Absolute Power Erupts

By MAUREEN DOWD

New York Times

November 21, 2004

WASHINGTON

They're fragile and frazzled, depressed and self-doubting.

Trapped in their blue bell jar, drowning in unfulfilled dreams, Democrats are the "Desperate Housewives" of politics.

The image of Republicans as the Daddy party and Democrats as the Mommy party came roaring back in 2004, with a chesty President Bush and Dick Cheney prevailing by making the case that they could protect America from vicious terrorists and uxorious gays better than the Brahmin they painted as a sissy. In politics, as on TV, political correctness is out and retro is in. Hillary's bid to be president suddenly appears more wobbly, and the class of new senators looks like a throwback - with half a dozen white male conservative Republicans front and center.

At the Republican governors' conference in New Orleans, Ken Mehlman, the Bush campaign manager, answered the question, Who's your daddy party? "If you drive a Volvo and you do yoga, you are pretty much a Democrat," he said. "If you drive a Lincoln or a BMW and you own a gun, you're voting for George Bush."

Of course, W. was swaddled by three strong women - Laura Bush, Karen Hughes and Condi Rice - who cleaned up after his political messes.

Yet Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney boldly projected the image of confident - if overbearing - husbands who would guard the family home from intruders, while casting John Kerry as the feminized guy who couldn't get his sports references straight, the sort who would sashay about in Yves St. Laurent pajamas, dithering, whither-ing, and fetching bottled water for Teresa while the burglar alarm rang.

Democrats were furious to learn last week that Mr. Kerry had squirreled away $15 million in primary donations that he could have spent turning out the vote in Florida and Ohio. Once more trying to have it both ways, Mr. Kerry wanted a nest egg in case of a recount or legal challenges - not exactly the killer mentality that Democrats need.

Having gutted their opponents, Republicans are pretending to patch up divisions as they ruthlessly consolidate their gains. Democrats are turning the other cheek. At the opening of his presidential library, Bill Clinton assured the audience that Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry were "good people" who "just see the world differently."

The Republican Visigoths are crushing checks and balances and driving Democrats (and moderate Republicans) into subservient, obedient roles, sticking antiabortion provisions into major spending bills. Even the suggestion that Congress has an advise-and-consent role on judges caused the Visigoths to slap Arlen Specter into stocks, until he whimpered he would do their bidding.

The party of moral values deemed that crime pays, shielding Tom DeLay with a rule that someone facing a felony charge can still be a leader.

The ultracreepy Mr. DeLay de-pantsed Democrats on Friday, sneering: "I understand the Democrat Party's adjustment to their national minority status is frustrating, but their crushing defeat ... should show them that the American people are tired of the politics of personal destruction."

Well, yeah. Watching Bush supporters shred a war hero into a war criminal was tiring.

This most secretive administration wants to stop the public from getting any facts that might challenge its story line.

The Department of Homeland Security is making employees and contractors sign pledges barring them from telling the public about sensitive but unclassified information.

Porter Goss has warned C.I.A. employees that they should support the administration and "scrupulously honor our secrecy oath" by letting only the agency's public affairs office and Congressional relations branch talk to the media and Congress.

Senate Republicans have voted to allow Bill Frist, the majority leader, to fill vacancies on powerful committees, rather than abiding by the seniority system - a sword over moderates and mavericks.

The White House says it wants greater harmony, but it's acting like the thought police. Having run into resistance in their bid for global domination, the president and vice president are going for federal domination, pushing out anyone with independent judgment who puts democracy above ideology.

It's a paradoxical game plan: imposing democracy abroad while impeding it here.