Post-Thomas Politics

NO passion motivates voters more than anger. Anger persuades people to change their votes, even their party affiliation. And anger brings people to the polls who otherwise wouldn't have voted.The biggest question left hanging in the aftermath of the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings is what will happen to all the anger the thunderous confrontation generated. What will its political impact be? George Bush injected the ingredient that caused the explosion - the selection of Clarence Thomas - and then, for the most part, was able to keep himself on the sidelines with a kind of "who me?" reaction to what was going on. Thus the president came out of all the mud-slinging relatively unscathed. Indeed, his political position was enhanced because the Thomas appointment left the Democrats in disarray and won a considerable number of black voters over to his side. There is much irony here. By accusing the hearing of being a lynching party, Judge Thomas, heeding administration advice, was able to make it appear that the all-white panel was picking on him because of his color. The way blacks rallied to his side indicates they found this accusation credible even though Thomas' accuser, Anita Hill, was also black. President Bush and the Republican Party benefit from this diversionary tactic. They're now able and apparently willing to run against what they will call a "Democratic-controlled" Congress which, they will allege, is guilty of a long list of wrongs - including unduly raising their own salaries, getting House officials to fix their parking tickets, bouncing checks in the House bank, and failing to pay House restaurant bills. They won't mention, of course, that a lot of Republican members of Congress are also involved in one or more of these offenses. Actually, the Republicans can benefit from the fallout of the Thomas hearings without saying too much. They can quietly pick up the black support that accrued to them over those stormy few days witnessed by nearly every American. They can sit back and say to the Democrats: "Okay, now we'll just leave you folks to fight among yourselves." Bush's black vote in 1988 was minuscule. It may not be very big in '92 either, but it will be bigger - and that would be a significant increase from a voting group the Democrats have counted on for virtually automatic support since the days of Franklin Roosevelt. Even before the hearings many blacks, certainly those in the middle and higher income brackets, were finding much in the president and his wife that they could like. They applauded his high-level black appointments like Colin Powell and Louis Sullivan. And now there is a new black on the Supreme Court. Feminist groups, meanwhile, are targeting Bush for defeat with more vigor and passion than ever. Their efforts could prove damaging. But these same women's organizations are also dedicating themselves to defeating the 11 Democratic senators who voted to confirm Thomas. And they, additionally, seem bent on punishing Democrats on the panel whom they assert did not give the nominee the hard time he deserved in the questioning process. Theoretically, if all women cast their ballots against Bush, they could defeat him. But women are not one-issue voters. Indeed, it seems from opinion surveys that more women believed Thomas than Hill. What's the probable outcome of all this turmoil - how will it affect the contests next year? The present anger will subside some, but the new alliances and breaches will remain. The political gains made by Bush probably will be enough to assure his reelection, even if the economy stays in recession. But most likely these gains won't be enough to give the president the Republican Congress he so much desires. The Republicans might win back the Senate - but that isn't too likely. For years now voters have seemed to enjoy electing a GOP president and then giving him a Democratic-controlled Congress that can keep him from having his way. This perverse streak among the voters is likely to continue.

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