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Handicapping the 2004 Race: Wazzup, Democrats?
November 13, 2003
By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers

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 (Senator Bob Graham already has withdrawn, though he's let it be known that if the eventual Dem candidate wants to choose him as a running-mate, he'd be available.)

THE CONTENDERS

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 the convention.

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.)

THE ISSUES

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 education scam.

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.

THE REPUBLICANS

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 election.

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.)

THE DEMOCRATS

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 the world.

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 become actual.

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 Holt's bill on computer-voting.

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 co-edits The Crisis Papers website.

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