The big loser for the Democrats in Election 2000 was, of course, Al Gore. He was given the coattails of a (perceived) economic miracle to run on; the biggest financial war chest in the party's history to run with; a militantly rejuvenated party base to run behind; and if that wasn't enough, a perceived light-weight opponent to run against. And still he blew it. He not only lost, he lost and lost, and kept on losing until even his supporters tired of him. No one will ever want to hear the word "chad," a word forever linked to Gore, again. His political days are over.
The big winner for the Democrats was Hillary. Say what you will about her dishonesty, her unethical behavior, and her illegal activities - have I covered the bases? - this woman knows what she wants and is the most disciplined politico on the scene today. She wants to be president but needed a political office (a Senate seat) and a political base (New York). Shamelessly she pronounced her life-long affinity for the Yankees, bought a house in Chappaqua (rumors are already flying that she's getting ready to dump it now), and proclaimed her undying desire to "listen" to her "fellow" New Yorkers.
Hillary's inept opponents spent the campaign carping about carpetbaggers, attacks which registered zero impact since they were about as enlightening as the revelations that her husband was a womanizer. She didn't just win, she demolished Rick Lazio. Mrs. Clinton is now the toast of the liberal elite.
There is something awkward about freshman orientation sessions for new members of Congress. Like a bad high school initiation rite, the bug-eyed young pups are squired about the halls to be shown how the system works. All that's needed is nametags reading, "Hello, I'm ___ and I'm the Senator from ____."
The one person in America who doesn't require this orientation is Hillary Rodham Clinton. But this was her first stop of the 2004 campaign. She arrived not as an excited freshman but as virtual royalty; she came not to meet but to be greeted; she was viewed not as a newcomer but as the reigning frontrunner for president in four years. Underscoring her political power, this most unnewsworthy rite of passage became instant national network news for a fawning media. No one's even bothering to suggest that the New York Senate race was but a cynical exercise in political adventurism.
There is going to be a burning desire by the Clintonistas to recapture the White House in four years and she'd be facing the man The Economist has titled "The Accidental President." It just doesn't get better than this for Mrs. Clinton.
But what of Gore's running mate? In this week's National Review cover story, "Orthodox Democrat: The Fall of Joe Lieberman" Jay Nordlinger pronounces a political death sentence on Lieberman. The thesis is that the veneer has come off: Contrary to the perception of a "conscientious" and "moderate" leader, Lieberman is, and always has been, a highly ambitious and doctrinaire liberal Democrat. The disappointments so many found in his actions during the campaign - backsliding on policy positions, embracing the Hollywood elite, his outreach to Louis Farrakhan, his overheated (and laughable) rhetoric about the "rule of the mob" in Florida - all underscored the modus operandi of a calculating politician, now exposed for all to see.
But I'm not so sure. Yes, Lieberman damaged himself on the campaign trail. But supposedly he also hurt his credibility with his infamous flip-flop during the impeachment trial, first blasting Clinton and then voting to acquit him. Yet it was precisely that virtuoso performance that won him a spot on the presidential ticket as the man who could help cobble together a winning coalition of liberals and moderates. There is no evidence I've seen that he's done irreparable harm to himself with that constituency now. His credibility on the cultural front has been weakened, but Hollywood will give him plenty of opportunities in the next two years to fully regain the high ground, and Lieberman the pol will pounce.
My early bets for 2004: If there is an international crisis, President Bush, like his father, will excel, but unlike his father will mine that success to re-election. If there is a serious economic downturn, the media will impudently blame the Republicans, there will be a clarion call to restore the "Clinton economic boom," and Hillary will ride the wave to victory. Barring severe problems on those two fronts, the degeneration of the popular culture, the issue which has been percolating just under the surface for years, will explode on the national scene. If that happens, don't rule out Joe Lieberman.