The Democrat’s Conundrum

George Will writes that the "contours of the political landscape are becoming increasingly inhospitable to Democrats." He points out that the main pillars of the current Democratic party are higher taxes, more government, and anger against Republicans.

The reactionary nature of the Democratic Party in 2003 is eerily reminiscent of the election of 1972, in which the Democrats ran leftward and angry. They simply could not understand why the American voter had elected Richard Nixon in the first place and the primary theme of the Democratic side of the 1972 election was "shame on you America for voting for those evil, soulless Republicans!" It appears with the constant stream of anti-Bush invective, history is ready to repeat itself.

The Democrats are trying to pick up the liberal base they feel they lost in 2000 through Ralph Nader’s run under the Green Party banner. In so doing, they’re already alienating themselves with the much larger block of swing voters that will decide the next election. Moderates will look on this leftward swing and see a party whose bitterness makes them virtually unelectable. The Democratic Party’s sole interest in 2004 is defeating Bush, while all Bush has to do is take the high road and let the liberals and the moderate Democrats tear each other apart.

The Democrats need to come to the center to win the election, but the liberal activists who have taken the reigns of the party will hardly let that happen without a fight. It appears that the worst enemy for the Democrats in 2004 isn’t George W. Bush – it’s themselves.

4 thoughts on “The Democrat’s Conundrum

  1. It’s a right of passage every four years for Republicans to dismiss the field of Democratic presidential candidates as a bunch of left-wing boogeymen. Even in 1992, three of the five Dem candidates that made it to the primaries were centrists (Bill Clinton, Bob Kerrey, and Paul Tsongas), yet the Republicans consistently branded them “tax-and-spend liberals”. It’s a gimmick that works to an extent, but when your party’s incumbent is self-destructing as both Bushes are at the end of their first terms, you’ll need a better rallying cry.

    With that said, this field of nine Democrats does have plenty of unelectable lefties, but only one has even a chance of being the nominee. Sharpton, Kucinich, and Moseley-Braun exist merely for decoration, while Dean is still a massive longshot for the nomination since the party will know they’ll get trounced in November by running him. As for the rest of the field, few would have been considered “liberals” by the standards of previous generations, but perhaps would today. Bob Graham is no liberal, but will be branded as one merely because he opposes Bush’s Iraq policy, Edwards is probably the most electable of the field but wears the “trial lawyer” brand that certainly will not be helpful, and Kerry is ultimately a left-leaning moderate stuck with the “northeastern elitist” stigma. Gephardt is liberal on social policy, but his “ditto to what Bush said” foreign policy strategy is anything but liberal. Lieberman is my last choice of the bunch and, although a centrist, is just as unelectable as Sharpton and Kucinich on the national stage for a variety of reasons.

    The only two electable Dems are Edwards and Graham. My hope is that one of them is the nominee. Even if it is the right-leaning centrist Lieberman however, the GOP will immediately try to brand him as a McGovern incarnate anyway, so it’s futile to even try fielding a candidate who the right won’t paint with that same tiring brushstroke.

  2. I’ll agree that Edwards and Graham are fairly centrist Democrats, but neither stands a shot in hell of getting the nomination. Graham is a hawk on defense, which means that the anti-war wing of the party won’t support him, and the anti-tax cut wing of the party will balk at Edward’s idea of expanding middle-class tax cuts.

    I still think the race is between Dean and Kerry. Kerry has the widest support base right now, but Dean has the staunch support of many Democratic activists. I wouldn’t write Gephardt out quite yet, but his pro-war stance will hurt him.

    Of those three, Kerry is the only one would could be considered a moderate, (and not by much) and he will likely have to run left to outmaneuver Dean, which will hurt him in the general election.

    The Democrats severely underestimate Bush. If the strategy is to attack Bush as a liar and a radical, it’s a poor strategy. If WMDs are found, the Democrats have sunk themselves, and there is a good chance of that happening by most reasonable estimates. If the economy starts recovering, and it’s also looking like it will, then again, the Democrats lose their attack points. Unless the Democrats can offer a better set of policies rather than just attacks, they don’t stand a chance.

  3. We’ve been hearing of this economic recovery just around the corner in this time in 2001, this time in 2002, and ever since. Downturns don’t last forever, and it may indeed start to cycle upward soon, but with each day the job market hemorrhages jobs, as it continues to do, Bush’s mile-wide and inch-deep support is threatened a little more. To describe Graham as hawkish is a stretch. Lieberman is far more of a hawk, and less electable. Graham doesn’t strike me as very well-spoken, which certainly won’t help him.

    Much as I like Dean, he’s too left-of-center to be President (although Dean’s not as far left as Bush is far right). Kerry and Gephardt seem very unlikely to be electable as well. I still say Edwards is their best shot, and if his debate performances are up to snuff, the Dems will probably trend his direction…at least hopefully. Keep in mind, Tom Harkin looked like he was the likely Democratic nominee at this time in 1991, until Bill Clinton emerged out of the shadows.

  4. Wow… Harkin… that brings back memories of the last time my parents were divided on candidates. (In the ’92 primaries, my mother supported Harkin (who reminded her of McGovern) while my father supported Clinton from the beginning).

    I really don’t think that the numbers add up on Howard Dean. The moderates are still the core of the Democratic party, and they tend to be geared towards pragmatic centrists. When the real dog-and-pony show begins this winter, I’m expecting the real battle to be between Kerry and Edwards, barring the entry of another candidate to the race.

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