The latest “strategy” memo from James Carville and company paints a vivid picture of what the Democrats are up against in the 2004 race for the presidency. The memo also shows that not every cloud, in this case, the cloud settling over the Democrats’ presidential dreams, has a silver lining. Despite attempting to illustrate a “faltering Bush presidency,” the memo actually provides a clear analysis on why President Bush will be tough to beat in November of ’04.
The memo, produced through Carville’s Democracy Corps, and co-authored by Stan Greenberg and Bob Shrum, claims that President Bush has suffered “major political damage” on “multiple fronts.” According to the memo, “dramatic changes” are now taking place in the “electoral landscape.” The Democracy Corps memo says that President Bush is “taking so much water” because he is “losing ground” on three fronts: the economy, the war/foreign policy, and on trust. The memo goes on to state that the scope of the losses “should produce a Democratic Party much more confident of its ability to challenge and win on its ideas.”
In addressing the ongoing situation in Iraq, the Carville memo states that Democrats should “frame all the post-war problems” through the “central failing of the Bush administration,” which the memo claims is the president’s lack of a plan for post-war Iraq.
“Whether it is placing American troops at risk or undermining America’s ability to invest resources at home, the lack of planning has far-reaching ramifications that are hurting the country,” the memo states.
The memo claims that the “bigger problems” for the Bush administration are the “lessons that people are taking out of the war” and its aftermath. “Rather than confirming the virtues of a unilateralist American posture, the public has become more internationalist,” Carville claims in the memo.
However, despite the predictions from Carville of a Bush meltdown, the numbers in his own survey don’t support his conclusions. Respondents to the poll on which the memo is based had a slightly “warmer” feeling for Republicans than Democrats. In addition, when asked about preferences in the 2004 congressional elections, respondents said they would vote for the Republican candidate over the Democrat by 45-43. This thin margin may not seem significant to some, but when the Party in power has a public opinion edge, despite the criticism that the governing party receives, this does not bode well for the Democrats. It also shows what was proven in 2002 — President Bush has coattails.
The memo notes that, according to their poll, 64 percent of the respondents still want to continue the “Bush direction” when it comes to the war on terror. “Similarly, on homeland security, by two-to-one, voters think the Bush administration is providing the resources necessary for homeland defense,” the memo states. With these numbers, does Carville really believe that voters would want to change captains in mid-stream?
When talking about the economy, Carville states that Democrats should not engage in an “argument about the past.” Carville says that Democrats should use Bush’s “economic failures” as a backdrop to the question of whether America should continue with Bush economics. The memo claims that the economic attacks on the Bush record are the strongest, and the Bush tax cuts are “part of his vulnerability.” According to the memo, the deficits are a “powerful issue” now, and the attack on the link between special interest contributors and Bush policies has “remarkable resonance.”
However, data from the Labor Department shows unemployment at it lowest level since February. Despite the growth in the economy, albeit slow, the unemployment figure is something that sticks out like a soar thumb. Going into the 2004 elections, if the unemployment numbers are falling, and the economy continues to grow, then President Bush is reelected. Period.
Carville is right about one thing, the budget deficit is a “powerful issue” which does resonate with the voters. But what Carville knows, and will not say, is that tax cuts did not cause the deficit. The culprits are the 2001 recession, the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks, and uncontrolled spending. As the economy grows at a healthier rate, budget deficits will decrease. This is not magic — it’s economics. As 2004 rolls around and new estimates show the budget deficit decreasing, the Democrats will be left holding the bag — a bag deep on rhetoric but empty on solutions.
Carville closes the memo by saying, “It is time for Democrats to step forward confidently, holding Bush accountable for his record, but also giving voters a taste of the Democrats’ vision for the future.”
Again, Carville is right on the point that all leaders, President Bush included, should be held accountable. However, I question Carville’s advice in that “a taste of the Democrats’ vision” is something that most voters could not keep down. To talk about a vision implies that a vision exists. Attacking is a tactic, not a vision. Canceling tax cuts and being soft on the war on terror are elements of a vision that will not sell in post-9-11 America.
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