The New York Times Sunday magazine examines Democratic aspirations to take back the House and Senate this year in liberal contributing writer James Traub’s “Party Like It’s 1994.” But 12 years after the fact, the Times and Traub still see the 1994 watershed through the conventional liberal wisdom of the time, as an anti-incumbent blast of anger that didn’t augur a nationwide shift to conservatism.
“Nineteen ninety-four was arguably the most consequential nonpresidential election of the 20th century. The Republicans shocked political professionals, including President Bill Clinton, by gaining 52 seats in the House, giving them a majority there for the first time in 40 years. (They picked up eight seats in the Senate to wrest control there as well.) What immense forces suddenly burst through the earth's crust that fall? Anger, for one. Pollsters found an electorate utterly disgusted with politics and politicians. In 1992, 80 percent of poll respondents said they believed that government favored the rich and powerful, while two-thirds agreed that ‘quite a few’ national politicians were corrupt. Neither party had anything like a Jack Abramoff scandal; but the sense of drift, of futility, was very deep.”
Traub doesn’t mention the House Banking scandal that predominantly affected Democrats. And does Traub really think Abramoff is the Congressional scandal of the century?
Traub doesn’t see what the Democrats did wrong:
“Of course, the Democrats had inherited the weak economy and the messes in Somalia and the Balkans from the first President Bush. Nor could they be blamed for the loathing that Bill Clinton turned out to inspire among so many voters. The Democrats happened to incarnate the political culture at a moment when the public turned against Washington.”
He does provide brief counterpoint:
“But it wasn't just coincidence. Charles Schumer, the New York senator, who was first elected to the House in 1980, explained to me: ‘I didn't understand why Reagan won until I got to Washington. Crime was ripping apart my district. And who is writing the crime legislation? The A.C.L.U. They weren't just at the table; they were writing it.’ Ensconced in Congress but largely shut out of the White House, the Democrats had come to practice a kind of rote interest-group politics, an apportioning of budgetary goodies among constituents.”
Still, Traub insists there was no conservative shift in 1994, although not a single Republican incumbent lost a race on any level:
“There's little evidence that voters suddenly moved to the right in 1994. The number of Americans who identify themselves as ‘conservative’ (a third), ‘moderate’ (two-fifths to a half) and ‘liberal’ (one-fifth) has scarcely changed over the last 30 years. But 1994 was the culmination of a long-term demographic and partisan realignment whose net effect was to move almost all conservative voters into the Republican column.”
If the Democrats do take back the House and Senate in 2006, will the Times be consistent and insist it wasn’t because of an anti-conservative shift in the electorate?
Traub tars Rep. Newt Gingrich, whose “Contract With America” helped win the House and Senate:
“And when Republican leaders recoiled from his radical and confrontational posture, Gingrich took them on, challenging and beating the anointed candidate for minority whip in 1989 and thus effectively taking control of the party. And then he turned his guns on the Democrats.”
By contrast, Traub sees liberal Sen. Hillary Clinton as an exquisitely centered pol:
“Hillary Clinton, by contrast, an exquisitely sensitive instrument in such matters, has staked out centrist positions on such toxic issues as Iraq, abortion and even flag-burning in anticipation of the 2008 election.”
Then Traub heats up an old chestnut the Times warms itself with from time to time to excuse Democratic electoral failure, suggesting the moral superiority of peaceful Democrats versus ruthless Republicans.
“Perhaps the easiest concession to make about the Clinton-era fiasco is that the Republicans were much tougher and more ruthless than were the peace-loving and complacent Democrats. When I asked George Miller, a California Democrat who has served in the House for more than 30 years, how he understood 1994, he said: ‘We got attacked, and the leaders didn't respond. We got punched in the nose every day.’ The Democrats, accordingly, have now fitted themselves out with brass knuckles.”
Tell it to Clarence Thomas and Robert Bork, or Gingrich, all vilified by the left at the time.
For more examples of NYT bias, visit Times Watch.