The Image Gap
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 12/17/04
The people of America have spoken- and in a de facto landslide. President Bush seems to have been re-elected, winning Florida comfortably, and Ohio, as well. Democrats are pondering why? Putting aside the fact that polls now seem absolutely meaningless, and more people in this country want Bush, Democrats must recognize that more people than not care about distraction issues like Partial Birth Abortion- valuing the ‘lives’ of perhaps a few dozen fetuses over the next few years and not the probable thousands of already living military servicemen. Why? More people care about working at and buying from Wal-Mart than retaining good jobs in this nation- even in Ohio where 250,000 people have been screwed. More people are willing to cede their civil liberties to blatantly unconstitutional laws like the Patriot Act. Why?
Two reasons jump out- the first is that, yet again, Democrats have failed to frame issues in terms of ethics- i.e.- the vaunted ‘morals’ that exit polls indicate Americans deem more important than a needless war, 3 years of economic disarray, and increasing corporatization. Democrats just never seem to be able to grasp that voters do not vote their heads, but their hearts. This first reason is the lesser one- Bush, for whatever reasons, seems to energize simpleminded folk, who identify with him. John Kerry is a mummy, who could never break down arguments into the pabulum needed.
Yet, Kerry is only the latest in a 40 year string of bad and weak Democratic candidates for President. Since LBJ’s 1964 landslide the Democrats have only had one strong candidate- Bill Clinton, so oleaginous he may as well have been a Republican. Hubert Humphrey was larded down by LBJ, Robert Kennedy’s murder, and the abandonment of liberals to Eugene McCarthy. Richard Nixon was already a presidential election loser, but Humphrey could never clearly state what he was for- an augur of things to come.
In 1972 George McGovern, a decorated War hero- ala Kerry- was decimated by Nixon, but more so by George Wallace’s defection from the party. Nixon was very beatable, paranoid, and had betrayed his promise to get out of Vietnam. Yet, McGovern was wiped out. Four years later the wooden and passionless Jimmy Carter barely eked out victory over the man who shamelessly pardoned Nixon’s crimes. Gerald Ford, a decent but overwhelmed man, constantly fudged speeches, showed no conviction in running the nation, yet Carter could barely distance himself from the eight year Republican disaster. Four years later he lost to Ronald Reagan, the man who solidified the style over substance paradigm that has dominated the last quarter century. Despite his personal travails Ted Kennedy may have been a better match against Reagan.
In 1984, with the superficial success of his economic policies, the Democrats offered up Carter’s Vice President Walter Mondale as the lamb- a man who won on the ‘I’ve been here so long I deserve the nomination’ trope. Although he may not have won Colorado’s Senator Gary Hart would have done far better nationally than Mondale- who kyboshed himself with the token nomination of callow congressman Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman VP nominee. He did worse than McGovern. In 1988, Hart immolated himself with a sex scandal and the two top Democratic nominees were the wooden and passionless Senator Al Gore, and the even less compelling Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis. I recently watched one of the debates from 1988 on C-Span and was amazed at how low key both Bush, Sr. and Dukakis were. Yet, the utter lack of passion was palpable on Dukakis’s part. If a man is not gonna fight for himself, nor get outraged if his wife is raped (as a result of the infamous question from Bernard Shaw), how can he lead?
In 1992 and 1996 came the anomalous Clinton. But, Clinton was a one man phenomenon, not representative of the Democratic Party. Perhaps only Reagan in 1984 could have defeated Clinton head-to-head. By 2000 the Democrats seemed to believe that the tide had turned. The Republicans nominated a weak candidate in Bush, spurning a far superior candidate in Senator John McCain. Democrats decided to counter with one-downsmanship by spurning Senator Bill Bradley for the morose Vice President Al Gore. While Gore won the popular vote nationally, and in Florida, the Democrats folded their sails.
Yet, with four years of terrible economics, 9/11’s horror, a needless war in Iraq founded on lies, what did the Democrats do? They nominated John Kerry over eventual VP nominee John Edwards- an attractive young Senator, General Wesley Clark- whose reputation was burnished from the 1990s Balkans Wars, and passionate liberal Howard Dean. Kerry, by contrast, was as wooden as Al Gore- less condescending, but even more abstruse. Democrats have to realize that America does not care any longer for substance! Let me repeat that, Democrats: AMERICA DOES NOT CARE FOR SUBSTANCE!
That said, as someone who voted for Ralph Nader a third straight time, the Democrats really did not offer great difference. Yet, again, they were Republicans Lite. Kerry had no plan for Iraqi egress, no coherent health plan, and no fundamental plan to address corporatization, outsourcing, and reversing the decades-long assault against the working class. Democrats have been grinning as a replay of the Gilded Age has seeped in.
Yet, how could I legitimately vote for such a candidate or party? Democrats lack not only passion, but ideals. They stand not FOR things but AGAINST minor points Republicans are for. In order to reverse these things, and win back my vote, they need to see this election as a liberating force. Do not ape Republicans, frame issues in basic fairness/ethics terms and they can win. Social issues are on the Democratic side and in polls, but are not strong enough to trump other issues that crop up. Gay marriage and abortion are supported more and more each election but Democrats do not reap the rewards. This loss means the Republicans bear full responsibility for the Supreme Court, the economy, terrorism, and the war. My sense is that this is about 1965 or 1966 in Vietnam terms related to Iraq. That bodes well for the Democrats. Second terms tend to be disasters for Presidents. Nixon gave the nation Watergate, Reagan Iran-Contra and the 1987 Stock Market crash. Bush has shown no ability to make good decisions, no ability to compromise, and now needs not. Even his chief Democratic opponent- Senator Tom Daschle- lost his South Dakota seat. Democrats should just stay quiet and let Bush self-destruct.
If Iraq does turn into Vietnam 2- with the body count going too high to hide any longer, the Democrats have to do a Pontius Pilate and ask the American people who prefer condemning abortion and gay marriage, ‘Isn’t this what you wanted?’ The Vietnam War caused the Democratic Party to lose its soul, and the Iraq war is a chance for it to reclaim it and the heart of the American people. If they don’t care to do so I state that I, and many others, will let them twist in the wind, as they’ve done to us.
As for the future? In 2008 the Democrats must avoid the Hillary seduction, look to a Clark and Dean axis (poor John Edwards is probably too tarred by Kerry), and perhaps turn to the man they spurned in 2000- Bill Bradley. Even though it may be too early, and 2012 might be the year for him, Senator-Elect Barack Obama is the future of the party. If Bush’s second term is as bad as Reagan’s and Nixon’s Obama might be a legitimate contender in four years. Until then, Democrats should just sit back, and when more pink slips and body bags seep into the psyche, remind voters that this is what they chose. They must acknowledge that this is their 1964, act accordingly, but avoid their own Nixon.
Image matters- the Democrats need one.
[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on the 11/04 Hackwriters website.]
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