Robert Novak, apparently worried that his hold on “Whiniest Columnist On The Right” was in danger, released a column yesterday which is so far from Reality that someone ought to buy the poor slob a political Key Map. In a screed titled “Losing and Not Knowing It”, Novak basically claims that Republicans are in serious danger of losing one or both chambers of Congress, specifically because the GOP Leadership is not doing things the Novak Way. Well, I certainly expect such egotistical grumbling from people named Dean or Schumer, but Novak is well off base to pretend that his claims actually prove the case here. What I mean, is not only that I find Novak’s issue positions ludicrous as political terrain, but more that he has demonstrated a rather poor grasp of how elections work. At his age and experience, this is a sad thing for him to show.
Essentially, Novak is trying to argue that unless the Republicans follow the lead of men like Lindsey Graham they are doomed. Americans demand an end to Earmarks cries Novak. Actually, while I personally would like to see them end, no Mister Novak, there is no groundswell to end them, nor will a single Republican lose his seat on that issue, in large part because no Democrat shows any inclination to deal with that problem. The target, Mr. Novak, is this way – you have managed to shoot your foot.
Novak then cites the impending defeats of what he considers key Republicans. But Novak does not support his charges, and several of his claims are untrue. Either Novak is not paying attention, or he is lying. Pressing his claims beyond reason, Novak concludes, again on no evidence but his say-so, “a six-seat takeover capturing the Senate is possible.” Well sure, ‘possible’ but not at all likely, especially since Novak never bothered to notice how many Democrats are less than cozy in their seats.
There are basically two components to any election; how people feel about the specific candidate, and how they feel about the party. Ask the Democrats, for instance, how smart they feel about getting a court to require Delay stay on the ballot, now that Delay is considering making a run for his seat? Is a well-known and popular Republican leader better than a no-name GOP candidate? Oh yeah, youbetcha. So the first clear error in Novak’s column, is that he ignores the personal characteristics of the candidates. The possibility that people are sick of DeWine and Chafee, for example, is because they are self-serving hypocrites rather than simply the Republican nominees, is something Novak misses. On the other hand, his assumption that Santorum and Kyl are in trouble just because a few media polls taken in mid-summer in mostly metropolitan areas say they are in tight races, rather misses the focus of those races. I mean, I know it can be tough Mister Novak, but you might want to consider that the good people of Arizona see things a bit differently than say, New York? And Pennsylvania is very unlike Massachusetts, in that they have demonstrated the ability to consider an individual on his own merits – they don’t need to be told by some party boss who to vote for. Novak is assuming groupthink, which is not nearly as common as he seems to expect. Maybe he’s been around the NY and LA Times crowd too long?
The other component is the party loyalty card. This really should not be a news flash to Novak, but he seems to have forgotten that Republicans almost always vote for Republicans, and Democrats almost always vote for Democrats. That’s not only how losers like Ted “Jabba” Kennedy stay in office for life, but also why even clearly unqualified candidates manage to claim a respectable chunk of the Popular Vote. The difference comes down to the individual, as I mentioned before, but also turnout. If more from one part show up than from the other party, that decides the race. In 1994, Republicans got charged up and took the House. For the Donks to claim either chamber, no matter how execrably bad the GOP incumbents perform, the Democrats must present a winning alternative. As much as Novak may pretend, the challenger does not win by default – ever. This is not always a good thing, as it makes it hard to weed out the losers in our own part during the primaries, and it adds to that despicable sense of contempt for the public by established office-holders. But for Novak to pretend that tenure is not a key factor in every election is just stupid.
Can the Democrats take one or both chambers of Congress? While I do not think it will happen, I certainly agree we must work to not be complacent, and we have to whip our party into hearing us. But tripe like this column from Novak only muddies the water, and works against correcting the problem.