Sunday :: May 11, 2003

The Democrats and a Center-Right Candidate in 2004


by Steve

The media has been full of stories the last week or so about Bush’s invincibility against Democrats, as the corporate media do their job to cement a sense of inevitability about Bush’s reelection prospects. We have commented here in this blog a lot over the last couple of weeks about the prospects of center-right Democrats against Bush. I have weighed in about the importance of the Democratic candidate(s) getting over the national security hump with Independent voters and more importantly the media before they will be treated as a potential rival to an alleged wartime president.

A little bit of self-disclosure is important here. I am socially moderate in my approach to domestic politics, but tend to be a Scoop Jackson Democrat in my foreign/military approach. However, I would like nothing better than to have a center-left Democrat get into office to tackle some of the economic disparities and tax injustices that the working class face after twenty years of GOP supply-side damage to our body politic.

But I consider myself an electoral pragmatist. A liberal, suspect-on-security Democrat cannot be elected in a post-9/11 America until another Democrat precedes him or her to move the country’s politics back to the middle and convince Independent voters that Democrats can be trusted again to deal intelligently and forcefully when necessary with our fears and the threats that we face. I am sensitive to the criticisms of many of you that a center-right Democrat will be nothing more than Bush-Lite. However, it is important to point out that a center-right Democrat can and will have positions on the issues that are acceptable and supportable to the left wing of the party. Witness the Lieberman energy and environmental proposals, the Graham and Gephardt health care proposals for proof.

No, it is not fair that the Rovian GOP has manipulated our collective fears and sold us an omnipotent presidency with a bomber jacket face, worn by a military deserter whom people feel comfortable with even while he surreptitiously does harm to their long-term interests. This, coupled with a media that has a vested interest in maintaining access and pleasing a retaliatory press operation and feeding us a pabulum of noncritical coverage while appealing to our lowest and basest instincts ensures that any insurgency candidacy from a center-left Democrat will be smothered by our own institutions.

It is for these reasons that I feel the Democrats need to run a center-right candidate in 2004. I agree with many Greens who don’t want to trust another DLC Democrat to address issues that used to be the Democrats’ bread and butter a generation ago. It is a fair criticism for Greens to say that a DLC Democrat cannot be allowed to once again gain office, say the words, and then not walk the talk. But we are all smarter now than we were in the early 90’s, when the left submerged its goals and visions and hoped for whatever incremental change it could get, being caught by surprise by the full-time attack dog conservative media that put Clinton always on the defensive and unable to deliver even incremental change. The next time a center-right Democrat gets in, the center left wing of our party needs to be just as loud as the right-wing GOP dogs, and fighting them in their faces so that the Democratic incumbent has political cover to incrementally start delivering.

I feel that running a center-left Democrat in 2004 is a recipe for a forty state electoral blowout. Running such a candidate may satisfy those looking for ideological purity, but it will imperil the party’s downballot candidates and cast the party into further oblivion, leading in effect to a one-party country for at least one congressional cycle. The damage from even one two-year period resulting from such an outcome cannot be overestimated. However, any center-right candidate who the Democrats can elect must be held accountable this time to begin addressing the problems working America has been suffering from. Again, the ability for a center-right Democrat to move towards the left and deal with these issues will depend on the Left’s own ability to engage in full-time battle with the right for the hearts and minds of the country. The center-right Democrat should be considered a transitional figure, allowing the party to broaden its base and begin healing the rifts caused by the Clinton years and the Green defections in 2000.

But in any event, whether we like it or not, 9/11 and Karl Rove have not only changed the country but also the Democratic Party. For the party to climb out of its funk and give voters a real choice and demonstrate electability, we have to play on Karl’s field and go right at the fašade he has built around Bush. As I have said repeatedly, Rove has never faced a campaign where Bush’s opponent went right at his integrity and trustworthiness, highlighting his broken campaign promises and misplaced corporate interests for the public interest. He has never faced a candidate who openly attacked Bush’s beholdenness to those who write his checks, who made his sleazy vacuuming of corporate cash a campaign issue. He has never faced a candidate who tells voters that it is part of the game plan to play down expectations at every turn so that Bush looks good at even the slightest accomplishment, even if it is inadequate to the issue at hand.

And in this post 9/11 world, Karl Rove is not counting on facing a candidate who can credibly attack Bush on 9/11 itself, with as much if not more knowledge of national security and our preparedness as Bush himself. Rove is counting on Bush having a distinct advantage over any Democrat on the issues of national security, terrorism, and the climate of fear that Rove has created. And Rove plans to run on patriotism and Top Gun, and doesn’t expect the Democrat to call Bush a deserter. Rove also doesn’t expect any Democrat to have enough seasoning to show an alternate world vision that plays to our strengths as the world’s last superpower, which emphasizes our legacy of leadership rather than a pathetic and bullying policy of pre-emption.

Whether the Democrat who can best fit this bill is Bob Graham, Joe Lieberman, John Kerry, or Dick Gephardt is something we can debate in the coming weeks, as well as why I have excluded the others from this list. Just as it is premature to pay much attention to polls at this time, it is also true that downplaying someone’s electability this early has been shown to be historically wrong. But I think 9/11 and Rove’s control of the media tells us even this early that a center-left candidate will not gain enough traction unless significant developments take place for that candidate to gain credibility with Independent voters.

And for that reason, I think the party and those of us who pay more than passing attention to politics should take a hard look at the group I named above. I feel one of them, or a combination of them will have the best chance to beat Bush, to be a necessary transitional candidate for the Democrats, and begin to undo the damage done by the GOP to our social fabric over the last twenty years.

Steve :: 11:49 PM :: Comments (46) :: Digg It!