More Right Turns Ahead

Political analyst Walter Russell Mead argues that no matter what Clinton and the Democrats decide to do, their running room is limited.

On the GOP: “We’re seeing a basic realignment. 1994 wasn’t a fluke. We’re moving toward Republicans dominating both houses of Congress and winning most presidential elections. The white South is voting Republican as a bloc — and there are still more Democratic seats to lose there. However, if the Republicans keep getting pulled toward the social right, they run the risk of being pulled out of the mainstream. The Northern soccer mom won’t vote for the party of Jesse Helms. But if moderate Republicans win, or Southern conservatives show restraint, the party could develop an electoral lock.”

On the Clinton scandals: “When I lived in Louisiana, we used to read these picaresque stories of corruption; we never believed the opposition was any better. For the public to care about scandals, there has to be some much more serious stuff. Watergate was part of an organized criminal conspiracy to steal the 1972 election. The Clinton stuff looks like ordinary political graft. There are Clinton haters, and they’re going to investigate. But if Republican partisans knock Clinton off, they entrench Gore as the incumbent. If I were a Republican strategist, I would tell them to leave him wounded but in office.”

On public apathy: “As the population grows and the country becomes more diverse, people feel more alienated from government. Look, in some places, if you register to vote, you’re more likely to be summoned for jury duty, which is essentially a poll tax of two weeks of labor. For taxi drivers, it’s a death sentence. Some people say declining turnout is a reflection only of alienation and anger. Suppose it’s an expression of contentment? Things aren’t that terrible, there’s no difference between the parties, why get involved in this crap? It’s not an irrational response.”

Walter Russell Mead is the author of Mortal Splendor: The American Empire in Transition. Interview by Evan Smithi.