W is like Bill Clinton in many political, though not personal, ways. The Republican base decided to overlook Bush’s flaws, which were obvious long before 2000, because they thought he was the only halfway-conservative candidate who could get elected. The Democrats’ left wing made a similar bargain WRT Clinton, even though he was clearly unprincipled and, as President, cut deals with Republicans, because they knew that their favorite lefty candidates didn’t stand a chance in any general election.
In both cases the parties’ committed members did the best they could, choosing electability over principle and hoping that things would work out well enough down the road that they would be able to hold their majorities.
But things didn’t work out, the electable compromise-candidates damaged their own parties, and the party faithful later paid (and are paying) the price. The Democrats paid by losing in 2000 and 2004, and it looks like the Republicans are going to pay by losing in 2008. I don’t see how it could have worked out much differently this year unless Republican voters had gone with a more principled libertarian or conservative candidate in 2000, in which case Gore might have won and all kinds of events might have worked out differently.
I think W has been a mediocre President on domestic issues, with great strokes like the 2003 tax cuts balanced by colossal bad judgment in encouraging reckless spending and terrible legislation like McCain-Feingold. But in foreign affairs he redeemed himself (and here I am talking about the W of 2001-2006, not today’s impotent lame duck) by taking the nation to war after 9/11 rather than appointing study commissions.
So we may get a Democratic President to follow a Republican one — rather than, perhaps, the other way around if Gore had been elected in 2000. I think we’re probably better off to have had a Republican first in the sequence but who knows. (And for all I know, if W hadn’t been elected in 2000 we’d now be at the end of the second Gore administration. But I doubt it.)
Both Parties seem to be adrift, the Democrats willfully so and the Republicans with bewilderment. Neither Party has been able recently to get an ideologue elected President, which makes sense given the country’s finely balanced political divisions. This year the Democratic candidate will be a socialist in all but name, while the Republican will be a relatively unideological — and, to the Party base, unprincipled — political pragmatist. It seems to me that the pragmatic/unprincipled Republican presidential candidates fit current trends better than the leftist Democrats do, yet the Democrats, who are, somewhat unfairly to the Republicans, not seen as incumbents despite their control of the Congress, are favored to win. Interesting times.