Bring Me The Head Of Terry McAuliffe!

The Republicans got it all on Tuesday night. They got the House. They got the Senate. They got at least 20 of the 36 governorships at stake. And they got a massive boost of political momentum -- just as those increasingly unreliable polls were hinting at a leak in the president's high-flying popularity balloon. The Democrats, on the other hand, got very little, other than a kick in the butt, some good experience at giving concession speeches, and, one hopes, a wake-up call.

Heading into Election Day, the party leadership had been positively giddy. Democratic National Committee Chair Terry McAuliffe even went so far as to guarantee a win in the Florida governor's race, crowing, "Jeb Bush is gone." He also gladly accepted Tim Russert's skeptical challenge to put his money where his mouth was by agreeing to donate $2,000 to charity if his prediction of surefire Senate wins for Walter Mondale and Jean Carnahan didn't pan out. Get out the checkbook, Terry. And while you've got that pen in your hand, why not go ahead and start jotting down your letter of resignation?

Even as the disastrous results rolled in, McAuliffe refused to admit the obvious. "I think it's going to be a very good night for the Democrats," he told Larry King, moments after CNN had called yet another Senate win for the GOP. A good night perhaps for those Democrats with no television. But no matter. "I think it's going to show that we can win north, south, east and west," McAuliffe Mcspun.

By Wednesday morning, the parade of ashen-faced Democrats appearing on the morning shows resembled the cast of "Night of the Living Dead." As they tried to piece together the causes of the previous night's train wreck, they looked everywhere for clues except the one place that held all the answers: the mirror.

McAuliffe attributed the shellacking to "the president out there actively campaigning," as if no president had ever thought of hitting the campaign trail before. House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt pointed his shaky finger at an enduring post-9/11 bounce: "9/11 was the big factor in this election," he said. Tom "Tweedle-Dum" Daschle, the South Dakota Spitfire, agreed: "You had a president who talked a lot about 9/11." I hate to break it to you, boys, but there's going to be a Sept. 11 before the first Tuesday in November for a long time to come. That excuse has a shelf life.

Memo to Tom, Dick and Terry: The problem wasn't that the president was out there delivering his message. The problem was that you failed to have anyone out there delivering any kind of galvanizing, opposing message.

And it's not as if there weren't plenty of urgent issues to choose from: the limping economy, the soaring deficit, corporate corruption, an energy plan crafted by the oil industry, the undermining of virtually every regulatory agency, the insanity of Bush's tax cuts. Well, I guess that last one would have been a bit tricky since 12 Democratic Senators sided with Bush on it, including those two about-to-be-former Senators Jean Carnahan and Max Cleland, both of whom voted yes on the Iraq resolution. Pandering to the President didn't seem to help them much.

To update Clauswitz, politics is war by other means. Civil war. The Republicans understand that. And they understand the value of denying weapons of mass distraction to your enemy. A case in point is the administration's masterful handling of the 250 or so pounds of political baggage known as Harvey Pitt. Dark wizard Karl Rove staved off the embattled Securities and Exchange Commission chairman's inevitable stroll to the guillotine until the embarrassing drop of the blade could no longer be used against Republicans -- right about cocktail hour on Election Day. It was crude, cold-blooded, and brilliant. Once Pitt became a threat to their security, they simply exchanged him.

The Democrats' historic defeat demands a bloodletting as ruthless as Pitt's meticulously timed ouster. That they lay down on all the key issues is now a threat to all our security. The General Custer who led his party into this rout should be busted down to buck private for his dismal leadership -- or, more accurately, the lack thereof.

McAuliffe should have resigned the instant the last vote of Jeb's landslide victory was counted in Florida. On Black Wednesday, Gephardt announced that he would not be seeking reelection to his so-called leadership post. If he and Daschle have even an ounce of self-awareness, they will spare us the sorry spectacle of their expected runs for the White House. As Rep. Harold Ford of Tennessee said: "It's obvious that we need some fresh faces and, in some cases, fresh ideas."

Twelve-step programs teach us that recovery can only begin after you've bottomed out. If the Democrats are going to bounce back in 2004, they need to stop living in denial and start accepting responsibility for their spectacular crash-and-burn. Replacing Terry McAuliffe is a good first step, especially now that the pool of available Democrats with time on their hands just got so much bigger.

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