Have you noticed that Democrats don’t have a vision, much less a coherent platform this election year? It’s because they don’t have serious alternative policies to offer the voters. But they are nonetheless united and motivated like never before, behind an overarching objective: defeating George Bush (the goal).
The disparate single-issue groups that make up the Democratic base are more than willing to subordinate their differences in furtherance of the goal. Since the primaries began, it has been the driving force that has shaped the campaign. It initially surfaced in the unexpected popularity of Howard Dean, whose only redeeming virtue was his single-minded hostility toward Mr. Bush, which mostly manifested itself in his antiwar zeal.
But don’t be fooled. It wasn’t antiwar sentiments that drove the antiBush fervor. It was the other way around; Democrats are mostly against the war because they are against Bush, who is leading it. They had no objections to Clinton’s interventions in Bosnia, Kosovo or, yes, Iraq.
They’ve been obsessively against Bush since November 2000, when Al Gore’s Machiavellian operatives succeeded in deceiving Democrats into believing that Bush, rather than Gore, was trying to steal the election. This was essentially the same group of adept spinmeisters who convinced Democrats that the exceedingly honorable Kenneth Starr was the villain, rather than the true rogue, Bill Clinton. And no, I’m not quite over that injustice yet.
This focused anger was so intense that even 9-11 could only momentarily deter it. Within no time at all, the Democrats were back to hating George Bush as usual, even though he extended numerous olive branches to them and was implementing much of their domestic agenda.
Howard Dean, then, was the perfect messenger for their rage, and it was only when he seemed to go off the deep end that the party began to slip away from him. But it was not his rage that turned them off. It was his apparent instability — now being played up by the major media, whose support Democrats rely on — because it would interfere with his electability, and thus, the goal.
No sooner than Dean imploded did the previously unappealing John Kerry emerge to pick up the anti-Bush football that Dean fumbled. Kerry instantly became the Democrats’ choice because he was prepared to carry that football with much less chance of fumbling through some Dean-like screaming incident and he projected a presidential air.
It was never Kerry’s policies or his charisma that attracted the Democratic base, because he had neither. His policies are unintelligible, and his charisma rivals Al Gore’s. Boy, but was he ever good at breathing fire at George Bush.
John Edwards, who had a great deal more charisma and a much more focused message, titillated the voters and the media for a while, but ultimately, Kerry’s fortuitous momentum was unstoppable because Democrats weren’t willing to risk Edwards’ electability — always keeping the goal in sharp relief.
This theme of Democratic unity continued to play out as we observed the reluctance of Kerry’s primary opponents to challenge him and the graciousness with which John Edwards acknowledged his defeat and endorsed Kerry. Folks, their unity around the goal is so thick in the air you can almost touch it — it will probably ensure that Ralph Nader won’t even be a factor.
The Democrats’ unity and the motivation of their base presents a problem for the GOP, which is exacerbated by the restlessness of its own base, some of which has been appreciably alienated by Bush’s gravitation to the left on education, campaign finance reform, trade, overall domestic spending and immigration, to name a few.
I don’t think too many of these disaffected conservatives are irretrievable. But to get them to the polls, President Bush is going to have to persuade them his reelection is vitally important on many fronts. Obviously, in his conduct of the war there is little doubt, other than from the committed anti-war right — which is rather small. And he’s been very strong and courageous in his tax policy. Lately, he’s also shown a greater commitment to slow the growth of domestic spending. He’s been strong on social issues, punctuated by his recent call for a Federal Marriage Amendment. There’s plenty of red meat to go around here.
More importantly, now that Kerry’s nomination is all but formalized, President Bush will begin to draw sharp distinctions between his vision and record and Kerry’s. The more Kerry’s horrendous record and absence of vision are publicized the more energized the GOP base will be, and that should be more than enough to thwart the goal.