by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
August 23, 2007
WHY THE DEMOCRATS WILL LOSE AGAIN
BRADENTON, Fla., Aug. 23, 2007 -- An interview in the New York Observer this week with failed 1988 presidential candidate Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, now a political science professor, carries a bold warning for Democrats who think the 2008 election is a foregone conclusion - that Democrats will win the White House in a landslide no matter what mistakes they make. The stupidity of that belief is nicely punctured by the Dukakis interview.
The former governor of Massachusetts, who came out of the '88 convention with a 17-point lead in the polls over our current President's father, George H.W. Bush, voiced a very healthy pessimism that I'd like to echo and expand upon. "We're not going to outspend these guys," he said. "We're probably not going to out-strategize them. And then some crazy guy will blow up a building with three weeks to go, you know, and we'll be back in Bush-land again."
Only a highly personalized campaign that reaches every door in every one of America's 185,000 precincts - the smallest unit of governance, an aggregation of which make up all the larger kinds of governmental entities such as water, fire and other special assessment districts, hamlets, villages, towns, counties and states - and talks to every voter about issues of importance to them, preferably every few weeks, will bring out the imagined landslide that Democrats want, Dukakis says.
"I'm talking about every precinct, with a precinct captain and six block-captains that make personal contact with every single voting household. ... And these people are people who've got to be from the precinct, of the precinct, look like the precinct and talk the precinct." And he doesn't mean reaching out just to "likely" Democratic voters: "There are huge numbers of disaffected Republicans out there. Who says they won't vote for us?"
Meanwhile, our local party organization is actually trying to do precisely what Mr. Dukakis suggested, and whether or not our organization is equal to the task is unknown; I suspect they will do a good job, if not a complete one.
But as a strong campaigner for U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry in 2004, I can only echo what our 1988 nominee said. Here, too, I probably should make another disclosure: I gave John Kerry $2,000 in late 2003, and as Team Leader of Manatee County's Team Kerry, I worked hard for his election. And yet another disclosure: In 1986, I started The Committee to Draft U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry, hoping to attract the idealistic young first-term U.S. Senator - he was right where Sen. Barack Obama is now - and organized benefits with poet Sir Stephen Spender and rock singer John Doe for him. He chose not to challenge Dukakis and instead to get more experience under his belt.
Here's what I learned:By 2004, John Kerry had grown too old and cautious to win the hearts and minds of Americans as he once had. He is a wonderful man who would've made a much better President than George Bush, but he didn't have the righteous, youthful anger and idealism that would have let him respond to the Swift Boat ads a savage attack of his own the first instant they aired. There was a day early on when he could have knocked the Swift Boat people right out of the park, but he let it pass for two long weeks. Then there was the campaign. I had organized Meet-Ups that were attracting 50 people a night, and hoped to build on this group to mount our campaign in Manatee County. Together, we raised $13,000 for his campaign, all of which went to Miami and the state campaign.
But when I invited his appointed county coordinator from Michigan to come speak to our group, he would not show up because his appearance with us was noted in the newspaper. It turned out that Kerry had a hard and fast rule that all his operatives were to remain incognito throughout the campaign. Our group dissolved shortly after that, and the county coordinator did the best job he could. That meant getting a strong turnout in the black precincts, trusting the white Democrats to come out on their own, and leaving "disaffected Republicans" - and there were plenty back then, too - completely alone. It was a great formula for losing Florida, and it worked just fine for Mr. Bush. I really have to wonder who devised it. It was the cynical, ultimately thoughtless, by-the-book, number-crunching campaign that will probably defeat the Democrats again in 2008.
What is the alternative? I'll know it when I see it.
But there is a lot more than mechanics to winning a presidential campaign, and there's a lot more than mere image-making, which Americans watch on "American Idol" every week. They know what's for real and what's not, and candidates would be better off leaving it to professionals. With the possible exception of Barack Obama, not a single one of the current Democratic candidates would win "American Idol" with the same degree of charisma and singing talent they now have as politicians and talking heads.
That charisma comes from an authenticity that all but Obama and, in my estimation, Sen. Chris Dodd, possess (I have met many of the candidates in person, mostly in April at the South Carolina debate). But unlike Obama, Sen. Dodd, who is chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, has a record, and as I've mentioned, it does not involve producing the hard-hitting, comprehensive legislation he has promised to address credit-card or home-lending abuses by banks and other lenders. He sounds good, but does little - so far.
I have recently contributed $100 to Sen. Clinton, $50 to Sen. Obama and $50 to Gov. Bill Richardson, among other Democratic candidates. And in making that disclosure, I would take issue with former Gov. Dukakis on one point: The Republicans may not outspend us. To date, Democrats are far ahead in fund-raising, even in affluent Republican counties and precincts, all across the country.
Well, you'll say, the Democrats can do without charisma if they've got enough money. But for my money, the real problem with the Democrats is not any of those things - not money, not strategy, not charisma. Their real problem is democracy.
As an example, let's use the Manatee Co. Democratic Executive Committee. For several years now, fostered in part by me, there's been a desire on the part of some Democrats to on our DEC to give voice to their personal beliefs on various issues within the forum of the DEC meetings. Those desires have been consistently frustrated by leadership that believes there is no place for opinions about issues in the DEC; they say that political policy (i.e., our stance on issues) is the sole province of the state and national leadership of the party. One elected official said last year, when this issue came up, that we have already spoken out when we voted someone into office. Our job is not to debate issues, they say time and again, but to organize for elections and win them.
Meanwhile, though, top Democrats boast about their party's "grassroots" origins, yet suppress free speech about issues at the sub-atomic precinct level. Since so many of the membership are elderly and retired people, who are perhaps more used to being told to shut up and do their jobs and let someone else speak for them, the suppression of free speech is likely to continue. And my impression - based upon the frustration of antiwar activists - is that this suppression policy is universal, in both parties.
However, as a free-speech advocate, my support is not. And as arrogant as it may seem for me to say so, when the Democrats lose me - a former Republican idealist weary of that party's endless errors, arrogance and scandals - they lose the election, too.
Thank you for traveling this far with me. If I were perhaps a little more obedient to the party line, I would probably shut up at this point. I am not, though; they (and the Republicans, which have one, too) can shove their loyalty oath and the Joe McCarthy tactics it evokes into the same orifice it came from. I didn't fight for all I have fought for in my life to cede any of my rights to anyone.
Where you, dear reader, and this Correspondent will part company, though. is in my support for the war in Iraq and the "war on terror" generally. The statements I make clearly do not represent the posture of most of our writers or readers, and I know that because whenever I say my piece about the war readership goes into a sharp decline, and it usually takes months to get it going again until I speak my mind once more.
Here goes: I believe the war effort is where Democrats will eventually lose the battle for the White House. All but the blind will note that this war has not attracted the kind of vigorous opposition that the Vietnam War did. Many elected Democrats in both houses of Congress resent being allied with demands for withdrawal and admission of defeat by the Democratic leadership. I surely do. I believe there is no better place to meet the instruments of terror than in Iraq, which borders on every nation but Afghanistan that is a host to terrorist training camps or source of money for the terrorists.
It is exactly where this war should and must be fought, and won. I don't believe we got there through any foresight George Bush or anyone else in our government had, and in fact our presence there may be an argument for divine help. We have built a field of battle, and the terrorists have come. We are fighting them with varied success, and lately more success than not. Don't expect me, or most Americans, when they are really forced to think about it, to back off from this fight; we didn't start it, despite what Ron Paul and Mike Gravel say, and if we do not win it, Western civilization will lose. The entire momentum of the women's movement, the gay rights movement, the civil rights movement and the entire idea of Constitutional democracy - the idea of freedom - will be compromised, and in the dust of history, lost.
I remember well, as a journalist who went to Vietnam and also marched with just 25,000 others in the very first antiwar demonstration at the White House in 1965, how that war made me feel. I lost my beautiful, gentle cousin, Paul Roberts, my painfully honest schoolmate Richard Marsh, and my awesome artist friend, Phil Ruminski.
Other old friends came home damaged from head to toe; throughout the war, even when I met with President Johnson in the White House in 1966, my young soul felt a preternatural and ancient sadness, a profound melancholy that is probably an Irish blessing and curse. It weighed on me until the terrible end. The absence of that sadness is how I know now the Vietnam is not this war in reprise.
We are not fighting communism, or inserting ourselves into a civil war that raged for 20 years, or relying on a fragmentary and ultimately false act of aggression as our chief complaint for going to war. We went to war because we were attacked in New York City and Washington, D.C., and because we knew that absent a response that ultimately decapitated the sponsors of terrorism, such attacks would continue for decades to come.
Most Americans, when you scratch their feelings a little bit, really know this. They know that bringing our troops home may save the lives of our soldiers but will not save the West from a 100-year war with fundamentalist Islam, if that's what it takes to defeat a military and political ideology married to a religious system.
Republicans seem to know, deep down, that even as a few of their leaders sway toward the antiwar side, the American people may not like the war, or President Bush, but they are too pragmatic to realize they cannot end this fight by walking away. That would just bring it home.
So the Democratic leadership and the Republican doubters, too, are out of step, no matter what the polls say. In the end, Americans will support the war because it is the only intelligent response available today to fight al-Qaeda, whose operatives and acolytes are in our country now and preparing to strike wherever they can.
I won't get the opportunity to say these things at the DEC meeting.
The war in Iraq, and not other important issues like costly health care, credit abuse and our snatch-and-grab economy, will determine how well the Democrats will do in November. Just as the antiwar movement this time around has been a non-starter, so is the demand for a pull-out from Iraq. By 2008, if our victory there seems more assured, if Osama bin Laden is dead, or even if the terrorist bombings have been quelled, Democratic politicians will be trying to squeeze through the door before it closes in their face.
Mock me, then, and mark my words.
Joe Shea is the Editor-in-Chief of The American Reporter.