Continuing our survey of political lessons to be learned from Tuesday's elections for mayor and governor in some major U.S. states and cities, we come across disquieting trends and new uncertainties for Democrats and Republicans alike.
Lesson four: The Democrats are still divided. And when they are divided, they lose.
The overwhelming national conservative and Republican majorities are a thing of the past. California appears to have dropped out of the GOP camp in U.S. Senate and presidential elections for the foreseeable future. And nationally, the Democrats have the makings of a potentially overwhelming national majority. But this means nothing if they cannot exercise political self-control and discipline and unite behind their strongest candidates.
A year ago, then-Vice President Al Gore and Green candidate Ralph Nader together polled three million more votes than Republican candidate George Bush. But it was Bush who became president of the United States. For all the vagaries of that weird, unprecedented, "X-Files" election, it was the two and half million votes Nader siphoned off from Gore that made all the difference. Bush would not have had a hope had Nader not run and instead cut a deal with Gore.
On Tuesday, the same thing happened in New York, billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg won election as mayor. It was the first time in a very long time that the city has had back-to-back Republicans in Gracie Mansion. He won by a whisker on the coattails of outgoing Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the hero of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, who enthusiastically endorsed him. But all that would have gone for nothing had not very significant numbers of Black and Puerto Rican Democrats deserted their party's candidate Mark Green after he had defeated their man Freddy Ferrer in a fiercely fought primary contest.
Green's defeat, following exactly a year after Gore's, serves notice to the Democrats that the comfortable "New" Democrats unity they enjoyed through the Bill Clinton era in the 1990s is over.
More radical elements in the party are not going to sit back any more on the comfortable assumption that a rising tide of economic prosperity will continue to lift all their boats. That argument worked for eight years for Clinton. But it did not work for Gore even in the far more comfortable times of a year ago against the environmental enthusiasts who flocked to Nader.
Now, the latest Golden Age boom era of the American economy is finally over. The 700,000 job losses recorded for October was the worst such figure in 20 years and worse may well soon follow. That means the poor and economically disadvantaged ethnic groups such as working class and inner city African and Hispanic Americans are likely to lose their old patience for "broad tent" New Democrats like Clinton, Gore, Green and Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. Instead, they are likely to demand more clout and more muscular radical policies.
Green complacently assumed those voters would flock back to him rather than let a big bad Republican billionaire like Bloomberg take the city. It was one of the worst of his many miscalculations. Instead, the city's black and Hispanic voters who had been mobilized by the Rev. Al Sharpton, and Bronx borough Democratic boss Roberto Ramirez behind Ferrer flexed their political muscles and made their point well. Future Democratic Party hopefuls will have to take them a lot more seriously than Green did.
Lesson five: Bad news for Republicans too. You can't run against big government and high taxes any more.
They sure did try. Gubernatorial hopefuls Mark Earley in Virginia and Bret Schundler in New Jersey both trotted out the classic Barry Goldwater-Ronald Reagan handbook of the past 30 years or more and promised to cut taxes or keep taxes down. They both lost big.
Mark Warner, the Democrat who turned back time to trounce Earley in Virginia had a fine old time blasting outgoing Republican Gov. Jim Gilmore for ruining the state's finances by abolishing the car tax and putting nothing in its place. That tactic gave him big dividends in the middle class high-tech corridor of Northern Virginia stretching along Route 66 due west of Washington.
It also served notice to President Bush that by the time the congressional midterm elections roll around a year from now, if the recession is still biting, voters will probably not forgive him his sweeping $1.35 trillion tax cut that was skewed mainly towards the rich.
In New Jersey, GOP hopeful Schundler ran on the "keep taxes low" mantra as well. It worked like a charm eight years ago for twice elected Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, who now heads the Environmental Protection Agency in the Bush administration. But she was running against old Jim Florio, once memorably assailed in a Star Ledger editorial as "the worst governor since Pontius Pilate." Schundler found the same kind of campaign did not make a dent on former Woodbridge Mayor Jim McGreevey who hammered him to a pulp.
These lessons should be disquieting for old pros of both major parties. They suggest that, with the nation moving deeper into recession and grave security uncertainties still swirling around the war against terrorism, the comfortable old policies and arguments of the past generation are becoming irrelevant on both sides. It is far too soon to identify what the new political dynamics will be on any side. It is not too soon to recognize that the old ones have had their day.
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