Moment in the limelight is almost over for Bush

  • George Will / Washington Post columnist
  • Saturday, December 16, 2000 9:00pm
  • Opinion

WASHINGTON — While savoring his extra-innings victory, George W. Bush, baseball man, should remember the movie "Bull Durham." The young pitcher Nuke LaLoosh, after a good inning, is deflated by his veteran catcher, Crash Davis:

Nuke: "I was good, eh?"

Crash: "Your fastball was up and your curveball was hanging. In the Show, they woulda ripped you."

Nuke: "Can’t you let me enjoy the moment?"

Crash: "The moment’s over."

Moments are awfully momentary. Consider this:

The other time a president’s son ran for president, he finished second, in a field of four, to a Tennessean. But because the leader, Andrew Jackson, did not get an electoral vote majority, the 1824 election was settled in the House, when John Quincy Adams struck a deal with the fourth-place candidate, Henry Clay, who threw his support to Adams. Adams in turn made Clay secretary of state, then considered a stepping-stone to the presidency. Jackson successfully characterized this as a "corrupt bargain," which helped doom Adams in 1828, and Clay’s presidential aspirations.

The inevitably untidy and bitter judicial ending of this election may taint Bush’s presidency. However, sober people understand that any ending favoring Al Gore would have tainted his presidency. And liberals stigmatizing the Supreme Court as partisan are shortsighted, given their reliance on judicial prestige rather than democratic persuasion to advance much of their agenda.

The Gore-Nader 51 percent of the vote should erase whatever remains of conservative’s triumphalism. But Gore got one-fifth of his vote by winning 90 percent of African-American votes, a source of support that is nearly tapped out. Two issues, abortion and guns, were not as important for Gore as they were expected to be. In the six elections since abortion first became a presidential campaign issue in 1980, four have been won by candidates running on right-to-life platforms. And to carry Michigan and Pennsylvania, Gore muted his enthusiasm for gun control.

However, six of the 10 most populous states — California, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey — have voted Democratic in three consecutive elections, by an average margin of 13 percentage points. If these states, with 165 electoral votes, constitute the Democrats’ presidential base, a Democrat needs to find only 105 votes from 44 states and the District of Columbia. Bush kept his promise to spend in California the money he raised there, and he campaigned there. After Gore’s Los Angeles convention, he visited California only once, and only to tape Jay Leno’s show. Nevertheless, Gore beat Bush there as badly as Bill Clinton beat Bob Dole, who never seriously contested California.

Perhaps the key datum of the election is that late-deciding voters, who usually break against the candidate of the party holding the presidency, this time broke for Gore. This suggests that Gore succeeded in sowing doubts about Bush’s competence. Which may explain Bush’s weakness in educated, metropolitan America.

The Weekly Standard’s David Brooks notes that Gore beat Bush by 8 points among people with advanced degrees — almost 10 percent of the electorate — and by 22 points among women with advanced degrees. Affluent suburbs have been trending Democratic for 20 years. Gore, Brooks writes, did better than Clinton in 1996 in 12 states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island) and Bush did better than Dole did in 12 (Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia, Wyoming). Which dozen would you most want trending toward you?

Twenty Republican Senate seats and only 14 Democratic seats are up in 2002. And, historically, the party holding the White House loses House seats in off-year elections. But Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill, says that pattern may presuppose something that did not happen this year — many members elected on presidential coattails. Furthermore, a surge of House retirements — more than the post-World War II high of 65 in 1992, a redistricting year — may result from redistricting, Democratic disappointment about the failure to capture control of the House, and term limits for Republican House committee chairmen.

In addition to the 65 retirees in 1992, 43 incumbents were defeated, partly because of redistricting. Churning will continue in the House, where, come January, 53 percent of Republicans will never have been in the minority and 44 percent of Democrats will never have been in the majority.

Democrats will benefit, on balance, from congressional gridlock because of the reactionary liberalism of key constituencies. Teachers unions want no school choice, trial lawyers want no tort reform, feminists want no limits on even partial birth abortions, African-Americans want no change in racial preferences, organized labor wants no significant tax cuts and no partial privatization of Social Security.

Memo from Crash Davis to the president-elect: The moment’s almost over.

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