Saturday, November 13, 2004


OK, we lost, and lost big. Why?

Unlike the Republicans, who have attained in President George W. Bush an uneasy alliance between the business wing (cut taxes on the wealthy and their businesses, kill environmental regulations and OSHA, reduce or eliminate the rights of injured consumers or patients to sue for damages) and the religious right (outlaw stem cell research, abortion and gays, institute Christian prayer in the schools, discourage teaching of evolution, justify preemptive war, the death penalty, and guns) in recent elections the Democratic Party has had no wings, no core beliefs, no unique overriding principles or programs on which members of the Party can agree.

The unfortunate legacy of Bill Clinton and the “New Democrats” has been that the only unifying theme of the party is to elect Democrats. Thus we got John Kerry instead of Howard Dean as our nominee in 2004.

And the killer catch 22 is that without a unifying theme we Democrats have allowed ourselves to be defined by the opposition. Most notoriously, Newt Gingrich realized that by using certain buzzwords during electoral contests the Republicans could coat their Democratic opponents with a broad swath of mud, most of which would stick, all of which would leave the confused Democratic candidate spending most of his or her time on the defensive. Here’s a small sample of Newt’s handiwork from the GOPAC memos that helped wrest power in 1994: "sick, pathetic, liberal, incompetent, tax-spending traitors."

As an example as to how badly Democrats have failed in the psychology sphere, try this test: after each phrase, name the political party which first comes to mind, no matter how wildly inaccurate: “tax and spend” “liberal” “New York” “California” “activist judges” “strident feminists” “homosexual agenda” “anti-religion” “weak on defense” “anti-military” “pro-UN” “weak on national security” and “flip-flopper.” Now name the party personified by these: “strong military” “core values” “pro life” “true believers” “strong defense” “pro family” “family values” “Colorado” “Alabama” “the Stars and Stripes.”

By this time, the astute reader will realize that we have not been having elections so much as Rorschach tests where one side gets to pick the attributes for both itself and its opponent. No wonder we can’t win an election.

Not only have we allowed Republicans to label us, we have failed to give voters a reason to elect us. How much time did John Kerry spend- in the year he campaigned- laying out a vision for where he wanted to take America in 2005 and beyond? Answer: none. I was a Kerry voter who could not name a single thing- not one- that Kerry would do during his first six months- or four years- in office, other than not being George W. Bush


At the very least, the party should stand for a rationale, coherent, and politically smart national defense policy which focuses on the real threat to our security- nuclear proliferation, and which eschews high tech toys in favor of funding for soldiers, sailors, and Marines, a foreign policy in which human rights plays an essential part, public financing of campaigns and a ban on private donations to candidates, competence in the judiciary, a domestic policy which promotes fiscal responsibility, job creation, and concern for the public health, and fairness and simplicity in the tax laws.

In other words, we lost everything when we sacrificed our beliefs and nominated a safe centrist (Bush's "liberal" epithet notwithstanding). We ought to at least stand up for what we are and what we want our country to be.


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