Surfing the Internet, it becomes evident that every computer-chair pundit has his favorite crackpot theory about why John Kerry lost the November election. The conspiracy theory wing of the Democratic Party argues that Ohio voting machines were rigged, exit-poll aficionados suggest that bible-thumping evangelicals turned out in record numbers and those with a deep understanding of the American soul stipulate that Kerry was simply too French. With every crackpot theory comes a solution that promises to solve the Democrats’ problems: Demand more recounts, find a southern candidate, play the morality card, don’t speak Old European languages.
After dredging through Internet punditry for sufficient time, the sad truth will dawn upon you: As a collective unit, the Democratic Party doesn’t know up from down right now. The party has no leader, no direction and most dangerously, no long-term goals. If the Democrats wish to identify their party as the anti-Republican opposition, they will always remain an opposition party, never controlling the reins of government.
The anger that energized the Kerry campaign in 2004 was generated by the polarizing, dogmatic politics and policies of our current president. The events of Nov. 2 have ensured that similar sentiments will stew among Democrats for, at least, another two years. That anger must turn into a policy vision; Anti-Republicanism is a failed electoral strategy. While passionate anti-Bush feelings drove Kerry to monumental victories in Washtenaw County and Hollywood, it did little to entice moderate voters. Instead, the many moderate Democrats and independents who voted for Kerry desired, above all else, a return to rational government. The party should use the next two years to turn that sentiment into a slogan; re-paint the Democratic Party as the party of responsible government.
Given that Bush’s administration has been mauled by ideological extremism, it’s not hard to draw up a list of irresponsible policy decisions which are ripe for attack. A dogmatic devotion to tax cuts has led the vice president to announce, contrary to all mainstream economic thought, that budget deficits are irrelevant. We went to war with insufficient troops because the secretary of defense was preoccupied with creating a smaller yet smarter military. Nothing can explain what led the president to nominate an attorney general who authored memos legitimizing torture, a federal appeals court judge who has said he is on a personal mission from God in the court and a federal district court judge who has argued that wives should rightly be subordinate to their husbands. Exploiting these failures of Republican leadership should not be difficult.
On many issues where Republicans have failed, logical and marketable solutions are not hard to find. Health care costs in this nation are soaring, yet the current president has done little either to address the rising costs or to help protect the 40 million Americans who have no health insurance. Government incentives could encourage corporations to insure all workers down to the most menial levels, substantively solving the health care crisis. Unskilled workers living in America have limited long-term employment potential, but Republicans have taken no steps to ensure such laborers have expanded access to high-quality education or retraining programs. Trade adjustment assistance and similar programs would allow workers displaced by trade and technological advancement to move into more lucrative sectors of the economy. Even the gaping budget deficit, which really does matter, could be partially closed by rescinding the recent tax cuts.
In the end, people want results from government. Empirically, the most popular politicians are those who accomplish their goals and, as a result, improve lives. Former President Bill Clinton left office with stellar approval ratings because he oversaw the longest economic expansion in the history of this nation. If the Democratic Party can make a credible claim that it will do a better job of improving life for the average American, it will be able to re-claim power. Between now and 2006, finding a way to make that claim must be the focus of the party’s leaders and thinkers.
Momin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org