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Lessons Learned?
January 8, 2003
By Ronald Gerughty

If there is one thing that Democrats everywhere can agree, it's that it is imperative, for the health of the country and of the world, that George W. Bush be denied a second term. Like his father before him, it's time for a regime change in Washington. However, given the President's current popularity with the public and a mainstream media hostile to the liberal agenda, as well as to the truth of Bush's policies, that task will prove formidable. To defeat a sitting President in the midst of a war, no matter how contrived, requires a concerted effort on behalf of the opposition. Although arduous, the goal can be accomplished if the lessons learned previously are employed. Who will lead this opposition and what positions will be espoused? And, importantly, how will these positions be presented? These are the keys to restoring justice, liberty, and opportunity denied by the Bush administration.

Now that Vice President Gore has boldly and courageously given the Democrats new life and a superb opportunity to recapture the heart of the nation by opting out of the race for President in 2004, the field becomes wide open for would-be standard bearers. No less than six contenders are expected to vie for top honors and that number could go as high as ten within the next few months. The road of caucuses and primaries is rough and rocky and who is selected finally is important, but how they are selected is the key to victory in November 2004.

Granted, the policies articulated are important, but the image created in doing so is critical. It is often said that the public votes their wallet and under normal circumstances that is true; however, we are no longer in that realm. Unfortunately, we have evolved into a society governed by the corporate media-by Madison Avenue slick campaigns, sloganeering, and sound-bites. Individuals now vote the image, the perception: their gut reaction. Just look at George W. Bush. Given the tragic events of 9/11 and the world threat of terrorism, he projects the image, however false, of the great protector. He has created a mass delusion in this country based on war-fever patriotism and capitalizing on fear. He created this image by convincing Americans that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction and that they are aimed directly at their children. He falsely links Iraq and al Qaeda, thereby, equating a war against Iraq as a significant step in reducing terrorism in the United States. He has cast the image to combat their uncertainty and fears-they have made the connection between Bush's administration and their family's safety. What a snow job; but, image is all-powerful. A candidate may have the right message and still lose because of the image projected-ask Al Gore.

Many believe the Democrats have no hope of recapturing the White House in 2004. The naysayers believe Bush is too popular to unseat and the Democrats are too disorganized to even try. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although they cite the results of election 2002 as proof of the failing of the Democratic Party, the truth is that the Democrats took it on the chin, not because of wild support for the Republicans, but because the Democrats presented such an unappealing image, the base simply did not turn out. Had the normal constituency voted, the Democrats would not have lost control of the U.S. Senate and would have gained seats in the House of Representatives.

With a little more than a year to go before the Iowa caucus, the Democrats are scrambling to find a leader. How they select that person is of utmost importance. Remember Gore vs. Bradley in 2000? That quest for the Democratic nomination did much to sink the candidacy of Al Gore-it created the image of an individual that many simply didn't like, and wouldn't vote for. Primary campaigns present the opportunity for the public to visualize the candidates, to form opinions, and develop gut reactions. If they don't like what they see, they'll look elsewhere for someone to support.

As the Democratic hopefuls combat to secure the Party's nomination, there are many important things for them to remember; however, the primary concern should be to take back the Presidency and control of the Congress, but not at all costs. It's not "winning isn't everything, it's the only thing" mentality of Vince Lombardi and the Republican Party. It's the high road and if we lose, then we regroup and try again. However, let's not provide the opposition with ammunition to use against the attempt to return our lost freedoms.

There are two games in this playoff: one to secure the nomination and the other to win the general election. For now, at this stage of preparation, let's concentrate on the former.

We no longer have the smoke-filled backrooms that provided the means for selecting the one candidate who would be the Party's standard-bearer, we now have numerous candidates from which to pick. We do this through our primary system, but history shows us that primaries have a way of bringing out the worst in candidates as they struggle to grasp the gold ring. Unfortunately, it often becomes a no-holds-barred contest, containing the seeds of self-destruction to be used by the Republicans in the general election. Our candidates must resist this urge by remembering that the objective is to give to the American people the very best candidate, not to gain the nomination at the expense of your opponent.

To present the best image possible, each primary candidate must be committed to the common goal: unseat the pretender and dismantle the current constitutional dictatorship that is wreaking havoc on our liberties and threatening our very way of life. How can this be accomplished?

Be foursquare in what you believe and articulate your policies in a positive, not negative light. Don't hang your star on the failures or potential failures of your opponents, but on your positive approach to solve the problem. Leave no question as to where you stand on any particular issue, regardless of which way the political wind may be blowing. Disregard the polls, pundits, and what you think the audience wants to hear. Above all, do not waffle, be firm, and stay with your convictions.

Be honest in your approach, there is no need to take reasonable arguments and embellish or exaggerate them to a point of unbelievability. Doing so creates an unfavorable image and drives away substantial support. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Provide a clear, understandable policy and back it with particulars. If it will cost, say so and offer solid evidence of how you intend to provide it. If it will hurt, admit it and let the public decide if they want to engage. Never hide potentially damaging facts, bring them out into the open to deny the Republicans the opportunity to do so at a later, critical time.

When you believe your opponent is in error or is advocating an approach not supported by you, disagree, but do so respectfully and courteously. Point out the area(s) of disagreement and provide facts to substantiate your position. Be in control, but not overbearing. Present the image of an individual in command of the facts, but respectful of opposing views.

Under no circumstances use negative attacks on your primary opponents, as they will come back to haunt you in the general election. Negative attacks, distortions of records, and misrepresentation of positions not only anger your opponent and his advocates, thereby losing support for you, they provide potential ammunition to the Republicans. If you think that you must savage your opponent in order to win, then your position is weak or wrong, and the public will likely perceive such.

If our candidates can subscribe to, and follow, this code, they will effectively modify their image and if they will capitalize on the lessons of campaigns past, we will send the immoral and hypocritical Bush regime to its Waterloo in 2004.

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