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A Cynic's Guide to the 2002 Election
July 2, 2002
By Mike McArdle

Last year I wrote The Cynic's Approach to Democratic Victory on this site. That was mostly a plea to the Democrats to be more practical and less ideological in the wake of the disputed 2000 election. I felt at the time and I still do that the demographics of the US are turning the Democrats' way but then 9/11 happened and the party seemed to completely lose its voice. But it's not at all too late for the party to hold its own and possibly gain some valuable ground this fall. Here's one way to do it.

First, nationalize the election. This had some positive effects for the Republicans in 1994 when they retook the House and Senate and although it's not a panacea I really think it's right for the Democrats this fall. Since 9/11 the rank and file have felt disconnected from the national leadership and donıt feel that the party has a direction and a focus. Bush's high approval numbers seems to have scared the party bigwigs and rather than say anything that sounds unpatriotic they seem to have become afraid to say anything. As a result I sense that the voters the party needs this fall are uncertain as to what theyıre voting for. The differences between Bush and Gore that so dominated the political landscape two years ago are largely forgotten. The party needs to define itself for the post 9/11 era. Maybe have some of those 2004 hopefuls deliver the message over national TV.

Second, the party has to realize that it can still win on economics but they have to show where they differ from the Bush program. The aging of America can be made to work dramatically in favor of the Democrats but they have to know how to play it.

Thirdly, the "war," such as it is can be at least neutralized and possibly turned to a slight advantage.

Caution: There are issues that it appears will not work and could be counter-productive. Leave them alone. Among these are:

a) Enron can be used in the broader context of corporate corruption but in the absence of a smoking gun tying Bush and Cheney to the Enron corruption this issue is going nowhere, best not to mention it, at least for now.

b) The issue of who knew what in the White House before 9/11 seems to only work if it consists of calling for an independent investigation. If it's used at all it's probably best to do so in the presence of a 9/11 survivor.

c) The constitutional rights of Johnny Lindh, Jose Padilla, or anybody at Guantanamo. The public isn't interested and would resent it being brought up. It matters only to activist types who already know who they are going to vote for.

d) The Florida 2000 election ­ It's over and absolutely NOBODY cares.

These are our issues:

Social Security

Republican strategists recently advised GOP candidates to emphasize strongly that they oppose any plan to "privatize" social security. This shows us that even they recognize that Bush's "reform" is a sure fire political loser. Even though the Republicans will never let this turkey come to a vote in the House I see no reason why the Democrats cannot flush each of their opponents out on this matter and make them take a stand.

A study recently done for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that the "partial privatization" that the administration is pushing will result in significant benefit cuts for current recipients, the disabled and for those who do not opt for the private accounts. With a huge percentage of the population either currently receiving benefits or becoming recipients in the next 20 years this could swing a significant number of votes to the Democratic side. Have you heard any Democrats talking about this? Me neither.


Medicare is already being squeezed by the need to cover the deficits caused by Bush's huge tax cuts. The payment rates are becoming more inadequate by the day and many physicians are beginning to turn away Medicare patients. Some service providers that cater to the elderly are in poor financial shape or are going out of business entirely. The projections for the next few years are dismal. The Republicans who've hated the program since it was instituted in the early sixties are letting it die (or at least they can be portrayed as letting it die).

Again, do you ever hear the Democrats talk about any of this? This a Golden Goose that our guys are simply turning their back on. Again, the elderly or soon to be elderly are one of the fastest growing segments of the population. The threat to Medicare is very real and very frightening to millions of Americans and can be a huge help this Fall if the leadership will show some testicular fortitude and use it to their advantage.

There is a direct link between the Bushies obscene giveaway to the wealthy and privileged and the crisis in Medicare. It's time to make use of it.

Prescription Drugs

This was a huge issue in the 2000 campaign and the GOP just passed their version of prescription drug coverage in the House. It is considerably less generous than the Democratic plan, is probably unworkable in that it depends on private insurance plans that don't even exist at the moment and leaves vulnerable the people with the highest drug costs. (I'm sure those private insurance companies will just be falling over themselves to insure a bunch of old people who need lots of drugs). The Democratic plan is more expensive but the GOP is no position to holler about "fiscal responsibility" given the huge deficits it's running and it's sponsorship of the very expensive farm and education bills. They're over a barrel and their last minute bill is just an attempt to take the heat off. This issue can be a win, win for the Democrats.

The War

The entire claim that the "war on terror" has been a success rests on the Afghanistan campaign. And yet both Bin Laden and Mullah Omar boogied out the back door that was left wide open by the Bushies insistence on using local tribes with no loyalty to any "error war" close out the deal. So Afghanistan has reverted to ancient tribal rivalries that have characterized it for centuries and the figurehead leader Hamid Karzai commands a vast area that extends from the back wall of his office to the front door. The US is faced with either years of "nation building" or an Afghanistan that will again become a haven for the Al Qaedas of the world.

This is the entirety of what has been accomplished in almost 10 months. In the meantime new evildoer warnings are coming out every day. If the "war on terror" were a prize fight the referee would be considering how many more punches he can let Bushie-boy take before awarding "terror" a TKO.

This issue, of course, has to be handled delicately because there is always a desire for unity in the face of an enemy and the Republicans will try to scream that any criticism is unpatriotic but the issue of competence can work, at least slightly, in the Democrats favor.

Corporate Corruption

The economic populism message didn't seem to resonate in 2000 but today the economy is hurting, there are more people out of work, and the public is being treated to a rash of stories of falsely inflated stock prices, huge bonuses for executives of failing companies, insider trading and disappearing pensions. The Senate, after the latest revelations, resumed its push for reform of accounting practices and the creation of an independent regulatory board. This is a positive step but the difference between the Dem position and the GOP position has been made clear to the public. Do you think anybody outside the DNC knows what it is?

It also might not be a bad idea to make an issue of the employment practices of some the largest employers. As Barbara Ehrenreich pointed out in the New York Times last week ( Wal-Mart is being sued in 28 states for failing to adhere to the Fair Labor Standards Act which requires that employers pay overtime for more than 40 hours of work. Other retail employers frequently require that hourly employees spend "off clock" time at their jobs. Would it hurt to propose a crackdown on practices like this? There are a hell of a lot of retail employees out there.

The Economy

The economy flat out stinks and has ever since these clowns took office. But I sure as hell don't hear much about this from our Democratic leadership. How far has the Dow dropped in that time? How much of an effect has that had on the retirement funds and college funds that so many Americans count so heavily on? How many layoffs have there been? How are the deficits affecting the aforementioned Medicare and Social Security issue?

I don't know the answers but if the DNC knows they're keeping quiet about it. If a Democrat was in the White House do you think that RNC would be talking about it, war or no war?

Get the numbers, make them into an easily remembered campaign slogan, use the slogan, repeat as necessary.

Side Issues

It also won't hurt to remind the suburban soccer moms and independents that the Republican Party remains controlled by the people who take away the reproductive rights of half the population. It won't hurt either to refresh the memory of people in California and Oregon (where there is a vulnerable GOP Senate seat) about the way the Attorney General has been attempting to override the will of the voters on medical marijuana and assisted suicide.

The issues are out there and the voting public is largely on the Democrats side especially when the issue is economics. But our side has to speak up and articulate the differences between them and the other side.

It's quite doable but it's going to take some cajones. Get it guys? Let's see a little.

Mike McArdle is the DU writer formerly known as birdman.

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