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Tuesday, A Cynic's View
November 7, 2002
Mike McArdle

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, Terry.

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.


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