the 2004 Race: Wazzup, Democrats?
By Bernard Weiner, The
Twelve months from now, the most important American presidential
election since the Depression will take place. It will determine
whether the country continues its imperial warring abroad
- the next potential targets appear to be Syria and Iran -
and whether domestically we will continue our quick slide
away from Constitutional protections into an even more militarist,
police-state society. The stakes are that high.
It might prove useful one full year before that vote, therefore,
to take a step back and see where we are in a variety of areas
that might influence American voters.
We already know who the Republican nominees will be: Bush
& Cheney. Of course, the GOP powers-that-be might decide that
Cheney is more a liability than asset, and he would resign
due to "health concerns." Then it could be some GOP senator
(Hatch?) or Condoleeza Rice - trying to take the African-American
vote out of the Dems' base.
We will have a better idea who the Democratic nominee will
be - or rather, who will not be the standard-bearer
- after the first initial primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire
in February, and then the large-state primaries in early-March.
Some hopefuls will drop out at that stage. (Senator Bob Graham
already has withdrawn, though he's let it be known that if
the eventual Dem candidate wants to choose him as a running-mate,
he'd be available.)
I would guess that Lieberman and Edwards would bow out fairly
early, maybe also Kucinich (who, probably no surprise, is
my candidate). Gephardt, with heavy manufacturing-union support,
probably will stay in the race. Sharpton and Moseley-Braun,
who have been most impressive, may stay in the hunt, not because
they can win but to ensure that they have major leverage at
Dean has the momentum, money and organizational structure
at the moment, and even is picking up some key service-union
and other major endorsements. But if Dean continues to stub
many more of his toes, Kerry or Clark might well be the beneficiary.
(The Southern-strategy issue Dean raised is a courageous and
vital one, but he sure was clumsy in explaining it and dealing
with the fall-out.)
Clark still has a lot of learning to do as a campaigner,
but he's well-positioned as the middle-range candidate between
the Dean/Kucinich more liberal wing of the party and the Gephardt/Lieberman
more conservative wing. Plus, he's got the heroic warrior
credentials, something that would play well against Bush's
AWOL history. Kerry, also a war hero - but one who voted to
give Bush a blank check to invade Iraq, thus angering the
Democratic base - in this analysis could squeeze by only if
Clark and Dean falter.
As of mid-November 2003, I'd say the tickets could well
look this way: Bush/Cheney vs. Dean/Clark or maybe Dean/Graham.
(But the Democrats, jockeying for voter blocs, need to cool
their rhetoric towards each other and aim their verbal guns
mainly in the direction of the resident in the White House.)
I'm guessing that the central issues for the Democratic
primary will be the war in Iraq (the lies and manipulations
that got us in there and that wrong-headedly keep our troops
quagmired there, with the U.S. isolated and hated in much
of the Muslim world, Europe and elsewhere); the shaky employment
situation; and the lack of funds to maintain popular social
programs because Bush&Co. are spending away the treasury on
war and security issues, thus saddling our kids and grandkids
with humungous debt and bankrupting popular social programs
in the process. This, while giving generous tax breaks to
the already-wealthy, providing little or nothing to the strapped
middle-class, and leaving plenty of children behind with their
It's also possible that several major Bush scandals will
come to a ripe head prior to the election: 9/11 pre-knowledge
(still being stonewalled by the Administration), the felonious
outing by "senior Administration officials" of a covert CIA
agent as a form of revenge politics, the gross lying by the
Administration about the toxicity of the air in New York for
months after the 9/11 attacks, Cheney's secret energy report
still kept hidden away from public view, and the appalling
treatment of soldiers and veterans by an administration that
pretends to be a dear friend of the military.
Bush, as in the 2000 election, has about a solid 40% base
to start with - die-hard conservatives, Christian fundamentalists,
angry Southern white men, etc. - who might normally be counted
on to stick with him no matter whom the Democrats select as
their nominee. So he cannot afford to alienate this base,
and will continue to throw them red-meat: playing to the religious
right (thus no overt sanctions for the anti-Muslim ravings
of Christian zealot Gen. Boykin), nominating extremist judges
that won't and can't be confirmed by the Senate, ratcheting
up the patriotic themes, harping on gun-control and abortion
and gay marriages.
Bush will count on the war situation not deteriorating much
further in Iraq, and an economy that gives preliminary evidence
of bouncing back. Somehow, he's got to neutralize the jobs
issue, the fact that 3,000,000 Americans have lost their jobs
since his inauguration. How he does this will be most interesting,
since so many jobs have been "outsourced" abroad, especially
in the high-paying tech fields, and will not be returning
to the United States. The "economy" may indeed be improving
for some, but the lack of well-paying jobs - and the general
insecurity about keeping one's employment - could be the economic
albatross around his neck. It's the jobs, stupid.
The neo-con philosophy undergirding Bush foreign/military
policy - as was emphasized openly by Bush in his recent major
address on the need for Arab democratization - requires more
arrogant bullying, especially in the Islamic Middle East,
perhaps even more wars. But, unless Bush and his advisors
are absolutely nuts, there will be no invasions before the
On the other hand, you never know with these guys; they
may figure that the American citizenry wouldn't want to change
electoral horses in the middle of a full-fledged war - and
some incident always could be found to justify an attack on
Syria or Somalia or elsewhere: "aiding and abetting the opposition
in Iraq," "hiding al-Qaida cells," maybe even "caches of WMD."
Those worked once, thanks to a quiescent press and lots of
lying, so maybe they figure they can get away with it again.
(A risky strategy, as the approval of Bush war policy in Iraq
is way down these days since the populace seems to have cottoned
to how they were manipulated into a war that threatens to
have no end other than a Vietnam-like tragedy.)
It would appear that, even with the mass-media being cheerleaders
for the Republican Party and attack-dogs against leading Democratic
contenders, the Democrats can count on a solid 40% of the
voters, who are appalled at what Bush&Co. have done to American
national-interests abroad - making us less, not more, secure
- and to the economy and civil liberties at home.
All over this country, Dem voters have indicated that they
will, if necessary, hold their noses and vote for whatever
reasonable candidate the party puts forward, even if they
might disagree with aspects of that candidate's program. And
large segments of Greens likewise have expressed a desire
not to repeat the political disaster of 2000 by running a
name-candidate for president, and will go along, for the public
good, by voting for the Democrat.
(But many would-be Democratic voters are turned off by the
cowardly enabling of the Dems in Congress, who have a tendency
to roll over whenever push comes to shove on key issues, such
as giving Bush a blank check to launch his Iraq war, and then,
just recently, approving everything he wanted in his $87 billion
package for that war. Not a good sign.)
If the Republicans and Democrats already have 80% of the
vote locked up, that means, as usual, that the election will
be decided by the 20% of voters in the middle. Many in that
group are independents, libertarians, disaffected moderate-conservatives
and small-government rightwingers/isolationists who are outraged
at having their party hijacked by let's-have-a-war types and
Big Brother neo-fascists. Also in that tappable middle are
mad-as-hell veterans, and disgruntled soldiers and their families
- angered by the incompetency and militarist arrogance that
are getting them and their loved ones killed and wounded for
what appear to be questionable ends.
If the Democrats run an elitist-type campaign without taking
those voters' concerns into consideration, they will lose.
If they can make the citizenry understand that Bush-led Republicans
are out-of-the-mainstream extremists who are endangering America's
security and the U.S. economy - including such popular programs
as Medicare, Social Security, Head Start, and giving short
shrift to the educational system and America's decaying infrastructure
- they have a good chance to win.
A WINNING CAMPAIGN
The focus now should be on getting a Democrat of principle
nominated as a result of the primaries, one who can win the
general election next November. That's why the current debates
are so helpful, in laying out the policies and personalities
of the various contenders - as long as those debates don't
degenerate into political bloodletting instead of focusing
on the opposition to Bush and his reckless policies.
There are, I believe, three keys to a winning campaign:
1. All abstractions must be tied to the real lives of American
citizens. You can't just say the U.S. is less secure as a
result of Bush policy, you have to show how our lives are
less secure, with examples. You can't just talk in generalizations
about job-losses and fears of job-losses, you have to demonstrate
how and why those jobs disappeared, and which new ones are
likely to disappear unless we have a shift in economic policy.
You can't just say the wealthy got huge tax breaks and the
middle-class got next to nothing, you have to provide the
figures and explain what those figures mean. You can't just
bash Bush for turning pollution-control over to the polluting
corporations, you have to show how that capitulation will
raise disease and death rates in various communities. Etc.
2. Democrats can't let the Republicans seem to have a patent
on security issues in this campaign. Americans, with good
reason, are fearful and want to feel more secure for themselves
and their children. The Democrats have to have specific plans
for enhancing the security of the U.S. - including full funding
for states and localities to put into place their emergency
haz-mat systems, with all the supplies they need - without
having to resort to shredding the Constitutional due-process
guarantees that make our governmental system so admired around
3. The Democrats need to have a plan to defuse the two most
dangerous military hot spots on the globe: Iraq and Israel/Palestine.
If the U.S., under a new administration, can go back to the
U.N. and assert its willingness to share power in the Iraq
reconstruction phase, it might actually be able to repair
the damage done by the Bush Administration's unilateralist
tendency to insult and humiliate others. Many nations might
be more willing to donate peacekeeping troops and money to
the cause, and, under an international banner, many Iraqis
might be more willing to acknowledge the legitimacy of the
world effort rather than to see the U.S. for the arrogant
occupation force that it is.
And if the U.S. can move forcefully to help implement a
fair peace settlement in the Middle East - security for the
Israelis, a viable contiguous state for the Palestinians,
end of the Occupation and abandoning the Israeli settlements
on Arab land, an internationalized Jerusalem, etc. - much
of the tension would recede in that incendiary area of the
world, and better relations would ensue with Islamic countries.
DIRTY TRICKS AND COMPUTER-VOTING
All signs point at this stage to yet another extremely close
election in 2004. Which means that, once again, we can anticipate
dirty tricks being employed in numerous large electoral-vote
states - last time in Florida, more than 90,000 voters were
illegally purged from the roles in advance of the balloting,
and similar ploys may be tried this time in several key states.
In addition, the potential computer-voting scandal could well
If several thousand votes could determine elections in those
key states, it is not outside the realm of possibility that
the vote-counting computer software could be fiddled with
to determine the winner.
As mainstream press outlets finally are starting to report,
those computer-voting software codes are mainly controlled
by three major Republician-supporting corporations - the CEO
of one of those companies, Diebold, promised to "deliver"
Ohio to Bush in 2004 - and they refuse to permit examination
of those codes by outside inspectors. Reason enough to push
for paper ballots for the 2004 election, counted by hand;
computer-voting technology is simply too new and too open
to manipulation. A journalist recently demonstrated how easy
it is to enter into the machines, manipulate the tally numbers,
and exit without leaving any trace of having even been inside
the system. There is some evidence to suggest that such vote-tampering
may have taken place in the 2002 elections in key states.
Given how close the 2004 vote might be, and the built-in
problems with the vote-counting software, it is incumbent
on all of us interested in the democratic process to lean
on our state and county election officials not to certify
those touch-screen computer-balloting machines until the software
codes can be certified and until a paper-trail of votes cast
can be built into the process. For more information on all
this, see the Electoral
Integrity file on The Crisis Papers, and Congressman Rush
DEFEAT IS UNACCEPTABLE
It is possible to defeat Bush in 2004, but, from
this moment on, it will take lots of time, money, energy and
determination. Once the Dems choose the nominee, it's full
speed ahead in terms of mobilization, signing up new voters,
working for the candidate, insisting on demonstrably fair
vote-tallying, etc. Without this kind of massive activism
and determination, we could lose.
If Bush gets elected in 2004, the world and our country
are in for policies too awful to contemplate. There would
be more "preventive" wars, more imperialist aggression, more
terrorist responses. Domestically, there is no telling what
would happen to our fragile, time-honored Constitution, to
our civil liberties, to our economy, to our air and water,
to our schools and kids, to all sorts of helpful social programs.
And to our sense of ourselves as a moral, democratic society.
Let's get to work. Now.
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., has taught government & international
relations at various universities, and was a writer/editor
at the San Francisco Chronicle for 19 years. Currently, he
Crisis Papers website.