Saturday, October 21, 2006

What Do the 1974 GOP Midterm Losses Teach Us?

John O'Neill's the author of "Unfit for Command," the 2004 political bestseller attacking John Kerry's fitness to serve as president. He's got an intriguing piece up today on the lessons of the GOP's 1974 midterm debacle over at Human Events Online. O'Neill notes that in 1974 the country saw prosperity and peace, but the media gloom and voter distrust led to some unwanted consequences:

Within a short time, the mainstream media were able to dismember and destroy the Nixon Administration, using as their sword the Watergate affair. In the congressional elections of 1974, Republican candidates were pounded, losing 48 House seats and five Senate seats.

Until the 1990s, the so-called “Watergate Babies” (i.e. left-wing Democrats) ruled Congress. As its first act after the 1974 election, the new Congress cut off all aid to South Vietnam. Within a short period of time, this led to Communist conquest of all of Indochina, the massacre of at least 4 million of our friends in the killing fields of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, and the displacement of millions of “boat people.”

In 1976, the left wing captured the White House with the worst President of modern times—Jimmy Carter. By 1979, the U.S. economy was in shambles with 12% inflation, 11% unemployment, and vast deficits. Our military was reduced to a shadow. With even our embassy officials held hostage in Tehran, the United States became a powerless joke to the world. It may be fairly said that but for Ronald Reagan the days of our democracy might well have been numbered by the consequences of the 1974 election.

It is not clear why the voters of 1974 thought it wise or just to indirectly cause the destruction of millions of allies in Southeast Asia because of the cover-up of a minor burglary at the Watergate. They certainly did not know that by their votes they would punish themselves severely, leaving, by the end of the Carter years, a U.S. economy that was a burned-out hulk and a nation that was humiliated.

I wonder whether history will repeat itself this year. Despite mainstream media distortion, the economy is in its strongest condition since the Reagan years with low unemployment and inflation rates and diminishing fiscal deficits. We have recovered from the implosion of the Clinton Internet bubble and the shock of Sept. 11, 2001. We have crippled al Qaeda, assembled an international coalition to deal with North Korea and made reasonable progress in defeating at least the foreign insurgency in Iraq. We have seen no terrorist attack on our heartland in more than five years.

Despite the second-guessing by Democrats who have no military experience and by a few veterans who question the Iraq policy, an overwhelming majority of active-duty personnel support the Bush policies and the Republican administration. For example, in 2004, an Army Times poll of active-duty military personnel showed less than 15% voting for Kerry and more than 80% voting for Bush. Despite the token military veterans trotted out by the Democratic Party as Trojan horses in Republican areas, it is clear that a large majority of veterans and active-duty personnel reject the “cut-and-run” policies of the fringe element now in control of the Democratic Party.

In the spring of 1975, I watched in horror our refusal to aid our South Vietnamese friends and their collapse. I watched our friends die by the millions in the gulags of Cambodia and Laos and in frenzied attempts to escape on the high seas, and I remembered my friends, who died in Vietnam, and whose sacrifice was so casually discarded by the “Watergate Babies.” I lost faith in the United States for many years.

I wonder now if we are so blind and ignorant of history to actually allow a new crop of “Watergate Babies” to install clearly unfit leaders such as Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.), John Conyers (D.-Mich.), and impeached Alcee Hastings (D.-Fla.) as the guiding force in our nation. Considering that a Democratic win could mean the rise of John Murtha (D.-Pa.) from Abscam to majority leader, and Hastings from impeached federal judge to House Intelligence chairman, it is no exaggeration to say both parties have bad actors. The distinction is that the Democrats promote them and the Republicans fire them.

Finally, I wonder if voters (like those in 1974) are going to actually vote for the betrayal of our Iraqi and Afghan allies and the sacrifices of our troops. I wonder if our Iraq War veterans will watch the mass execution or flight of those who fought with them and believed in us. If so, history teaches us that in the end we will suffer terribly ourselves. This is particularly true here, where we face adversaries who have said they will not stop at the waters’ edge but have already reached across the ocean to destroy our nation’s largest buildings and thousands of our people.
Let me note first that O'Neill's dismissal of Watergate as the "cover up of a minor burglary" is either disingenuous or simply an offensive attempt to minimize President Nixon's venalty and impropriety. Besides, 1974 and 2006 are incomparable in terms of political scandals. Watergate was the grand-daddy of political malfeasance. The scandals of 2006 are numerous and may represent a widespread collapse of poltical integrity across the Washington establishment. Yet, we are not at the level of constitutional crisis that the events of 1974 represented, and so O'Neill ought to be a bit ashamed of his attempted historical whitewash.

He does make a a good case about how four years in the wilderness might have contributed to the election of Ronald Reagan, with his adminstration's record of restoring vitality to Republican ideology in American politics and to America's hegemonic role in the world. While I don't look forward to a congressional government of Nancy Pelosis, John Murtha, and the like,
GOP relegation to the political wasteland might do wonders in revitalizing the party for 2008 and beyond.

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