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By Bruce Walker
Rage is bad politics in America. This land made by grateful immigrants tolerates much, but it does not tolerate serious condescension. Democrats have acted since January 2001 as if the White House has been occupied by a royal pretender. This attitude has produced infantile sloganeering:
"George Bush did not receive a majority of the popular vote in November 2000!" (Only two Democrat presidents since the Civil War have received a majority of the popular vote - Carter had only a plurality, when all discarded votes were counted.)
"George Bush lost in Florida!" (He won every real or putative recount; he won the court arguments; and the clearest referendum on how Floridians felt was the November 2002 election, which Republicans won by a crushing landslide.)
"George Bush is too stupid to be President!" (This tactic is too stupid to win: Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan were each, in turn, called "too stupid" by less bright political opponents.)
"George Bush is corrupt!" (Ignoring the juxtaposition of this curious claim - made right after defending a Democrat president who perjured himself, was impeached, was disbarred and was convicted of contempt of court - is the more obvious flaw that Clinton was reelected anyway.)
"George Bush is out of touch with America!" (This silly insult is made against a man twice elected Governor of Texas and whose favorability ratings, if not his job approval ratings, have been very high with the American people since May 1998.)
These failed political attacks were harmless to Democrats, as long as Democrats did not kid themselves. President Bush fairly quickly established that he was the sort of sensible, decent political figure which makes ad hominem attacks counterproductive.
Good politicians understand that dynamic. Republicans did not demonize Hubert Humphrey, Adlai Stevenson or Walter Mondale. Democrats, back when they had savvy, did not demonize Gerald Ford, Dwight Eisenhower or Ronald Reagan. Even those candidates described as dangerous extremists, like Goldwater and McGovern, were acknowledged to be good men.
Now Democrats have become Dilemmacrats. The core of the minority Democrat Party is frothing at the mouth with blind hatred of President Bush. The logical approach in the 2004 election would be to nominate a moderate sounding liberal, like Joe Lieberman, or a genuine moderate, like John Breaux, and run a campaign of loyal opposition.
This would enable other Democrats on the ballot in November 2004 to run comfortably with their party standard bearer. President Bush was certainly not going to run to the left of any Democrat nominee, so a Democrat leaning to the center made great tactical sense.
Nominating Lieberman or Breaux would also have been a great strategic move. Wartime leaders are tough to remove, but opposition parties can quickly recoup losses after the war is over. The most recent example, of course, is Bill Clinton in 1992. But after the Second World War ended, the British and American peoples rewarded the loyal opposition. Labour and Atlee defeated Conservatives and Churchill in 1945, and Republicans won a landslide victory in 1946.
Democrats have instead been so enraged that they have become the modern equivalent of Copperheads. During the Civil War, Democrats were anything but the loyal opposition. The savage portrayal of Abraham Lincoln, the open invitation by George McClelland to make peace with the South, and the general disdain throughout the Democrat Party toward abolition and equality for blacks led to strong post-bellum political wars.
Republicans won these wars decisively. Only one Democrat, Grover Cleveland, was elected president from 1860 to 1912. Republicans had entered the Civil War a minority party and emerged as the majority party in Congress and state governments. Even this understates Republican dominance. Blacks were overwhelmingly Republican for the fifty years after the Civil War, and black voters were disenfranchised not only in the South but in much of the North.
Howard Dean has tapped into the hatred of Bush that easily trumps concern about the terrorist war waged against America. Dean is not smart, not wise, not kind and not honest - but he is very, very angry. Like McClelland in 1864, Dean is arrogant and contemptuous of the bumpkin president from the backwoods of America.
Cool heads in the Democrat Party should have seen how catastrophic the Molotov Cocktail from Montpelier might be to their plans to regain power, but venom has caused a feverish delusion that everyone hates President Bush like they do.
Now, as President Bush shows us a liberated Afghanistan, a liberated Iraq, a meek Libya, a friendlier Europe, and a more sympathetic Canada no one can seriously say the things that Dean has been saying for years. War crimes trials of Hussein will make Dean Democrats look soft on genocide (not a good thing.)
Only a mad dash from Bush-loathing can prevent a Democrat debacle in November. But now Dilemmacrats must face the problem of sabotaging the man who is saying what many Democrat diehards believe. Why, if Dean is so bad, has everyone been quiet until now? What, then, do Democrats really believe? How different do other Democrats really sound from Dean? And will Dean go gently into political oblivion?
These are self-inflicted political wounds. The party of Zell Miller, Ed Koch, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Sam Nunn could do much better than this. Democrats could have been that loyal opposition which is so helpful to democracies in time of war. History knocked, but Democrats did not open the door. And politically, Democrats are now Dilemmacrats.
Bruce Walker is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right. He is also a frequent
contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.
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