Could it be the stock market rallied a month before the elections on the premise the Democrats would add to their razor-thin U.S. Senate margin and even reclaim control in the House of Representatives? Could it be the stock rally fizzled because Republicans, instead, gained the upper hand?
The GOP, of course, is the party that's supposed to be better for stocks and business. But Republicans are also known for cutting taxes, thereby helping to create big federal budget deficits. Deficits drive interest rates up, higher interest drives inflation up and inflation is the sworn enemy of the stock market.
Not long ago, we knew all that. We had high productivity, budget surpluses, low unemployment and a booming stock market. I worried then, back in the good old days of 1998, that "somehow we forget the exact juxtaposition of all the magical ingredients that went into the greatest economic and stock-market boom of our lifetime. The scary part is, nobody will be quite sure how it happened, and nobody will remember how to get us back to this golden era."
We've already forgotten. The Republican economic brain trust (I use the term loosely) doesn't seem too worried about looming deficits. It's ironic that budget deficits undid Dad ("Read my lips: No new taxes") when he raised taxes to reduce the deficit, and that deficits could scuttle George W.'s presidency if he lets them get out of hand again. The stock market is clearly worried it's already beginning to happen and could lead to lots of other bad things happening. That's why Mr. Bush's re-election in 2004 is no slam dunk.
Democrats have their own problems. In the last two years, they've pulled off quite a double play. They lost the 2000 election, when they were the incumbent party and the economy was booming, and lost in 2002 as the challenger, when the economy was in the pits and people had lost a big chunk of their savings in the stock market.
They, too, forgot "what brung `em to the party": It's the economy, stupid. But, as a former Clinton consultant told The New York Times, none of the midterm races "had anything to do with Bill Clinton. What it did have to do with was Bill Clinton's ideas, tactics and techniques that were forgotten by Democrats; that you have to campaign with ideas, you have to stand for something."
Right now, nobody knows what Democrats stand for. That's a big reason party leaders weren't able to rouse their faithful. My old boss, and Ad Age's former Washington editor, Stan Cohen, is appalled by the low turnout. Stan believes "we need a truly powerful information campaign to remind the public of its obligation to vote. It should stress that a citizen who is AWOL on Election Day is like a sentry asleep at his post."
What Stan has in mind is for the Advertising Council to announce, in advance of the next election, that it is providing every polling place with a bumper sticker to be distributed to voters as they leave the booth. The sticker should have a flag and say, "I did my duty. I voted."