What's at Stake

What's at Stake

Colby political anaylysts provide perspective on the 2004 presidential election, ranging from foreign policy to the economy to the environment

The Great Divide
L. Sandy Maisel
William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Government

"The reason that I think [this election] is so important is because we are still defining what the first President Bush called the 'New World Order.' And quite frankly the first President Bush did not define it, and Clinton started to define it but did not come to any conclusion. [President] George W. Bush,there is no question about his 'vision thing.' He has a very clear view that in a world where we are the dominating power, we should dominate. And I think that the Democrats have a very clear view that is different, which is that we are more likely to be successful, to maintain our safety, to maintain our prominence, if we do not try to dominate. I think that is the distinction.

#analysts#right#200#On domestic policy, there is a very clear distinction, not so much in economic policies as social policies. There is a divide in this country on social issues not necessarily reflective of partisan ties.

The divide is something like this: President Bush, and particularly more social conservative parts of his coalition to whom he is giving a great deal of attention, believe that we should have a traditional social order and [that] changes from that traditional social order threaten basic American values. I think you see this most prominently today in the discussions about gay marriage; I think you see it also in discussions about abortion, about the role of women generally, of things about Title IX and affirmative action.

Senator Kerry, while no raving liberal on these matters (some of the liberals don't think he goes far enough), has a very different view,that these are things for individuals to define, the government shouldn't be involved.

What is striking about that is that view was a Republican view in the past. The interventionist view, which is what the Bush administration is following, is traditionally a Democratic view. And I think what it reflects is what the specific issues are and the outcome [lawmakers] want to see.

Also, analysis shows there is very little competition in Congressional elections. Look at the House of Representatives; of the 435 seats that are up every two years, in this election it will be very likely that fewer than 40 of those will be hotly contested. . . . And what that means to me is that the real battles then become the primaries in these safe districts, particularly when the seats become open.

And the irrefutable conclusion from looking at this from the last three or four election cycles is that the people who win these primaries tend to be extremists. So that you have very liberal Democrats in some of these districts and very conservative Republicans in others. And what they have to do to stay in office is not lose their extremist base because those people vote in primaries.

So if that's the case you are going to continue to have the case where the Congress is bitterly divided and closely divided and yet they are not talking to each other, and that's a very difficult situation for trying to solve problems.

In the Senate this time, the Republicans hold a one-seat [advantage] and the Democrats need to pick up two seats to be in control. But it is going to be very difficult for them to do that. Five of the Democrats' seats that are up this time are Southern seats. A number of those Southern senators have announced their retirement. It is going to be very difficult for the Democrats simply to hold their base. But even if they don't, what we are finding in the Senate is bitter acrimony, fighting over ideological choices being offered by the president, with the Democrats opposing them and having enough votes to threaten a filibuster.

The other result that you are going to see from this election is a closely divided House probably still controlled by the Republicans, a closely divided Senate probably still controlled by the Republicans. But whoever controls doesn't matter because the other side is going to have enough power to fight any kind of change. A lot of fighting and a lot of acrimony. And I think that is a very difficult situation for any president, a Democrat or a Republican, to work in, and for the country."
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