Howard Dean: The Bet's Off on Incumbency

Liberal propagandists are very good at changing the subject, their task made all the more easy thanks to their firm grasp on both the channel and volume controls of the mainstream media remote control device.

Take, for very good example, the current election cycle.

Democrats are in trouble. Big trouble. We know that. They know that.

But it is also very handy to provide excuses, excuses that will disguise the real reason for rising voter discontent.

So the story becomes not that the public is outraged with Democrats or liberals or those who rammed the stimulus or the health care/student loan nationalization bill through the Congress. It becomes that the public is dissatisfied with incumbents.

Now, that might explain Jon Corzine's loss in New Jersey, but it does not explain earth-shaking Democratic setbacks in Virginia and Massachusetts. In fact, incumbent Corzine scored a higher percentage than failed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds in Virginia.

Yet the meme continues. It's not Democrats who are in trouble. It's incumbents.

As a Gallup poll recently reported, "A record-low percentage of U.S. voters -- 28% -- say most members of Congress deserve to be re-elected. The previous low was 29% in October 1992. ... Additionally, 65% of registered voters -- the highest in Gallup history, and by far the highest in any recent midterm year -- now say most members of Congress do not deserve re-election."

Yup, it's incumbents. That's the problem. But no, it's not -- and even folks who say that they believe that really don't.

Case in point:

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean and former Bush administration guru Karl Rove have recently taken an act out on the road, debating and joshing each other at stops along the college campus route, as did G. Gordon Liddy and Timothy Leary years ago.

The results have been illuminating, but never more so than in Albany, New York on April 8, when Dean, while conceding that Democrats would indeed lose seats in the fall, went on to alibi that the problem was incumbency rather than ideology.

Some further background. For his part, Rove has recently noted that the sample congressional generic polling now favors the GOP at a much higher rate than in did in the watershed year of 1994. The GOP is now ahead by three percent. In April 1994 it still lagged behind Democrats.

And the congressional anti-incumbency of April 2010 actually breaks down rather interestingly. Democrats, oddly enough, are not all that anti-incumbent. In fact, they're not anti-incumbent at all. They favor incumbents by a 46%-41% margin. And again, not surprisingly, Republicans now really loathe incumbents. They want them out by an 83%-13% avalanche. But the real number of interest -- as always -- involves independents. They align themselves with Republican thinking, hankering to throw the rascals out by a huge 72%-25% factor. Look for them to be nearly as selective as Republicans in regard to which incumbents they choose to toss into the ash heap of history.

Now, back to Mr. Rove and Governor Dean.

Rove is no Pollyanna on matters electoral. He studiously refuses yet to predict a GOP majority in either house in 2011. The highest he is willing to go in the Senate at this point in time is 49 Republican seats, with, perhaps, a majority if the party wins two out of four seats in Washington (Murray), California (Boxer), Wisconsin (Feingold), and New York (Gillibrand). He predicts, again at this point in time, only a thirty-five-seat pick-up in the House, a figure insufficient to separate septuagenarian Nancy Pelosi from her speaker's gavel.

Yet onstage at Albany, listening to Howard Dean's incumbency shtick, Rove finally had enough.

Before an audience of 2,500, he called Dean out on his assertion regarding congressional incumbency, daring him to put his money where his mouth is and challenging him to a $1,000 bet (with the proceeds to go to a University at Albany scholarship fund) that there would be three times as many Democratic incumbents defeated as current GOP officeholders.

Dean looked ill. His smile broadened artificially. His brow furrowed genuinely.

He wouldn't bite.

A frustrated but still confident Rove raised the ante.

Make it four -- four times as many, he challenged.

Still no response beyond Dean's pasted-on grin and a waggle of his eyebrows meant to convey something or other.

"I know you're a cheapskate, Howard," Rove goaded the former Vermont governor.

"Democrats are always much more careful about their money," Dean responded, merely providing Rove an opportunity to skewer him and his co-religionists.

"It's other people's money they're free with," said Rove.

Dean kept his silence because there is other people's money, and there is your money -- and then there are other people's incumbents, and your incumbents.

David Pietrusza is author of a forthcoming book on the 1948 election and of 1920: The Year of the Six Presidents.