First, Secure the Base
Democrats don’t get this. Sure, at a cognitive level they recognize the task, but they don’t “get it.” (If you want to see just how much they don’t get it, watch Charlie Rose’s interview with the new head of the DLC Vilsack. The war against Dean and liberals is now official.)
Compare GHB in 1992 and GWB in 2000. The former had neglected to nail down the base prior to 1992, and to make up for this omission was forced to publicly, at the national level and late in the campaign cycle, pander to the rightwing base. That didn’t leave him enough time to effectively run back to the “center” by election day. The fact that his pandering to the rightwing was so public, only made the sell to more moderate Republicans that much more difficult.
The rightwing did vote for him but they were hardly enthusiastic about him. GWB nailed down the rightwing before the election cycle began. It was a stealth attack based on convincing the ministers that GWB was one of them. With that work done so well that they would give him a complete pass on anything he said and did, his only task was to convince just enough of the moron Americans that he was a moderate. Where he almost blew it was that he had paid more attention to the general election than the primary contest. The rightwing base wasn’t adequately mobilized for the primaries in 2000. Thus, he had to scramble and pull out the nasty stuff to knock off McCain.
Way too many Democrats refuse to consider a candidate that can secure the liberal base. Or maybe they view conservative Democrats as the base. Get them first and the left will have nowhere else to go. Well, many of them demonstrated in 2000 that they did have someplace else to go. They got it wrong, but they are not responsible for Gore’s failure to speak to them early and honestly. By election day, I thought I had a fairly clear picture of who Gore was and was satisfied to cast my vote for him. What I’ve seen of him since then confirmed that my assessment was correct, but being forced to intuit the character, principles and ideals of a candidate asks too much of voters, many of whom will get it wrong as they did in 2000. Yet, had Gore won (by a margin large enough in FL to compensate for the GOP “fix“), my assessment would have been less correct because Gore would then have been beholden to the conservative elements in the Party and not free to express himself honestly. That is the other problem with not securing the base -- a powerbase will make demands but can also free an officeholder to be real.
Hillary is the worst of all possible worlds. The “center” and right currently view her as aligned with the left. Watching her very public shift to the right is not exactly the best way to improve one’s authenticity. Phony is the label rightwing radio will slap on her, and it will stick with a lot of people because there is an element of truth to it. In the broadest sense, politicians that are successful at winning elections come in two stripes: 1) Those who know who they are and what they stand for and consistently present that to the voters. 2) Those with a conscience less developed than that of the average person that enables them to lie effectively. The latter usually has the advantage on the national stage simply because the range of people that need to be satisfied is too large for a single principled individual. That advantage disappears if someone in the first group has the ability to inspire people, move them beyond their own petty concerns to loftier goals and ideals. Hillary is neither fish nor fowl. If I’m not out of the mainstream when it comes to “gut checks” (I test this frequently and almost never differ from the majority), Hillary has a big problem. Even when I know she is speaking the truth, at the intuitive level, I still sense that she is being disingenuous or dishonest. Gore had the same handicap and I suspect that is why so many people were undecided very late in the 2000 race. They had nagging doubts about Gore that they couldn’t articulate. Their doubts about GWB was the result of a different phenomenon. By 2000 his political experience was insufficient to make him an effective liar in this arena. On an intuitive, people were able to perceive this and while they couldn’t articulate that they sensed he was lying, they were not comfortable with him. He was not similarly handicapped in 2004.
While the “center” and right view Hillary as of the left, the left doesn’t. Gore’s failure with the left wasn’t completely his own making. Many on the left had come to loathe Clinton by 2000. His policies shifted the political debate to the right. His cozy relationship with corporate donors was correctly seen as a reason why he had embraced a shift to the right. His personal morality tarnished the whole Democratic Party and gave the GOP a morality wedge that they have exploited in the past three elections. He didn’t even learn from the Monica mess that the rules for Democrats and Republicans are different -- there was no way the GOP would let him get away with pardoning Marc Rich in the dead of night. Discovering that “extraordinary renditions” were initiated during his tenure is further evidence of what his real principles are like. Hillary has not distanced herself from Bill’s policies. It remains to be seen if the left will be as forgiving of a vote for the IWR in 2008 as they were in 2004.
The DLC seems to think that the country is longing for a Clinton Restoration. Possibly viewing this as a counterpart to the 2000 Bush Restoration. What they overlook is the fact that for most Americans GHB had only been around for four years. Americans never had strong feelings about GHB. When he left office, he was gone. GWB only appeared on the national stage in 2000. The public hadn’t observed his rise in politics and could suspend disbelief just enough that they could buy that GWB had succeeded at least in part on his own merits. Hillary has none of those advantages. It doesn’t help that she will be much older when she begins her POTUS quest than GWB was. By 2008, Bush fatigue could be so high that it will spill over and make the country grumpy and not in the mood to consider another restoration. It’s also possible that Clinton fatigue can set in all its own and independent of Bush fatigue. There was GOP fatigue in 1988 but even when that exists, nothing can’t beat something.
I hate to admit that I think I erred in 1992. Another four years of GHB without the 1994 Republican Revolution, and it wouldn’t have happened with GHB in the WH, would have been better for the country and Democratic Party than Clinton with the GOP takeover of Congress. GOP fatigue would have again been high in 1996 and maybe a qualified leader would have emerged from the Democratic pack for that race. Not likely, but I can’t imagine how anything else could have happened that would be as bad as eight years of GWB with a GOP controlled Congress.