Wednesday, November 03, 2004


Well, it looks like Kerry lost. Much to my dismay as well. As we approached election day I saw encouraging trends that suggested a good win for Kerry. Giddy, as I am wont to get before the election, I proceeded to suggest a 52% win in the popular vote for Kerry. Keep in mind, this is from someone who doesn't even like the guy, but I felt he was less harmful to have in office than Bush. Yep, I have a little egg on my face this morning (and, unlike most politicians, I can admit that), but I am also not surprised. Here's why:

I have said all along that the vast majority of Americans do not vote for President based upon the issues. Rather, they tend to vote based on personality and gut feelings. Let's face it, Kerry is not a likeable fellow. He doesn't come off as warm, fuzzy, and confident, much like Clinton and Reagan did. Of course, Bush doesn't come off that way either, but people can imagine having a beer with him on their front porch and one doesn't imagine Kerry in that way. If I had stuck by my position on this rather than letting myself feel giddy, I wouldn't be wiping the egg off now.

In this scenario, the Democratic Party is to blame for nominating a poor candidate. However, they had help along the way from the Republican Party in making this choice. Let me explain. When the Democrats appeared ready to nominate Dean, Republican surrogates (no doubt instructed by Rove) went on talk shows and in print media to declare that they were foaming at the mouth to face him. This was weeks before Iowa and New Hampshire. When Clark entered the race, again, Republican surrogates announced their pleasure at facing him in the election. In fact, when Edwards looked viable, Republicans declared that they'd love to face HIM in the general election. But, when John Kerry was mentioned, Republicans would only say that he was "a formidable candidate" and a great "debater" plus a "strong closer". Guess what? Democrats listened to this and in it they saw the makings of an "electable" candidate and someone who would win the hearts of middle America (an area that they already conceeded the Republicans knew more about). Rather than nominate a candidate who could be elected, Democrats allowed Republicans to manipulate their primary process to pick the "electable" candidate who was an unlikeably guy named John Kerry.

Despite the gains made in the House and Senate by Republicans (hey, even though the Democrats lost ground, I'm happy to see Daschle go as I never thought much of the man and Democrats will need a stronger leader now that they have a smaller minority and a Republican party that is bound to view this election as a mandate for their views), the fact that it appears as if Bush barely won the popular vote should bring caution about considering this election a mandate. Democrats made that mistake in 1992 and it didn't take the public long to correct them on that point. Also, Democrats still hold a sizeable margin in the Senate which can prevent some of the crazier plans by Republicans (though it could be a viable strategy to let them hang themselves in a noose of their own making). Still, it is clear to me that , if he wins, Bush barely beat an unlikeable candidate that he should have wiped the floor of (just like he should have wiped the floor of Gore in 2000). That indicates to me that Kerry's ideas resonated with a lot of people and that they feel uneasy about Bush's mistakes in his first term.

Republicans in the legislature should look at this with caution, though I doubt that they will. They have some formidable problems to tackle and the legislative branch has been pretty ineffective in dealing with these issues in the last session. Among the problems are: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - both will cost money and lives and Bush has handled them extrordinarily poorly; a rising deficit - Congressional spending is through the roof and they continue to support tax cuts, with more kicking in in 2006 along with the medicare prescription drug program...given that Defense spending and entitlements are off the table, social programs will have to be drastically scaled back; a falling dollar on the currency trading market - this bodes poorly for the US as investors are showing decreasing faith in our economy, one that is growing with few jobs gains - if we lead into a recession we could take the world with us and be in danger of a return to inflationary pressures. If these and other issues are not approached with caution, then the 2006 election season is likely to bode poorly for the GOP. Also, the Republicans should keep in mind that they now have a lame duck president.

Other lessons for the Democrats: Republicans will try to spin these results as, in part, a failure on the Democratic Party to recognize middle American values. That's code for "supporting gay marriage". Frankly, the Democrats shouldn't let themselves be bothered by this as they are on the moral side of this debate. In fact, if the Democrats had had a better candidate, then they still could have won the presidency while the anti-gay marriage amendments to state constitutions continued to pass throughout the country. Republicans used the gay marriage amendment, something I don't think that they seriously supported on a national level, as a get out the vote campaign tool. That should not be equated with costing Democrats the election.

Some Democrats will argue that the motivation by the religious right cost them this election. As above with the Republicans, this is political spin with all of the substance of fog. It is an attempt to place blame on outside forces rather than taking responsibility for their (Democrats) own mistakes. The fact is that social conservatives make up about 30% of the population yet only about 20% of those can be considered safe votes for Republicans. When Clinton ran in 1996 against Dole, one of the things that dismayed Republicans the most was that, despite Clinton's sex scandals, he still garnered some of the social conservative votes (because Dole was not a likeable candidate and Clinton was). Likewise, in this election, many people who voted for Bush were not social conservatives or even conservatives at all. In fact, it is likely that many of them are considered to be generally leaning towards Democrats, but that they found Bush a more attractive candidate. Social conservatives are a strong base, but they don't win elections. And that is another reason that Republicans should be wary of taking these results as a mandate.

I look forward to the 2008 presidential election - no matter who wins - so I can vote for a Democrat I can like: Hillary Clinton.

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