These past few weeks have been like looking down the barrel of a gun. As the November election grows closer, my despair grows greater. Every attack ad, campaign speech and popularity poll gnaws at me incessantly. I, like a handful of other Americans, have realized that regardless of who wins this election, the country is entirely screwed.
The donkey sings the blues
Let’s face it: victory and the Democratic Party were not made for each other. From eight years of Nixon to the 1994 Republican sweep of Congress, Democrats have endured defeat after defeat after defeat. Often, they have no one to blame but themselves.
Arguably, Democrats have not had a president they could be proud to call their own since John F. Kennedy took a bullet to the head. Lyndon Johnson won the 1964 election by a landslide, but squandered nearly all of his popularity and support by leading the nation into an unpopular war.
Rather than seize the opportunity to lead the party in a new direction, Democrats instead turned to the No. 2 man in the Johnson administration, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, to be their candidate in 1968. This choice not only failed to win over any Republicans, but it also alienated the left flank of the Democratic Party and Richard Nixon won the election.
This defeat set the tone for elections to come. By 1972, Nixon’s extension of the Vietnam War caused his popularity to dip significantly. Rather than take advantage of this, the Democrats ran George McGovern – an obscure senator who’s guaranteed minimum income plan made him even more unpopular with Middle America than Nixon. The resulting election produced the greatest landslide Republican victory in history.
It wasn’t until 1976 that Democrats were actually able to get a candidate in the White House. The backlash from Watergate and the poor state of the economy gave them an unexpected boost in popularity. In just four short years, however, Democrats were able to alienate themselves from America once again.
Jimmy Carter, while an admirable humanitarian, did not handle the duties of president with any real proficiency and failed to relieve the country of any of the numerous burdens his administration inherited.
Had Carter not been so inept, it is doubtful that the majority of Americans would have turned to a conservative ideologue such as Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s optimism contrasted with Carter’s malaise and working-class Americans voted for him en masse in 1980.
Four years later, Democrats shot themselves in the foot yet again by running Walter Mondale. Just as Humphrey left lingering images of Johnson, Mondale seemed to encapsulate the failures of the Carter administration.
Furthermore, with the economy having recovered, Democrats failed to offer a compelling reason why anyone would want a change in leadership.
The 1988 election proved to be the last stand for the Democratic tactics of old. Rising deficits, angst over Iran-Contra and the ascension of Dan Quayle were all in the Democrats’ favor. Instead of making a winning play, however, they lost mightily by allowing Republicans to dominate the public relations war. Michael Dukakis was made to look like a far-left wuss who was ignorant on military matters and soft on crime. The Dukakis campaign did surprisingly little to convince Americans otherwise.
This pattern might have gone on indefinitely had it not been for William Jefferson Clinton. His loathsome moral character aside, Clinton was a revelation. For far too long, Republicans dominated economic issues.
Clinton, however, not only criticized George H. W. Bush’s handling of the economy, but offered a viable plan for deficit reduction and economic stimulus. He brought his party away from fringe liberalism and did something no Democrat had been able to do in almost 30 years – he gave the public an actual reason to vote for him. Clinton’s strategy worked so well that he was able to win again in 1996 despite numerous controversies.
Alas, Democrats let the power go to their head and stumbled again in 2000. Rather than provide a plan for the future, Gore elected to ride Clinton’s coattails without addressing any of the shortcomings of his predecessor. It was this maneuver and not any misconduct in Florida that cost him his chance to be president.
All in all, the historical precedent does not bode well for John Kerry. Admittedly, there are a number of factors in Kerry’s favor. Issues from the economy to the war in Iraq to the impingement of civil liberties do not favor the incumbent president.
However, Kerry has not sufficiently capitalized upon that popularity. He spent months billing himself as the anti-Bush, attacking the administration at every turn while offering little indication of why he would be a better choice.
Now that he has begun to show his hand, he finds himself trailing in the polls. Kerry professes to reduce deficits, fix health care, fund education and offer tax relief to middle America … all by raising taxes on only the wealthiest Americans.
The numbers simply do not add up. Either Kerry does not know what he is doing or he will not say.
Likewise, he has called for better leadership abroad but has failed to outline what, specifically, he would do differently. Increasing funding to the United Nations isn’t likely to win him many more votes.
Right now, Democrats are in crisis. For far too long, they’ve simply assumed dissatisfaction with their opponent would be enough to get them elected. Without taking that extra step, they will doom themselves to failure time and time again.
Beware the killer elephant
Of course, the Democrats’ continual ineptitude should not be taken as an invitation to go out and vote Republican for the rest of your life. While the Republican Party has yielded some strong candidates in the past, the neoconservative brain trust of the present is literally tearing the country apart.
If this seems an unfair accusation, one needs only to remember that responsibility rests with those in power. A Republican president sits in the White House. Republicans control Congress. The majority of justices on the U.S. Supreme Court were appointed by Republican presidents.
Why, therefore, shouldn’t Republicans receive most of the blame? If the Democrats were in power and oversaw economic woes, a crumbling health care system and a plethora of defense concerns, there is no reason the outrage wouldn’t be cast in their direction instead.
If the sin of the Democrats is ignoring history, the sin of neoconseratives is attempting to change it. They would have you believe that they are the guardians of this country’s proud tradition. That distinction belongs to libertarians, whose lofty idealism only seems out of place because they still cling stubbornly to the ideas of Jefferson.
Our Founding Fathers were men of reason who valued privacy and took an isolationist stance. They would have little in common with the interventionist, aggressively Christian conservatives of today who reserve the right to legislate bedroom conduct between consenting adults.
Similarly, neoconservatives stand guilty of tampering with modern history as well. In their unauthorized rewrite of the script, John F. Kennedy and Harry Truman would be cast as do-nothing Democrats who were soft on communism, whereas Joseph McCarthy was a true patriot and a national hero.
As I wrote in a previous article, many of Kennedy’s policies are being mimicked by Bush today. Meanwhile, McCarthy was regarded even by those who knew him well as a drunken gadfly. If he was right about anything, it was purely accidental.
Despite accusing their opponents of being obstructively partisan, neoconservatives are downright fanatical on issues such as abortion. I, like many Americans, believe in the viability standard and can see the wisdom of certain abortion restrictions (such as a partial birth ban).
To the neocons, it’s often an all-or-nothing proposition. Life begins at conception, as far as they are concerned. End of story.
Well excuse me for not believing that a two-celled organism is a human being and should be entitled to the same rights as you or I! In my opinion, anyone who does believe that does not fully appreciate what it means to be human.
If that sounds harsh, too bad. I am tired of being called a facillitator of mass murder because I support even limited abortion.
Lastly, I am amazed how Republicans today can still call themselves members of “the party of fiscal discipline.” Thanks to President Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress, we now have record deficits. Federal education spending has increased on Bush’s watch (though not necessarily with the intended results) and our defense budget is through the roof. This is fiscal discipline?
Just as Democrats need to learn how to cater to the needs of average Americans, neoconservative Republicans need to learn how to work with Democrats instead of against them. They need to stop treating elected officials like a foreign enemy and realize that their voices count too.
Thomas Kean, arguably the best New Jersey governor of the past quarter century, often transcended party lines in making the state a better place. He entitled his autobiography “The Politics of Inclusion,” not “The Politics of Beating Up On Liberals.”
There is a number of liberal to moderate Republicans who would make good leaders. Many of them, such as John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, spoke at the Republican National Convention.
Unfortunately, these men are not leading the party, much less the country, today. For that reason, moderates, centrists, libertarians, conservative Democrats and even old-fashioned Republicans should be wary about voting for the current candidates the party has to offer.
We should not be content to sit back and watch as Tom DeLay and Trent Lott and Dick Cheney do a better job of ruining this country then any far-left Democrat could have ever thought possible.