Mourning In America

A New York Democrat on politics, journalism, and the Mets

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Friday, November 05, 2004
Let the self-loathing begin... Was it all my fault? What was I thinking, citing Mario Cuomo's 1984 DNC keynote address and claiming it should have resonance in this election? Not like November 1984 was a great time for Democrats. Talk about bad karma!

In retrospect, the results of this election seem so obvious, just based on my personal contacts with people. For every three Democratic friends radicalized by Bush, there is one who was radicalized by 9/11, and feels that the war on terror must be pressed ruthlessly, and that Bush was the only candidate who would do that. They formed the basis of an uneven exchange in voter pools -- switching places with the smaller numbers of fiscally conservative / socially libertarian 2000 Bush voters who recoiled in horror from his agenda since then. They lined up with the third of the electorate that considers itself "evangelical," and there's Bush's majority.

In truth, I'm not sure anyone's "to blame" for Kerry's defeat. He ran strong, honorably, and he lost. Unfortunately, as a result, I also think the path ahead for the Democratic party is not at all clear. Everyone, from the Democratic Leadership Coalition on the right, to The New Republic in the center-left, to Tom Tomorrow on the left, seems to think all that's necessary is a clearer positive message.

If only it were that simple. Find me the clear, positive message that manages to invigorate the entire scope of the party, from the Sierra Club to the AFL-CIO to George Soros, while also picking up some converts.

As much as the Bush partisans are now chortling over the fact that Kerry was their "ideal opponent," so, too, was Bush the Democrats'. Opposition to his comically right-wing agenda was a powerful motivating force for basically every interest group within the Democratic fold. Democratic turnout was massive, and from at least two accounts of people working on the ground in swing states, inspiring.

But in the glow of that unity, the commentators above make the mistake of assuming it will endure. Remember that George W. Bush took office in the first place because of left-wing defections to Ralph Nader in 2000. The next Democratic presidential candidate won't face the same threat if he/she tries to run further to the right and cleave off some of Bush's support. And for the commentators who support running to the left, one just has to ask how much more of the base they think could possibly be engaged. This quote in The New Republic from one of the organizers of Cleveland's Democratic Get Out the Vote effort sums it up:

"We did everything we set out to do, and we exceeded all of our goals," Akili says, sitting on a bench outside a glum Kerry headquarters as he prepares to head to the airport with some colleagues. "But our goals might not have been high enough. I just don't know if Cleveland had much more to give."

Bush and the Republicans generally, needing only to reassure the evangelicals and the war-birds, have a much easier task. Katha Pollit accurately sums up why the hunt for this grail is likely to be futile:
"It's assuming that Christian-right voters don't really mean what they say. If a voter wants Christian Jihad, he may not be willing to desert the cause for health insurance."

Tuesday, November 02, 2004
Mmmmm, Classy "MSNBC's Priya David says the Vice President in Las Vegas yesterday thanked Senators McCain and Ensign for introducing him by saying, 'When people say flush the Johns, they don't mean these two.' After some hesitant laughter from the crowd, he added in a joking tone, 'I'm sorry, it's the last day of the campaign, what do you expect?'"

The Rats Are Fleeing the Ship Supporters of Pa. Republican Sen. Arlen Spector, apparently recognizing that the top of their party's ticket is more likely to harm than help the moderate's re-election bid, are reportedly distributing a "sample ballot" in the Philadelphia area advocating votes for Kerry/Spector.

End of an Era In a development almost certain to be lost in the stream of elections news, legendary New York newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin gave up his thrice-weekly column in Newsday this morning. He's not fully retiring, but removed from the regular deadline pressure to produce a news-oriented column, Breslin's work and influence will never be the same.

Breslin was by no means perfect, and suffered from the same elevated level of self-regard that all people who end up in the spotlight eventually contract. But his ability to humanize the news and convey it with unique language that made you feel the urgency in every word remains unsurpassed.

He was also a damn good reporter -- timely to the end. He went out flogging what might be his last big scoop -- several months ago, he was the first mainstream reporter to start raising quesitons about whether political pollsters were ignoring the large and growing community of people who rely solely on cell phones: a group that by its demographics (think young), overwhelmingly supports Kerry -- an assumption that was later affirmed by cell-phone polls conducted by Zogby and the Kerry campaign. If Kerry strongly outperforms the national polls, this group will be one reason, and Breslin's readers won't be as surprised as everyone else.

Monday, November 01, 2004
Everything's Coming Up Kerry I've been waiting months to use that. On the eve of the election, it seems like it's time. The undecideds, as predicted, are breaking for the challenger. The final Fox poll, just released, shows Kerry up 48-46 nationwide -- within the margin of error, but a huge move from its 5% Bush lead just four days ago.

The Less You Know The Bush campaign is refreshingly honest about the fact that its core supporters are people who just don't know that much about the world. My favorite poll in the last week showed Bush up by 21 percentage points among those who did not watch any of the debates (Kerry led by 6 percentage points among those who did). Now comes this quote from chief Bush political strategist Karl Rove, in predicting that the "undecided" voters this year will not break for Kerry (the "incumbent rule"):

They're the traditional undecided voter who is paying some attention but not taking a lot in and is going to make a late decision.