And You Say We Shouldn’t Worry ‘Bout Bin Laden — Have You Forgotten?
There’s some head-spinning intellectual dishonesty at work in the first two major-media columns that argue, counterintuitively, that Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter’s switch to the Democrats is good for Republicans. First, Bill Kristol:
On May 24, 2001, I wrote an op-ed for The Post in the wake of Vermont Sen. James Jeffords’s party switch. I argued that the switch, which cost Republicans control of the Senate, could well turn out to be good for President Bush. Not entirely for the reasons I speculated on in the op-ed, I turned out to be right. Bush was still able to get enough cooperation to govern over the next year and a half, and he was also able to run successfully against the Democratic Senate in the fall of 2002.
Many pundits today will say that this a wakeup call, a time for the Republican Party to moderate its views in order to attract more to its ranks. We didn’t subscribe to that strategy back in 2001. Instead, when the world changed after the Sept. 11 attacks, a newly focused Republican agenda produced a new Senate majority in November 2002. And the Jeffords switch became completely irrelevant.
Bonjean at least acknowledges that 9/11 happened — Kristol’s “not entirely for the reasons I speculated” line is almost macabre. But come on, both of these guys lived through the politics of 2001 and 2002. The Republicans gained three Senate seats in 2002: Minnesota, Georgia, and Missouri (while losing one in Arkansas). All of those campaigns were driven by the debate over creating a Department of Homeland Security, by the debate over invading Iraq, and by the popularity of President Bush. Without those events it’s entirely possible that the Democrats would have held those seats or even picked up New Hampshire.
It’s just nonsensical to pretend that the 2002 victories happened in a vacuum and that the Bush administration would have found its footing to attack Democrats without 9/11. It’s also a damaging fantasy. One of the theses of Hugh Hewitt’s ill-fated book “Painting the Map Red” was that the GOP won seats in 2002 (and 2004) because voters were angry about Democratic filibusters of judges. Obviously that was just a small fraction of the truth.