Eating crow and others hazards of punditry

November 16, 1994|By Mona Charen

Unfortunately for pundits like me, there is no such thing as quality control. We predict things with the most serene condidence and, when proven dead wrong, sail on to the next issue, unchastened and unapologetic.

Well, I would like to take a turn eating humble pie about my wrong predictions for this past election. I wrote, nine days before the election, that "the passionate conservatives -- (Rick) Santorum, Jeb Bush, John Kyl and many others will not suffer [Mitt] Romney's fate. Oliver North will win by a comfortable margin -- the quaking of liberal Republicans notwithstanding."

Oops. Oliver North was defeated. As was Jeb Bush. The North loss, in retrospect, is understandable. His own people cite the Nancy Reagan attack as the straw that broke the camel's back. After her remarks, Oliver North's poll numbers began to deflate.

The Virginia race suffered almost from the start from an excess of personality. Unlike so many of the races in the rest of the country, Virginia's Senate contest was not about the size or scope of the federal government, it wasn't about values, and it wasn't about taxes. It was about which candidate was the less contemptible reprobate. With the late hits Mr. North suffered at the hands of Republicans, it became about him. And that sank him.

The Jeb Bush loss in Florida is harder to understand. He is a wonderful campaigner with an unblemished personal profile who is unafraid of taking brave stands. When he was asked what his election would do for racial minorities (among whom we would have to count his own children, who are half-Hispanic), he said "probably nothing," meaning that the government would step aside and let people do things for themselves. Still, it was the kind of thing one just didn't say in politics until 1994.

In light of the tide that swept conservatives into office throughout the country, the Florida race cries out for a post-mortem. Was it Jeb Bush's endorsement of school choice, even including private schools, that spooked voters? Or was it the unfortunate spot featuring a grieving woman who blamed Gov. Lawton Chiles for the fact that her son's killer remained well-fed on death row?

Democrats cry foul when Republicans use their softness on crime against them. But it is a fair political issue. If, because his conscience forbids it, Gov. Mario Cuomo, for example, declines to sign any death warrant (as he did), the voters of New York are within their rights to say, "You are entitled to your conscience. But you are not entitled to the governorship of New York in perpetuity."

On the other hand, voters know that the court system is obese and ungainly. They understand that murderers are not executed until every conceivable appeal has been lodged, docketed, heard and denied. It may be that in Florida, they concluded that Lawton Chiles was not directly to blame for that particular mother's anguish, and they sent a message to Jeb Bush saying, "Don't play upon our emotions that way." It bears examination.

Enough humble pie. I was right about the drift of the country and right that the voters would "deliver a much-needed correction to the ruling Democratic elites."

Now the question is: Will Republicans have the courage to be bold? The country is probably way ahead of the politicians right now. The voters sent an arrow right to the heart of the sclerotic state built up by Democrats for 40 years. Thorough reform is possible today in ways that were utterly unthinkable one week ago. Be brave, Republicans. Do we really need a federal Department of Education? It was Jimmy Carter's gift to the teachers unions. Abolish it, and give the money back to the states.

This transition should simultaneously fulfill the people's wishes and educate them about the leviathan their taxes have been supporting. Expose the $15 billion job training fraud, the $6 billion export-import bank and the rest. And don't be afraid of Social Security or Medicare. If properly approached, even beneficiaries of those programs are prepared to take less. Everything depends upon Republican leadership. It is a golden moment.

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.

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