More Bad Advice

E.J. Dionne has some lessons for Democrats, lessons assured to lead them straight into another defeat. He recycles one of the singularly dumbest myths of the campaign (or any campaign in the last few years) — the idea that the Democrats were just too nice:

The sheer negative genius of the Bush campaign is worthy of close study. Face it: Liberals and Democrats are way too sensitive to elite editorial page opinion that asks more responsibility from the side it supposedly supports than from the side it supposedly opposes. Liberals worry themselves sick that if they fight Bush’s cockamamie idea of borrowing billions for a shaky Social Security privatization scheme, those editorial writers will savage them. A lead opinion is likely to demand that they enter into negotiations with the president, even if the very act of doing so is certain to give Bush the upper hand.

Memo to Democrats: Forget the editorial writers and ask yourselves: What Would Bush Do? If you are not as tough as he is, he will crush you — again. Memo to liberal commentators: Why bend over backward to demand of your own side what you don’t demand of the right, or of Bush?

Yes, the Democrats were just too nice to Bush. They didn’t call him a liar enough apparently. There just wasn’t enough anti-Bush vitriol floating about to make the sheep-like masses realize how evil and mean-spirited the Bushitler really is.

Of course, in the real world the massive waves of anti-Bush propaganda probably hurt the Democrats in the long run. What did the Kerry campaign stand for? What does the Democratic Party stand for? The only audible message that came out was the cacophany of anti-Bush hysteria, which led people to the (correct) conclusion that the Democrats didn’t stand for anything. The fact that Kerry’s reputation as a flip-flopper was well-earned during the campaign didn’t help him any. What little Kerry actually stood for was never articulated. In politics, vitriol doesn’t win. You have to have things like principles and vision, and when your principles and vision is limited to defeating the other guy, you’re not going to win. The exact same argument was made after the Democratic losses in 2000 and 2002, and look at where they led.

Then Dionne follows up with another line of attack that’s guaranteed to fail:

Class matters. Bush and the Republicans condemn “class warfare” — and then play the class card with a vengeance. Bush has pushed through policies that, by any impartial reckoning, have transferred massive amounts of money to the wealthiest people in our country. Yet it is conservatives, Bush supporters, who trash the “elites,” especially when it comes to culture. Class warfare is evil — unless a conservative is playing the class card.

The Democrats still don’t understand that this nation is becoming dominated by the investor class. Nearly 60% of all Americans have investments in the stock market. Middle class workers have 401(k)s, annuities, bonds, or another form of investment vehicle. Financial planning is no longer the domain of the rich, but is now a firmly middle class activity. Nearly a third of the electorate self-describe themselves as “investors.” The stock market isn’t something for the white ascot crowd anymore, and hasn’t been for some time now.

The Democratic attitude that “you’re too poor to be investors!” comes off as elitist and insulting. It is the ideology of class-warfare, and it has never worked. Contrast that to President Bush’s calls for an “ownership society” in which all people can have a stake in their homes and their financial future, and one can see the difference clearly. The Democrats take is one of pessimism that argues that the masses are too stupid to be in the market, and the Republican take is one that says that you can have ownership over your financial future. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out which one is going to be the more popular position. The Democrats remain mired in the past, and seem unable to grasp the concept that we don’t live in a society in which investment is only an activity for the “rich”.

And then Dionne takes his hole and keeps digging:

Stand for something. Bush won this year because of those attacks on Kerry. But he also won because swing voters who didn’t like him very much were nonetheless quite certain that he knew what he wanted to do and would try to get it done.

One line of attack against Bush is to say that his certainties are mistaken and that he never, ever questions them. That’s true. It’s also inadequate. Those who oppose the direction in which Bush is leading us need to propose an alternative.

vThey need to demonstrate that we could be much safer — and fight a more effective war on terrorism — if so much of the world did not mistrust us. They must create a realistic narrative about a more just and prosperous society. Policies on jobs, health insurance, child care, education and taxes should be more than a list. They ought to form a coherent picture of how things could be better, for everyone.

Stand for something — good advice. Standing for ending terrorism through health insurance — really, really bad advice.

The primary reason that John Kerry lost in 2004 is because he did not appear sufficiently serious about terrorism. He had to try to constantly remind everyone that he’d hunt down the terrorists too, and it always came off as an incinere and untrustworthy. The Democrats fail to understand that terrorism is not some isolated and meaingless bugaboo, it is the primary aspect of our political reality and may well be for some time. It is our Cold War, except the other side is not restrained by rationality in the way the Soviets were. The threat of mutually assured destruction does not necessarily act as a deterrent against those who would take their own lives to destroy the dar al-harb of the West.

The Democrats have completely and utterly failed to demonstrate that they understand the stakes in this conflict, and the fact that Dionne changes the subject so quickly only illustrates that fact that as a party, the Democrats would also like to quickly change the subject. September 11 was defining moment in American society and politics, a point at which the radical left suddently found themselves out of answers, their cries for “justice” through negotiation with evil no longer palatable to the mainstream as they were. 2004 was a realigning election, a point at which a majority, if a slim one, chose a side. If the Democrats cannot speak to this issue in a rational way, they cannot expect to return to the mainstream of American politics. It is interesting that Hilary Clinton, a Democrat who follows her husband’s tradition of triangulation in politics, has been positioning herself far to the right of the Democratic mainstream on this issue and has been very reticent to speak out publicly as many Democrats have.

It appears that she knows something that Dionne doesn’t, which proves that there’s at least one Democrat smart enough not to take his foolish advice.

One thought on “More Bad Advice

  1. The primary reason that John Kerry lost in 2004 is because he did not appear sufficiently serious about terrorism.

    Sorry, Jay, but that doesn’t wash. Bush ran on a record of profound unseriousness about the War on Terror, and yet he won. After all, he failed to bring in Osama (and flat-out lied about not abandoning the hunt), failed to secure hundreds of tons of high explosives, failed to reduce incidents of terror around the world, and failed to articulate any kind of strategy for making Iraq work. This is the administration that proclaimed the War on Terror unwinnable, and asserted that the best that could be done was to reduce terrorism to the nuisance level of Capone-era bootleggers.

    Yet he won. On the other hand, Kerry articulated clear strategies for winning the war on terror and protecting Americans, and he lost. Your analysis simply bears no relation to the facts.

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