A Cynic's View
November 7, 2002
The worst thing about Tuesday's election was that it didn't
have to happen. It was a wasted chance, a blown opportunity
that may be hard to get back. And if you're looking to place
the blame don't point at the voters or the media or whacko
conspiracy theories or even the Republicans. The blame belongs
entirely with the Democrats themselves who ran out of appendages
to shoot themselves in. You want people to go out and vote
for you? Give them a reason to do so. They didn't.
So how did it happen and what now?
First of all, Terry McAuliffe should be informed that effective
immediately and for all time his services will no longer be
required. Disappointing election results aside he gives the
impression of a sleazy political operative much in the way
that noted toe-sucker Dick Morris does. McAuliffe's expertise
is supposedly in fund raising. Fine. We need the McAuliffes
in the party. We don't need them in front of the camera. The
party's spokesman should be a respectable Mr. Clean type who
can sit across a table from Tim Russert and deliver the party's
message in a clear succinct manner - this is especially important
when the party does not control the White House.
But there's something about McAuliffe that reminds me of
someone who's trying to scam someone's granny out of her life
savings. I often feel like I need a shower after one of his
TV appearances. The tacky Wellstone memorial had Terry's style
written all over it (he classily blamed it on the Wellstone
family last Sunday). McAuliffe may indeed be Bill Clinton's
guy but if so he represents Clinton's dark side (the pardons
and interns side). And, while we're on the subject, if McAuliffe
is such a terrific fund-raiser why the hell was the party
broke the week before the election? Sleazebags are only tolerable
when they win. Try not to let the door hit you in the ass,
And while we're talking about who's going to deliver the
party's message maybe we should discuss the desirability of
having one. The malaise and confusion that has infected the
party leadership since 9/11 was evident all through the fall.
Immediately after Labor Day they were thrown on the defensive
by the Iraq question. I find it hard to believe that they
didn't see it coming in that every pundit in DC seemed to
know all summer that the Bushies were going to use Iraq as
a fall campaign issue. But when it came up the Dems looked
confused, defensive and disorganized. They refused to ask
the relevant questions (Why now? How will it be paid for?
How long will we be there? etc.). The people have doubts about
Iraq, too, and would have welcomed the debate - but it never
happened. They first tried to avoid the vote and then simply
caved, abandoning their own people who couldn't bring themselves
to vote for it and sending a mixed message to the public.
It pleased nobody. They bungled again on the Homeland Security
issue. Instead of passing their own bill and forcing Bush
to veto it or sign it they allowed him to portray them as
unconcerned about security.
There seems to have been a fantasyland notion in Tom and
Dick's heads that if they would just get the uncomfortable
issues off the evening news and out of the headlines that
the dismal economy would somehow bail them out. But where
was the economic message?
Back in July* I recommended nationalizing the election and
focusing on several issues that the public would easily understand
and would delineate the differences between them and the GOP.
Did we hear a coherent, unified message from the Democrats
about the economy? Did they take the time to remind the public
that it wasn't exactly humming along? Did we hear anything
about layoffs, 401k's or the slimy cesspool that Harvey Pitt
made out of the SEC? Did the Dems present their own economic
plan? If they did I must have been otherwise occupied at the
time. The White House was able to quietly send Pitt packing
just after the polls closed on election night and I never
heard a Democrat mention his name in the last week when the
extent of Pitt's corruption and incompetence became so glaring.
The economy was a very usable issue for the Democrats
this fall. They just didn't use it.
I heard prescription drugs for seniors mentioned in plenty
of campaign commercials in the past few weeks but I heard
it from Republicans as well as Democrats. The Democrats allowed
the Republicans to put forth a "make it look good" prescription
plan that depends on private insurance plans that don't even
exist and probably never will. But did the Democrats take
the time to explain why their program was better? You simply
can't allow your opponents to trot out the mummified remains
of Art Linkletter and claim that the issue is theirs.
Not content with throwing away the prescription drug issue
the Dems let the GOP wriggle out of the Social Security noose
they had fashioned for themselves. You can't be for Bush's
private account plan and then say that you against "privatization"
but our guys let the Republicans say just that. Likewise Medicare
is now in trouble and the Bush administration is cutting back
drastically on payments to providers. And do you remember
what our parties response to that was? Neither do I.
Another thing. Can somebody please tell Barbra Streisand
that if she wants to help the party to send a check and shut
the hell up? The support of the Hollywood celebrities is an
essential part of the modern Democratic Party. It never hurts
to have attractive, famous people posing for pictures with
your candidates or making contributions. But La Streisand
should be aware that as a high profile person her actions
are going to attract more attention than those of an average
party member. Aging divas giving the party leadership foreign
policy advice and speculating in public that members of the
opposition party murdered a US Senator (without a shred of
evidence to support the contention) make the party look ridiculous
and hostile talk show hosts and columnists can hardly wait
for Barbra's next utterance.
The Clinton/Gore era is over. The voting public is not going
to gravitate to Democrats simply because they perceive the
Republicans as extreme. The party's got to present a clear,
concrete, serious, alternative or we're going to be having
these same post-mortems two years from now.