I was in my favorite diner, sitting at the counter with a nice strong cup of coffee, when Looie came in and sat down beside me. Looie, as you might remember, is my favorite committeeman, a person with the insight of 50 years in the business of politics.
For the price of some java and a couple of eggs-over-lightly with an order of hash browns well-done, I had the opportunity to get Looie’s take on the election two weeks ago.
Looie was not surprised that Rendell won easily. He had predicted as much after seeing Fisher getting swallowed up by the football crowd on a Sunday at the Vet, where he had to be "rescued" by Sen. Arlen Specter. From Looie’s viewpoint, Fisher — a guy who would look more at home wearing a green eye shade while checking your accounting records — was doomed when he followed the campaign strategy of Bob Casey.
"When you start telling Philadelphians that Rendell did a bad job, you might as well wave a picture of Wilson Goode in front of them," said Looie. "People have short memories, but not that short."
Rendell could wind up on the second spot of the national ticket in two years, according to Looie. "Who’s left after the Dems took the gas pipe?" he proclaims with characteristic bluntness.
I was interested in Looie’s take on the demise of the Democrats this year. "You call it demise, I think they got murdered." Looie disagrees somewhat with the pundits. He thinks that despite 9-11, Bush and the Republicans could have been vulnerable but the Dems lacked that essential part of the male anatomy to pull it off. "Geez, why doesn’t this guy Daschle wear a pink tutu or something?" was the way Looie put it.
The Dems were wishy-washy on all the big issues. Turnout is historically low in off-year elections, so whichever party gets its faithful to turn out wins. Most times it’s the party that’s out of power because its base has the biggest gripes, but not this year.
On going to war with Iraq, the base of the Democratic Party is ready to take to the streets in protest. But what does the party leadership say? They vote for the war resolution while tying our action to United Nations support. If you’re going to be the anti-war party, you have to be dead set against the war under any circumstances. "They should have been screaming from the rafters that this war is all about oil and we’re not going to trade the precious blood of American boys for oil," Looie says.
But wouldn’t this have brought the party back to the bad old days of McGovern? I ask innocently. Looie was getting impatient with me. "This was an off-year election. It’s like trying to win a primary. You gotta get your troops out to vote."
It was the same thing with the economy, according to Looie. The Dems were against the Bush tax cut for the wealthy, but none of them wanted to repeal it for fear that they would be accused of raising taxes. "Look," says Looie, "you can’t beat the Republicans at the no-new-tax pledge." Republicans sound great when they’re cutting your taxes, but not so great when they get around to cutting your services to pay for it. The Dems had to shout from the highest rooftop, "Their tax cut doesn’t get you anything if you ain’t already rich. That’s why we’re going to repeal it and replace it with a reduction in the payroll tax that you’ll see in your wallet," explains Looie. But every time they asked Daschle if he would lead a vote to repeal Bush’s tax, he waffled.
How come the Republicans were able to energize their base, I wanted to know. Looie responds that the older people have one addiction: They vote. They listen to talk shows and Fox News, and if you can find a liberal Democrat in that bunch, I’ll eat my hat. (Note to readers: Looie never wears a hat.) After listening to those shows, it’s like the Notre Dame players hearing Knute Rockne at halftime — they want to run through the door of the locker room to get out on that field and win the game. (Note to readers: Looie is still unaware that Rockne hasn’t coached the Irish in many decades.)
Add to this that the Republicans learned at the feet of Clinton himself. Remember how suddenly Clinton was for a balanced budget, welfare reform and against crime? Well, you can’t find a Republican who isn’t for some kind of prescription drug program and funding education. "The hardcore Dems took a snooze on Election Day and da Grand Old Party caught ’em napping," says Looie.
How do the Dems make a comeback? "If this Iraq thing drags on and they still are no closer to finding Osama bin Laden than Judge Crater, and the economy is still in the dumps," according to Looie, "all bets are off in 2004."
Until then, Looie suggests the Dems get testosterone shots.
Tom Cardella can be heard before and after the Niners-Eagles game Monday on 94-FM WYSP.