The morning after the Armageddon Election, Surfette wonders: If the Democratic Party cannot beat Mr. Bush, who can it beat?
Going into Nov. 2, President George W. Bush was an incumbent primed for defeat, with plummeting approval ratings and a news cycle working seriously against his policies, from national security to the deficit.
Yet Mr. Bush won a majority of the popular vote--for the first time since 1988 (hat tip: Mudville Gazette). And Republicans have solidified their hold on Congress.
Why did Mr. Bush and the GOP win?
Surfette has some preliminary theories and wants to hear yours. But, first, some data. Here's an excerpt from the very best exit poll I've seen:
Q. What issues, if any, were most important to you in deciding how you would vote for president today?
Moral/ethical values - Bush voters: 52% Kerry voters: 26%
Jobs/economy - Bush: 18% Kerry: 47%
Terrorism/homeland security - Bush: 45% Kerry: 13%
Situation in Iraq - Bush: 11% Kerry: 21%
Why Mr. Bush won and Mr. Kerry lost
Short version: The Republican candidate won because the GOP is manned by superior strategists who have maintained their connection to the hearts and minds of their core constituency--and because they have a disciplined party. The Democratic candidate lost because the DNC has lost its gut-level connection to constituents and its ranks, completely fed-up, have begun to do their own thing or scatter to the winds.
Long version: GOP strategists fundamentally understood the priorities of Americans who live outside the Beltway and urban centers. I'm talking about the kinds of Americans I grew up with in Montana, people who won't spend $3.00 on a Starbucks latte even if they can afford it because it isn't the right thing to do--because they have other, better priorities for their hard-earned dollar, like braces for their kids or investing in their communities (c-h-u-r-c-h).
Surfette believes many of these Americans were eager for a real alternative to President Bush, hence public disapproval of the war in Iraq and his performance as commander in chief. But the Democrats blew it. Here's how:
Exhibit A: So-called moral values.
Republicans made the most of the Democrats' achilles heel--so-called moral values--and introduced a wildly successful, sweeping gay marriage ban. The ban turned out voters who supported the policy in all 11 states where it appeared on the ballot. President Bush benefited, winning 9 of these states--including Ohio, which went so far as to ban even civil unions between the same gender. Messrs Kerry and Edwards missed a huge opportunity to invoke the separation of church and state--and to proselytize a Libertarian-style privacy issue as true American patriotism. Instead, they looked like sneaky hypocrites, willing to choke out Mary Cheney's name but unwilling to stand firm for or against gay marriage. Were they neocons? Neolibs? No--old-fashioned politicians, guaranteed to turn every voter off.
Exhibit B: Terrorism/Homeland security.
The GOP play to moral values was a wound, but terrorism and homeland security were fatal for Mr. Kerry. Republicans made the most of the fact that Mr. Bush articulated a consistent military strategy and Mr. Kerry did not. That's different from tough talk, which Mr. Kerry delivered plenty: In every speech Surfette watched, Mr. Kerry promised to kill Osama Bin Laden. And watching him, you believed he'd be personally willing to do the job. However, neither Mr. Kerry nor the Democratic National Party ever communicated a specific military strategy--domestic or international--to pick up where Mr. Bush and the troops are now and carry the whole mess across the finish line. People who have loved ones on the front lines and/or who fear for their security at home cannot be expected to vote against one policy without having another in hand. "I will do a better job" isn't enough, no matter what the military record of the candidate, Matea Gold is right.
Exhibit C: The disillusioned and formerly Democratic Left
One of the two men I saw take the stage at April's pro-choice march, an African American minister whose name was lost in cheers from the crowd, quoted Benjamin Franklin: "We must all hang together, or we will hang separately."
Election 2004 proves it. The Left experienced a massive burst of energy and motivation in Election 2004, demonstrated nowhere better than in religious attendance (and tithing) to leading left-wing blogs such as Eschaton, Liberal Oasis, and Daily Kos. The DNC's candidate also benefited from extraordinary mass media outreach to voters by the Michael Moores and Eminems and Oprahs.
Yet the DNC wasn't able to muster an effective strategy for connecting to voters--the pulse was missing. And it showed. Blogger Teresa Nielsen Hayden distills one such problem here (hat tip: Body and Soul). Anyone who's been watching the left since Dr. Howard Dean left the presidential race can see of the Left's many fissures by looking at these old posts on AriannaOnline. Divisive, yes, but no more so than the Green, black, Latino, Asian, and pro-choice lobbies can be. Case en pointe: half of the silent majority who support legal abortion are men, but the nation's most powerful Planned Parenthood outpost sells this t-shirt:
When and how can the Democratic Party coalesce and begin winning again?
Surfette doesn't think it's an exaggeration to say that the Democratic Party must rationalize its existence on Nov. 3 and beyond -- to Dean supporters who questioned Mr. Kerry from the very beginning, as well as to the boomer lefties who gave the DNC $2,000 to defeat the ailing Bush administration and are now wondering what happened.
The answers are out there--so are imminent challenges. For starters, here is some recommended reading from people who are willing to reach outside the proverbial blue box:
Nicholas Kristof - Recommends fighting the yuppification of the Democratic Party and appealing to middle America by talking about both kinds of values--economic and faith.
(Update as of 11/4: Surfette keeps finding great articles on this topic, and adding to this reading list. All suggestions welcome!)
Surfette also recommends reading the left's critics. And I don't mean self-promoters like him or her. I mean the articulate passionate right, voices motivated by their genuine commitment to God, America and their families. Begin by reading one of the best all-around conservative blogs, INDC Journal, on why the Democrats lost and what some people in the media still don't understand about it. Then move on to La Shawn Barber's Corner and Mudville Gazette.
Surfette will be at Bloggercon this weekend, and promises to report back on this issue in particular. Until then, I welcome your thoughts on any of the above, as well as the dramatic need for a policy-oriented, critical press that I have mentioned before.