Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Republican Party Time MAUREEN DOWD NYTimes

Talk about fired up and ready to go.

At a Republican victory party suffused with vengeful glee, the man who body-surfed the anti-establishment wave to become the next Speaker of the House was looking very establishment.

Even though it was predicted, it was still a shock to see voters humiliate a brilliant and spellbinding young president, who’d had such a Kennedy-like beginning, while electing a lot of conservative nuts and promoting this central-casting congressman as the face of the future: a Republican who had vowed in a written pledge to restore America to old-fashioned values, returning to a gauzy “Leave It to Beaver” image that never existed even on the set of “Leave It to Beaver.”

Republicans outcommunicated a silver-tongued president who was supposed to be Ronald Reagan’s heir in the communications department.

They were able to persuade a lot of Americans that the couple in the White House was not American enough, not quite “normal,” too Communist, too radical, too Great Society. All that Ivy League schooling had made them think they knew better than average American folks, not to mention the founding fathers.

The Speaker-in-waiting sounded the alarm: the elites in the White House were snuffing out the America he grew up in. It only took two years to realize that their direction for the country was simply, as he put it, “a contradiction with the vast majority of Americans.”

No one gets to take America away from Americans — not even the American president!

“What the American people were saying is ‘Enough!’ ” the Speaker-to-be told me, as he savored his own win and his party’s landslide, which he said was “a historical tide, not just a partisan election.”

Washington had not been listening. Washington had been scorning the deepest beliefs of Americans. And now that would have to change.

“American people are clearly fed up with what they see as the decay of American society,” he declared.

The new leader of the House took a more black-and-white approach than the nuanced president. It’s enshrined in the Declaration of Independence that you need the consent of the governed and the governed did not consent.

Ascending to third in the line of succession for the presidency: a working-class kid who rose in the House as a rabble-rouser willing to throw bombs to score points against powerful Democrats.

Now he’d be helping to run the country, saving it from what he regarded as an arrogant and out-of-touch clique of elites.

In the revolutionary flush of the electoral map glowing red, he was floating, working hard to avoid gloating (even though Sean Hannity was around, gloating about the pain about to befall the Democratic president).

But he could not resist taking a few jabs at the “liberal media elite” distorting things, and a few more at a puffed-up White House that got punished for not paying enough attention to people’s anxieties.

“They had an enormous opportunity to bring about change and they failed, and I don’t say that harshly,” he said, adding: “They really are left-wing elitists and they really thought the country didn’t get it, and, therefore, it was their job to give the country the government that they thought the country needed, even if they didn’t want it. That’s the whole history of the health plan.”

There was a lot of talk, as in the campaign, about the misbegotten health care plan, about balancing the budget, about lowering the deficit and taxes, about doing something on abortion and bloated government. Meanwhile, bloated fat-cat lobbyists were dancing down K Street.

The next Speaker felt that the humbled president should take the election as a cue to be conciliatory, and he proposed they talk in the next few days. He offered to reach out to Democrats who wanted to work with his side, but also noted that the president would not be wise to stand in the way of the conservative agenda.

“I prefer to believe that this president, who is clearly very smart, is quite capable of thinking clearly about a message sent by the American people,” he said.

He said that, contrary to what the media elite had been jabbering about, he would not use his subpoena power to rain down a series of investigations on the Democratic administration.

No “witch hunts,” he said. Only “legitimate” investigations.

Yeah, that all worked out for Newt Gingrich. He really came through. The quotes above came from Gingrich, when I covered his heady victory in Marietta, Ga., in the 1994 Republican landslide that made him Speaker.

And, obviously, the Republican House only pursued “legitimate” investigations of Bill Clinton. Sixteen years later, as a weeping John Boehner extolled the American values he learned at his father’s bar — in the moment he dethroned Nancy Pelosi — the new crop of anarchic conservatives are saying all the same things.

God help the Republic. And, Mr. Speaker, in the immortal words of Sharron Angle, man up!

Election forecasts cloudy with a chance of being dead wrong

Election results won't come until Tuesday night at the earliest. But luckily, you don't have to wait. This is because you have prognosticators.

The Economic Club of Washington hosted three of this species Monday for a luncheon and panel discussion titled "The Mid-Term Election Results a Day Early."

Pundit No. 1, Time magazine's Mark Halperin, informed the assembled lawyers and business people how many seats Republicans will gain in the House: "at least 55, and I think it could be as many as 85." While admitting his predictive science is imperfect, Halperin added: "If you want an exact number, 75.2."

"I'm going with 58," offered pundit No. 2, ABC News's Claire Shipman.

"It's possible it could be lower than 50," submitted pundit No. 3, Politico's Jim VandeHei. Or, he added, "Maybe 85. I don't think it's inconceivable it could be much bigger both in the House and Senate than everyone's anticipating."

So, to recap: Republicans will probably gain 75 seats, or perhaps 58, but their possible pickup range is from 55 to 85 -- except if it's lower than 50, or higher than 85.

It's time again to haul out that hoary convention in journalism and punditry: the biennial election prediction. Participants must state with conviction that which they cannot possibly know.

The first Monday in November is, of course, the busiest prognostication day of them all. In this case, it began with a memo from Politico's Mike Allen, author of the "Playbook."

"SIREN," he wrote. "Nine GOP Senate pickups are now possible. . ."

Or are they? A few paragraphs later, Allen reported the latest forecast from handicapper Charlie Cook, who is changing his "outlook to reflect a net gain for Republicans of six to eight seats, down from seven to nine."

Allen forecast gains for the GOP in the House "in the mid-60s or (maybe much) higher."

Dissenting from that forecast were Allen's bosses, VandeHei and John Harris, who in the Outlook section of the Post on Sunday forecast a 46 seat pickup for the GOP.

Cook, the most influential of the handicappers, delivered his forecast in the manner of a weather man warning of bigger snow accumulations at high altitude: "A Democratic net loss of 50 to 60 seats, with higher losses possible."

Stu Rothenberg, Pepsi to Cook's Coca-Cola, went with 55 to 65, while Larry Sabato went with a straight 55 and the Web site Real Clear Politics called for 67. New York Times blogger Nate Silver is going with 53 -- with a "95 percent confidence interval" ranging from 23 seats to 81.

With Republicans only in need of 39 seats to take charge of the House, the only one predicting with any confidence that Democrats will keep the House is Chris Van Hollen -- but that's part of his job as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "The one thing the American people don't like," he told Fox News's Chris Wallace on Sunday, "is Washington pundits telling them in advance what they're going to do."

Van Hollen's optimism may be suspect, but he's got a point about the tendency for Washington to declare an election over before the votes have been cast. This is particularly true because the basis for the forecasts ¿ the polls -- are of dubious value. Is the prognosticator basing the prediction on the Gallup poll, which has a 15-point advantage for Republicans, suggesting "the largest Republican margin in House voting in several generations"? Or is the prognosticator giving weight to the Newsweek poll, showing DEMOCRATS with a three-point advantage?

It's a bit like filling out a March Madness bracket, but with unreliable seeding. At the Economic Club luncheon, in fact, they handed out "Election Contest" cards to attendees; the lucky winners get iPads or four seats in the Trustees Box at the Kennedy Center.

Looking out over tables labeled Bank of America, Akin Gump, HSBC and the like, Carlyle Group managing director David Rubenstein, the moderator, said his panel of pundits would "give you the results a day in advance."

Shipman forecast that Nancy Pelosi would retire in six months. VandeHei forecast that Defense Secretary Bob Gates would step down early next year. Halperin forecast that with Republican gains in the House of more than 68 seats, the party would also seize control of the Senate.

Naturally, the three pundits pulled all such predictions straight out of their imaginations. Of the three, Halperin was the most prolific. He predicted: that Hillary Clinton may switch jobs with Vice President Biden; that write-in candidate Lisa Murkowski will win the Alaska Senate race handily; and that Carly Fiorina could beat Sen. Barbara Boxer in California as part of a GOP wave.

But when asked to predict "the biggest surprise" of the election, VandeHei offered a real shocker: Democrats keep control of the house. This, he said, "would actually prove what we all know: That conventional wisdom is always wrong."

Seems you'll have to stay up late Tuesday night after all.

Dana Milbank WASHPost