The Silent Liberals

November 06, 1994|By GEORGE F. WILL

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- Late tomorrow night the candidates will subside, collapsing like boned fish. Tuesday morning voters can relish their right to make half the candidates miserable. By early Tuesday evening voters will cluster around televisions to learn the names of the new incumbents they shall start detesting. Even before the first votes are malevolently cast, two conclusions are clear.

Conservatism now frames the nation's political conversation. And although the campaign season's tone was gratingly negative, it would have been worse if Republicans had not made the tactical mistake of being more positive than was prudent.

Even so, by the final weekend, Democrats were reduced to taking their pleasure from the probability that Mario Cuomo and Ted Kennedy probably would survive. Those two are hardly JTC faces of the future for an ascending party.

Any late shift toward the Democrats is explained by the fact that many Democratic candidates have shifted to the right. In January their party's monomania was health care. By autumn Democrats campaigned for bigger prisons and smaller welfare rolls.

There is no liberal agenda that liberals talk about during a political season. Their real agenda is increased regulation of society, especially the imposition of racial quotas. A coming flurry of court cases about ''race-conscious'' policies may make the Balkanization of America by the Clinton administration's advocacy of racial quotas a larger issue in 1996 than crime was in 1994.

The Republicans' tactical mistake was their ''contract'' pledging early congressional votes on, and impliedly for, a conservative agenda of a balanced-budget constitutional amendment, term limits, tax cuts and welfare reform. Because this gave Democrats something other than themselves to talk about, Republicans might have done better by running a content-free campaign.

The contract's balanced-budget provision gave Democrats an opening to campaign, not honestly but vigorously, on the theme that Republicans must either slash Social Security or close Yellowstone National Park. (The president actually said that.) However, Republicans were strategically wise to err on the side of specificity because they are now firmly identified with the dominant political theme of the century's tenth decade -- re-limiting government.

Tuesday's earliest returns may come from Maine, and as Maine goes, so goes . . . not much, which is probably good, given that two years ago Maine was Ross Perot's best state. (He finished second there, edging George Bush by 316 votes.) However, Republican Rep. Olympia Snowe will win the Senate seat being vacated by George Mitchell. And if, as now seems likely, Republicans also win in Minnesota and Oklahoma, they probably will capture all nine open Senate seats, while losing no incumbents.

When evaluating Tuesday's returns from House races, consider the computations by Charles Cook, a noted analyst. In the last Congress, when Republicans were united, Democrats needed 85 percent solidarity to reach a bare 218-vote majority. If Democrats lose 20 seats they will need 92 percent solidarity to reach 218 in the new Congress. If they lose 30 seats, they will need 96 percent.

Elections take the nation's temperature. So do the following three thought experiments.

Suppose, as Pete du Pont playfully suggests, the tax-filing day were changed from April 15 to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. How conservative might the election results then be?

Professor Steven Landsburg of the University of Rochester suggests, also playfully, that federal income-tax rates be determined separately for each congressional district, and that rates rise proportionately when each district's representative votes for a spending bill.

He also imagines giving every voter two votes in each congressional election and two in each Senate election, one for his or her district and state and two more to be cast for -- or, more likely, against -- a representative and senator elsewhere. Imagine empowering people in 49 states to vote against West Virginia's Robert Byrd who, as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has been so larcenous at their expense.

Finally, on Tuesday night watch Mississippi's First District. It has been represented by Democrats since Reconstruction and by Jamie Whitten, who is retiring, since 1941. This is ''Private John Allen's District,'' named for the man who held the seat from 1885 to 1901. A former Confederate private, Allen won it running against a former Confederate general. Allen said he wanted all the former generals to vote for his opponent, and all the former privates to vote for him. Come Tuesday night, we'll see which is the party that Mississippi's First District now considers the privates' party.

9- George F. Will is a syndicated columnist.

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