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Let Us Begin Anew
November 11, 2002
By Bob Volpitto

First, let me confess that back in August I wrote a piece, never filed for posting on the Internet, explaining why the party of Jefferson, Jackson, Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter and Clinton would fail on November 5, 2002. In retrospect, I wish I had posted that warning, a red flag that might have served to awaken those who held our fate in their hands. Alas, the day has come and past and we who knew the foreboding events leading toward future defeat best be silent.

Thus began a series of errors I now regret.

Unlike professional Democratic Party leaders, I and many others railed against George W. Bush, his administration, Congressional Republicans, the Supreme Court and giant corporations that bought them. Like many amateur politicians, I figured that damning with not even the slightest praise would suffice. This alone would awaken the American electorate to the vile opposition we faced and their selfish motives I, nay, all of us, were gravely in error.

The strategy of the Democratic leadership was analogous to a football game where one coach says to the other, "We'll give you the ball for the full 60 minutes of play, making you the offensive team. In turn, we will be the defensive team. Our objective is to keep you from scoring. That way we'll win." Make sense? Hardly.

There are other ways to explain our party's blunders. I recently read that if you sleep with dogs you're bound to get fleas. Another remark I read is if you try to walk down the middle of the road you are bound to get run over. These are hard learned lessons. My personal analysis is less kind and more direct. Too many Democrats in Congress waited until Bush dropped his pants and fell all over each other to be first in line to kiss his butt. Get the picture?

Looking back, we now understand it is a far better tactic to be more positive and less negative. We failed to understand that the phrase "loyal opposition" is two words. Yes, we must oppose policies we deem harmful to the people but remain loyal to the country we love and the people we want to serve by offering counter proposals that show true compassion to those who look to us to guide this nation toward greatness. We must be certain that the government serves the people who support it not the special interests that try to buy it.

The "Aginner" factor.

The best ten years of my life were spent in West Virginia where my wife and I owned and published a weekly newspaper. There we learned to speak "Hillbillyease." One descriptive statement in that colorful language is, "He's an aginner." That means he is against everything and everybody.

The "Aginner" factor played only a minor role in national politics until recent elections. Voters were "agin" Lyndon Johnson and subsequently Hubert Humphrey in 1968. Thus Richard Nixon became president. In 1976's Carter-Ford contest, the electorate voted "agin" Nixon and Ford, electing Carter who saw the process reverse itself four years later. At one time George Bush the Elder was 35 percentage points behind Michael Dukakis but a ruthless negative campaign by Bush turned the voter "agin" the former Massachusetts governor. To some extent, the 2000 presidential election hinged on the "Aginner" factor when citizens cast their ballots not for Bush the Lessor but against Clinton's successor, Al Gore.

The off year Congressional election came along and the Democratic leadership counted on the "Aginner" factor to sink Bush and his hand-picked candidates, but it didn't work big time. A hard driven Republican campaign financed with obscene amounts of money and a single message repeated over and over and over obliterated the "Aginner" factor. Bush and the Republicans won regardless of how many despised them and what they stood for. An unfocused, no-message Democratic campaign lead by a fragmented disorganized leadership crippled by under-funding not only drowned out the "Aginner" factor; it turned off the electorate.

As it so happened, and we failed to notice, the electorate of 2002 pleaded silently with Democrats to give them something to vote for, they already knew what they wanted to vote against. With no positive agenda given them, Democratic voters either stayed home or crossed party lines and cast their lot with the GOP simply because Republicans gave them something to vote for. Voters saw an end the gridlock in Washington which was all another two years of divided government offered, Bush convinced them. Their sorrow will come later.

Let us begin ...

As the Democratic Party struggles to reinvent itself in 2002 I am reminded of the Republican debacle of 1964. That year Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey soundly defeated the candidacy of Barry Goldwater and Bill Miller. The word, at least in West Virginia, was that the GOP as a national party was devastated beyond revival. No longer, we said, would there be a threat from Republicans strong enough to capture the Congress or regain the White House. What a revelation it was four short years later when once-whipped Richard Nixon was elected president and we even got a Republican governor in Arch Moore.

So let us begin anew. California Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi has been chosen House Minority Leader. At this writing, Tom Daschle's job as the Senate's leading Democrat is in question. New leadership will surely replace Terry McAuliffe. To the winners belong the spoils, to the losers belong the right of upheaval. Change must come. Let us begin and let us begin even before the wounds have healed..

Bob Volpitto is a retired newspaper owner/publisher who lives in the Southwest. Furthermore, he is a liberal Democrat and damn proud of it.

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