel to one Texas representative bragged in an e-mail to colleagues, that 'should assure that Republicans keep the House no matte[r] the national mood.'" This is the legislative counsel to Texas rep Joe Barton, and I'd be pleased to furnish the email upon request. He's referring to the mid-decade redistricting in Texas.

Attitudes like this: bad for democracy or no? Attitudes like this: vanishingly rare in the Republican Party, or no? What's your opinion?

Posted by: Rick Perlstein at October 19, 2004 6:30 PM

Mr Perlstein: I lived in Texas for many years, and my parents still do. Can you please explain how the previous district boundaries, which resulted in a large majority of Democratic Representatives despite the fact that Republican candidates won far more votes, was good for democracy? Shouldn't Mr. Barton rightfully be concerned that the Texas congressional delegation reflect the mood of the state, regardless of the national mood?

Posted by: brian at October 19, 2004 6:35 PM

Brian, please read the quote more carefully. Barton's aide refers to holding the ENTIRE house regardless of the national mood. He says nothing about the Texas delegation.

Posted by: Rick Perlstein at October 19, 2004 6:47 PM

Yes, I realize that. As you yourself noted "He's referring to the mid-decade redistricting in Texas." The primary goal is to make the Texas delegation reflect the will of the voters of Texas. The fact that this tilts the entire House towards the Republicans is just gravy. Are you saying that if the "national mood" were to somehow be determined to favor the Democrats, that therefore they should control every individual state as well?

Posted by: brian at October 19, 2004 6:52 PM


Why is it anti-democratic for the Texas delegation to reflect the actual preferences of Texans?

Posted by: oj at October 19, 2004 7:00 PM

The Wall Street Journal may be the nation's leading daily paper in terms of journalistic excellence, but in terms of circulation, it's USAToday.
The New York Times leads the nation in terms of depth of decline from former prominence.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at October 19, 2004 7:25 PM

This is what happens when you come to believe that your party is the True Natural Winner of All as Ordained by God. When you suddenly are the losing team, it's clear evidence that the natural order of the World has been thwarted.

Posted by: ray at October 19, 2004 8:05 PM

Guys, you've sunken below the level of rationality I'm willing to engage. Which part of "'should assure that Republicans keep the House no matte[r] the national mood'" don't you understand?

Posted by: Rick Perlstein at October 19, 2004 8:26 PM

OK, I'll play. "Gaming the legislative apportionment system", a/k/a gerrymandering, has been going on as long as there _have_ been Congressional districts. The very term "gerrymandering" comes from a early-19th-century cartoon satirizing a particularly preposterous district ginned up by Elbridge Gerry in (drum roll) Massachusetts. Given that long history, and given that Democrats have engaged in their fair share of "gaming the legislative apportionment system" over the decades when they thought it was to their advantage, what, really, is especially new or outrageous about this quote?

Posted by: Joe at October 19, 2004 8:31 PM

OJ: I wouldn't know the dude, if he hit me over the head with a baseball bat in broad daylight. He is your friend.

My suggestion is you buy him a drink, get him calmed down and you drive him home. He shouldn't be driving himself in his current condition.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at October 19, 2004 9:05 PM

Mr. Perlstein:

After reading your entire article twice, I'm hard pressed to find any "arguments" in it.

The assertation by NBC that the Bush administration could have taken out al-Zarqawi before the Iraqi pacification began is troubling, but similar to the Clinton administration's decisions not to accept custody of bin Laden when the Sudan twice offered to arrest bin Laden and turn him over to the US. Instead, the Clinton administration asked the Sudan to deport bin Laden to "anywhere but Somalia", according to then-US Ambassador to Sudan Tim Carney.
Osama ended up back in Afghanistan.

The rest of your essay merely demonstrates that you don't like the GOP, and turn a blind eye to Democratic shenanigans, with nary a fact to be found, merely the opinions of a lot of people who agree with you, and some who don't.
Hardly a vigorous indictment of the Bush administration, or of Bush himself.

You may be right when you claim that both sides aren't equally bad, but you err when you then assume that your side is as pure as driven snow in North Dakota.

Further, your pique about Bush "ramming through a radical legislative program as if he had won by a landslide" is petty, misguided, and misplaced.
Misguided because no President needs anything more than a plurality of support to be elected, or to govern, as Clinton demonstrated; misplaced, because the blame for allowing such legislation to pass must fall upon Senate Democrats.

Ultimately, you're most angry at the American voter, for supporting Bush in '00, strengthening the Republican hold on Congress in '02, and for not warming up to Kerry.
Essays like this do little to convince any moderate voter to desert Bush; it's merely a purgative screed, preaching to the choir.

But hey, it's a living, right ?
Who cares about effectiveness; that's for bean counters and flint-hearted Republicans.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at October 19, 2004 9:10 PM


I don't even understand what you're asking. John Kerry could win the election and the Democrats still aren't going to retake the House. Al Gore lost 60% of the congressional districvts when he beat Bush last time. Texas is a Republican state that Democrat chicanery had kept from having as Republican congressional delegation as Texans wanted--now it will comport more closely with the political leanings of the citizens.

It's reapportionment and it's an orderly constitutional process, unlike say swapping Senate candidates in NJ if one looks like he'll lose.

Posted by: oj at October 19, 2004 9:20 PM

Just as an addetnium to the Texas redistricting kerfuffle -- back in 1991, when the Democrats controlled the governorship and both houses of the state legislature, U.S. Rep. Albert Bustamante of San Antonio asked for, and got a congressional district that stretched from Webb County (Laredo) to the eastern suburbs of El Paso -- a span of roughly 600 miles, or longer than you could fit into all but a handful of other states. The reason for this was Bustamante at the time was under federal investigation for a variety of payoffs and financial scams and wanted a border district that would be solidly Hispanic and assure his re-election in 1992.

He got his wish, but unfortunately, his problems became notorious enough by election time that San Antonio Republican (and former Tom Snyder news producer in New York) Henry Bonilla won the district, and became the first Mexican American Republican in the U.S. House. Albert, meanwhile, ended up at the La Tuna Federal Correctional Institute in El Paso (on the west side of town, so he didn't get to be an inmate within his own self-designed congressional district)

Flash forward a decade and Bonilla in 2002 wins a razor-thin victory over former Texas Sec. of State Henry Cuellar of Laredo, which gave their native son huge majorities in the Webb County precincts. As a result of that, the new state legislative redistricting plan removed Laredo from Bonilla's District 23 and put it into the district represented by Rio Grande Valley Democrat Ciro Rodriguez. Cuellar challenged Rodriguez in the March 2004 primary and won, after a missing box in Laredo suddent turned up and moved Cuellar from a few hundred votes behind to a few hundred ahead.

The two then spent the next several months in court, with Rodriguez arguing and finally losing his case for voter fraud. Meanwhile, his supporters were saying Cuellar, who was named Secretary of State by current Gov. Rick Perry, was actually a closet Republican who will change parties after he's (in all probability) elected to office on Nov. 2.

That, pretty much is Texas politics, where there's gaming and shennanigans going on on both sides of the fence and sometimes on the same side of the fence. Thinking the other side is Beelzebub and your side is populated by nothing but virgins is living in denial, and the same holds true for political races in other parts of the country.

Posted by: John at October 19, 2004 10:25 PM

Mr. Perlstein:

what the hell is the 'national mood'?

Posted by: JonofAtlanta at October 20, 2004 9:26 AM

Everyone, what is a mandate. I find no mention of mandate in the Constitution.

Posted by: Uncle Bill at October 20, 2004 4:03 PM

Uncle Bill:

I don't know what "mandate" is.

But I know just where to find it.

In the overworn, underthought, cliche box.

Right next to 'national mood.'

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 20, 2004 5:02 PM

Sorry to focus in on such a small point, but the idea that Democrats have been intimidated into silence was so outrageous my mouth fell open. That's the LOUDEST silence I'VE ever heard!

Posted by: DL Meadows at October 20, 2004 5:51 PM

Considering the cover illustration that accompanies his article, Mr Perlstein has absolutely no call to claim that his opponents are the ones who are being irrational. The left is truly insane.

Posted by: brian at October 20, 2004 8:18 PM

I have just seen the cover art for Mr. Perlstein's article over at Charles' place. It changes my perspective on Mr. Perlstein. Instead of hectoring us to answer his "arguments," he should be appologizing to us for publishing his work in such a disgusting rag.

Brian's comment above is to the point. The Freepers are like a kindergarden class compared to these people. They are just plain hateful.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at October 20, 2004 11:34 PM

I echo what Robert said.

That cover for Mr. Perlstein's article is loathsome.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 21, 2004 7:24 AM

Mr. Perlstein:

I do not recall any liberal objections to Phil Burton's map-making in CA 30 years ago, back when the GOP was about even with the Democrats.

Posted by: jim hamlen at October 21, 2004 11:24 PM