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Post-Election Preview: More Bitterness and Division Ahead

It now seems clear that no matter who wins next month’s presidential election, Washington, D.C., is headed for another two years of name-calling and bitterness. [IMGCAP(1)]

The elections are not likely to produce a consensus about the direction of the nation or put one party in a position to dictate government policies over the next two years. And the losing party isn’t likely to accept defeat readily.

If Republicans retain the White House, Democrats will complain about GOP attacks (“unfair”) (“smear and fear”) on Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) Vietnam record and patriotism. And they’ll be indignant about alleged Republican efforts to “suppress” Democratic votes.

One Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee e-mail I received the other day began by referring to “stories … about irregularities and allegations of voter suppression,” and then suggested Republican shenanigans intended to help GOP candidates in Wisconsin, Nevada, Oregon and Florida.

Once again, many Democrats are likely to feel that President Bush won because he lied and cheated.

If Kerry wins, Republicans are likely to feel the same way, only more so. They’ll point to phony National Guard papers that attempted to discredit the president and to CBS’ role in the fraud.

And they’ll be angry about the personal attacks on Bush’s and Vice President Cheney’s integrity (by Democrats and by liberal critics such as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and movie-maker Michael Moore), and about Kerry’s and Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards’ references to Mary Cheney’s sexuality.

Republicans will be bitter about questionable Democratic assertions that Bush planned to bring back the draft and was responsible for the shortage of flu vaccine.

If the Republicans retain control of the House of Representatives, as most observers expect, you can expect the DCCC to continue its jihad against Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), just as you can expect DeLay to continue to push the envelope beyond what any normal person would in his efforts to outflank House Democrats.

House and Senate Democrats feel they haven’t been treated fairly by the GOP majorities in each chamber, and that is likely to make them more frustrated and angry if they face another two years in the minority.

In the House, Democrats still are seething over votes kept open until the Republican leadership could figure a way to twist an arm or two to sway a couple of Members. And, of course, the party switch of Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-La.) hardly improved relations between Democrats and Republicans in the people’s chamber.

If Democrats happen to find themselves in the majority in either or both houses of Congress, they likely will be ready for retribution — not for a truce with the opposition.

Would Senate Democrats simply forget the way Republicans have run the Senate since they retook the majority in 2002? And if they were forced into the minority, would Senate Republicans not try to copy South Dakota Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle’s approach by trying to block Democratic legislative initiatives and judicial nominees?

Don’t expect either presidential hopeful to be able to heal the election’s wounds.

Democrats have contempt for Bush, whom they view as incompetent and religiously motivated. They’ll argue that he’s already had a chance to bring the country together after Sept. 11, 2001, and they won’t give him a second chance.

And since Bush would become a lame-duck the very day he is re-elected, Democrats on the Hill would begin their maneuvering for 2006 and 2008 on Nov. 3. With the 2006 midterm election looking like a disaster waiting to happen for Republicans, Bush couldn’t count on any cooperation from his opponents.

Republicans, on the other hand, aren’t ever going to see an anti-Vietnam, pro-abortion rights Massachusetts liberal as a uniter. Culturally, he is light years from the GOP’s position. If Kerry wins, you can bet Hollywood would celebrate. The sight of Moore and his celebrity buddies cheering Kerry on would be enough to guarantee Republican opposition.

Unfortunately, there are no sure-fire ways to improve the tenor and tone in and around Washington after November’s elections. Sure, it couldn’t hurt if DeLay returned to the exterminating business and Rush Limbaugh found another line of work, or if Krugman and Moore would just shut up.

But the country is so divided culturally and on partisan terms that only a dramatic event could bring us together again. And even that unity would start to splinter as soon as we all realized that another election is approaching.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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