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Wednesday, November 03, 2004


William Meisheid

Wow. A pox on both your houses posting...

I agree with you about the problem facing every major Democrat, who for the last four years shouted the Gore Won mantra based on a popular vote plurality. Well those same people now have to deal with a Bush majority popular vote and their rhetoric now comes back to haunt them and anything but a reasonable concession speech by Kerry today, not tomorrow or later.



David Holiday


I appreciate your perspective -- I really do -- critiquing the corporate shills of the DLC and the fanciful notion that there's a "left" political space out there that the Democratic Party should try to occupy.

I'm just not sure where that leaves us. Nowhere, for the moment, perhaps. And perhaps you're right--only a radical rethinking of everything will move us forward.


I think Marc is right that we really have to dig deep, but I don't think we're anywhere near seeing where the bottom is.

Somewhere in here there is the question of ethics vs. morality. We're unable to project ourselves into the minds of people who think that gay marriage or stem cell research or abortion or evuolution and sex education could possibly be bigger moral issues than an unjustified war.
Bush and his people follow the model that if it's right for me and my faith, it's right for the world. We look at the world and see what we think is right and wrong, just and unjust. We look at the big picture first and then we focus on our role within it.
Teenage pregnancy, for example. No, I don't want my daughter to be pregnant in high school and I'd rather she didn't experiment with sex too young. But that's not the way I look at the school's policy. That's statistical: how do we reduce something we all agree is bad? Etc.
Maybe Americans weren't any more ready for Dean than Kerry. But maybe now we have no choice. We've got to figure out how to communicate the idea that war itself is a moral issue. Now it's all George's war and we've got to find a way to stop it.

Louis Proyect

Kudos to Marc Cooper for his analysis of why Kerry lost. Although I disagree with him strongly on Cuba and other questions, I found his writings on the Kerry campaign refreshingly candid.

Brian Siano

I've been telling friends that this election is, for me, a referendum on the soul of America as a whole. We all know Bush's real, tangible negatives, so I won't list them here, but the man still held close to 50% of popular support throughout the election.

We can talk about all kinds of failures of the press, the Democrats, and even the left... but it could be that at least half of America really is dumber than a bagful of hammers. And when you factor in people with unrealistic expectations of Kerry-- say, expecting that he'd have pulled the U.S. out of Iraq-- that number's probably a lowball estimate.

William Meisheid

>Now it's all George's war and we've got to find a way to stop it.

If you wait a few months, I believe that will take care of itself, beginning any moment in Fallujah.

Michael Turner

Marc writes: "Is there a reader out there who would like to write in reminding us of one memorable line to be extracted and preserved from amidst the logorrhea that overflowed his campaign?"

I would like to. But ... for the life of me, I can't. Unless Howard Dean's hockey-dad "YeeeeeEEEAHHHH!" counts as a "line." Maybe it'll come to me later.

(BTW, you have his name as "Howard Dead", above, which I thought was funny until it occurred to me it might be a typo. Just FYI here. Change it to "Howard Duck" if you like, I don't care.)

I now read that the Bushies are castigating the Kerry campaign for not conceding already. Even given the microscopic probability of a Kerry win (or even an electoral college tie) at this point, you'd think the Bush campaign would be decorously patient and respectful of process, as you'd expect from good conservatives. I was hoping all this ugliness would be over by now. No such luck, I guess.


"That's statistical: how do we reduce something we all agree is bad? Etc."

For starters hammer home the theme time and time again that Repubs don't do a terribly good job dealing with perceived social problems that conservatives are so nervous about (i.e. abortion). I was watching Larry King the other night and watched a liberal Jesuit debating two southern christian ministers on a number of questions. When abortion came up, he pointed out that under Clinton abortion rates declined, under Bush they increased...and explained the tie between broader policies and that connection, in a neat soundbite sentence or two. The ministers, not surprisingly, changed the topic.

Michael Balter

Marc, as I often do, I agree with everything you have said here. The last time I voted for president was 1968, Peace and Freedom; this time I voted for Kerry, because I felt we had to get rid of Bush and in solidarity with all of my desperate progressive friends. In 1968, we had a somewhat similar choice of two candidates (Nixon and Humphrey, for those of you who don't recall), and the result was a huge antiwar movement that made the war in Vietnam the central issue and had few or no alliances with the Democrats. That is just one thing that we need to do now, and I don't mean a few big marches that we can congratulate ourselves about afterwards. I mean an antiwar movement that shows we will do anything to stop what is happening in Iraq, that shows that we really care and are willing to make sacrifices. As for reforming, rethinking, etc, the Democratic Party, I say no: We need to think very, very differently about third parties, instead of applauding when they are kept off the ballot. For God's sake, and for the sake of the future of our country and the world, let progressives not start thinking about the Democratic candidate in 2008. In other words, time to think about both the short term and the long term, and forget about stopgap measures. Are two lost elections, two mediocre Democratic candidates, not enough to make us see the light?

In saying all this I am talking to Progressives. The only ones to benefit from trying to reform the Democratic Party will be those on the right.

Michael Balter


Marc, what a marvelous piece you have written. I'm reminded of what the democrats could have been had Scoop Jackson prevailed.

Someone above wrote about America being a dumb bagful of hammers. Methinks that it's attitudes like this that that produced this election.

Living in Texas for the last 39 years, and in South Texas for a goodly hunk of that time I have voted for far more Democrats than I have Republicans, and I've never regretted a single one of those votes (well, maybe one or two).

The Democratic Party needs to remember the Coalition that made it in the first place, stop taking voters for granted and work for honest policy change and not reactionary obfuscation just because it can. When that happens, the Republicans will be forced to do the same and then, just maybe, we can see some real systemic changes in this country.

But first, we have to stop the demonizing and recriminations and do some real thinking.

Again, Bravo, Bravo, Bravisimo!!!!

Micah Sifry

Well said.

I used to say you can't beat something with nothing. This election also shows you can't beat nothing with nothing.

Bush had nothing. So he ran hard (like a challenger) against Kerry,
using Terror as his open weapon and gay marriage as his not-so-secret
weapon. The Big Lie held--by 52-44 the final exit poll (the only one
anybody should pay attention to) showed voters saw Iraq as part of the
war on terror. And in 12 states, anti-gay marriage ballot questions
(carefully cultivated by Rove) did the job of motivated the religious
right base.

Against that, Kerry presented nothing. His vote for the war AND his
failure to admit that that was a mistake made his Iraq critique ring
hollow. He also failed to deliver a coherent message on the economy,
Bush's biggest weakness and his strongest issue. In Ohio, 62% said the
economy was not good, but they split 48-48 on who they would trust to
deal with it. The anti-gay measure there passed 2-1, by the way.

See our friend Doug Ireland's blog at
http://direland.typepad.com/direland/2004/11/why_kerry_lost.html for
more along these lines.

The bottom line: claiming that we're descending into fascism is really
quite facile, but explains nothing, and it's an insult both to the
victims of real fascism and a way to reproduce the pattern of
behaviors that got our side into this hole. It's time to admit that
the Democratic party is in a real crisis, one that won't be solved by
a restoration of the Clinton family. Some folks understand that and
have been trying in various ways to seed new initiatives and new
thinking. It's critical that that continue.

"I'm reminded of what the democrats could have been had Scoop Jackson prevailed."

uhm, GM, he did prevail. whatever makes you think otherwise?

claiming that we're descending into fascism is really quite facile, but explains nothing, and it's an insult both to the victims of real fascism

--I hear you and Marc both repeating this mantra endlessly. The question is are you exaggarating the extent to which people believe that, left or liberal? My sense is you're exaggarating big time. People on the liberal left spectrum might be bummed about the election result, I am not hearing a whole lot of cries about fascism at the moment.


Marc, I always find your columns equal parts frustrating and inspiring. Once again you pinpoint some key fissures--pro-NAFTA Clinton, for example--and point out a need to re-construct the Democratic Party. But then sarcastically brushing aside the notion that we need a progressive move to the "left"? If you're implying we need to rethink the political spectrum, well, duh, but really, what does that mean concretely? Our current Democratic Party is a mess of knee-jerk shifts to the right on most economic issues, and a too frequent self-silencing on social issues unpopular to rabid right-wingers. So if we break it down and build it back up, you can't tell me that a better result would NOT be one shifted more to the "left". Maybe we're wearing out our political spectrum labels, but let's be honest: the Democratic Party moved rightward throughout the 90's, and now they're paying the political price. Re-building the Democratic Party (or a viable alternative) may not necessitate a "simple" move "left" (whatever that is), but it sure as hell can't move any further to the right. Clinton's experiment failed. Fearlessly getting back to the traditional Democratic base--middle and lower income workers, especially--I see as absolutely essential for providing a popular and effective challenge to the Republican Party. Once again, however, the Democrats were not up to the challenge.

Brian Siano

No cries of fascism, thank God: i think that's mainly because liberals are smart enough to know how melodramatic that sounds.

But if I see one more person yabber about moving to Canada, I'm going to fuckin' scream.

I know, it's never said seriously. But why Canada? Not to malign Canada or Canadians, but why not go hog-wild, and move to Europe, and live among more than a thousand years' worth of Western Civ while your children learn to speak three or more languages?)

"No cries of fascism, thank God: i think that's mainly because liberals are smart enough to know how melodramatic that sounds."

I don't think they ever were as big or as influential as people like Micah or Marc claim. I think it's the kind of thing they hear from a person who has a Johnny Damon hairstyle at a Manhattan party and then generalize to the left in general and draw the inevitable conclusion, "if the left didn't think that fascism was round the corner..."


The fellow who seems promising as the embodiment of a new Democratic party vision is Barack Obama. He's idealistic, but not doctrinaire. He seems accepting of everyone. For instance, he realizes that most Americans are, unless threatened, pretty much centrists. He's friendly and inclusive -- he may even have a Republican friend or two. While disagreeing with it, he sees the other side's point of view. When he speaks, you know you're listening to an adult. He has faith that his argument is valid enough to be made without raging or falling back on ad hominem attacks. He appears to be ambitious without being grasping. He's optimistic, not cynical. (Cynicism gets you nowhere; it's like sitting in a dirty diaper.) He says 'yes', not 'no' to challenges. He is even-tempered and has personal integrity. And he even seems to believe it's incumbent on him to spread the good luck he's enjoyed to others. Imperfect as it is, he actually likes America and thinks we can make it better! He also relies on some of the timeless spiritual elements we've inherited from Judaism and Christianity, among them the idea that we are our brother's keeper. In other words, Obama appeals to our universal, higher self - something even someone who voted for Bush can appreciate ;). Most of all, he wants to work with other politicians - not against them, because we're all in this together. In recent years, the Democrats have been sunk by ego, factionalism, anger, cynicism and internecine struggles. Moving farther to the left is a recipe for disaster. What the Democratic party needs to encourage is more cooperation and statesmanship. When one party is humiliated, we all lose. A determination to work through conflicts with ideological opponents is the only sure path. FYI, I voted for Gore in 2000 and Clinton before that and was truly alarmed by the low quality of candidates the Democrats offered. Frankly, I would have voted for Lieberman or Edwards - when he was taking the high road (how refreshing that was). I would even have voted for Edwards-Kerry. But Kerry? The man has no character and character is ultimately the best indicator of good leadership. Obama has character; I would have voted for him if he'd been available. If Democrats hope to make a positive contribution in the future, they'll have to throw away their discredited old-left bromides and formulas and start encouraging an innovative and heart-felt vision that includes a broader range of the citizenry.


". Maybe we're wearing out our political spectrum labels, but let's be honest: the Democratic Party moved rightward throughout the 90's, and now they're paying the political price. Re-building the Democratic Party (or a viable alternative) may not necessitate a "simple" move "left" (whatever that is), but it sure as hell can't move any further to the right."


Mark E. Gabriel

While I agree with much of the above, some of this doesn't follow.

I don't think that one can assume that had Kerry admitted his support for the war was mistaken and become anti-war, that somehow this was going to clarify the desired distinction between the Wars on Terror and Iraq in most of the populace. Basically, he took the republican position and lost with it. Being completely honest (as he should have been) and appreciated for such by holding an anti-war opinion, would have garnered him even fewer votes.

On the issue of gay-rights had he run with a more forceful and again more honest position, this would not have stopped the twelve states in their successful anti-gay ballots.

What I am missing in the above posts, with the exception of "Hope's" is that however badly misrepresented and misdirected our policies are, and however poor and bought-out our messengers are, it is our ideals which are being attacked and/or ignored. I can well share my red state compatriot's concerns for the economy, fear of terror, and the dread of a body bag containing one's child, but I do not understand this total reliance on faith, this wholesale fear, and this continuing attack on basic human rights.

Marc, in neither going "further right" nor being "trivialized," (not that I want to do either) what does your "rethinking" and "rebirthing" mean in real terms?

cal's cup runneth over

"the Democratic Party doesn't need to be reformed and repositioned, it needs to be rethought and reborn"

There was a lot of insight in Marc's piece, but I'm afraid that any political strategy that can be deduced from his critique is just as easily scripted as anything that will now ensue within the Democratic Party. I'ma also afraid that the prospect for success based soley on this critique as a guide is just as dreary.

What's curious is that the key political issues Marc cites as emblematic of the Democrat's failures - NAFTA, welfare and the war - are classic examples in which the alternative would have been "simply moving the party leftward" - which - no doubt correctly - is dismissed as a strategy by citing Kucinich. The one "moral" issue cites - the defense of Clinton against impeachment - was a singular example of the Democrats actually reflecting the will of the American people that "enough was enough" and we should move on. (And not coincidentally it occasioned the birth of one of the most successful populist innovations on the leftward side in many years - MoveOn.Org.)

There are two problems that all of the rethinking and earnest appeals and independent electoral effort in the world won't change. One is that we don't have a parliamentary system which would allow for the process Marc wishes for (though hasn't really described) to have even a whiff of political pragmatism. Second - and most important - the social, economic and cultural terrain of America will face whoever and whatever you put on the political map.

I'm reeling a bit - just a bit - from last night, but mostly because I had read the Zogby exit polls and allowed my emotions to swing too early. But from what I've gleaned - and again this is poll-driven data from the media - the biggest single issue for a plurality of voters was morality. Forget the war, forget the economy. A very large swath of people voted for "morality". We know what that means. Abortion and gay rights.

I think Marc underestimates both Bush and Kerry in what he's written above, but I'll dare say that if the Democrats he reviles for lacking a soul weren't - despite all their myriad and manifest weaknesses and perfidy - in fact the party that maintains reasonable consistency in embracing gay rights and women's choice, the Republicans would be no more than a plurality party and would rarely, if ever, win national elections.

Joe Lieberman could do his Henry Jackson dance to recapture the neo-cons. Kucinich could boogie with Jessie Jackson to recapture the economic populist spirit. John Edwards can smile, smile, smile. But the problem of courting a well-organized, extraordinarily committed segment of the electorate that votes on a single issue, their core religious beliefs, will remain. And it's an extremely daunting problem.

My wish list for the Democrats would be very close to Marc's. But to propose "re-imagining" the Democratic party - or any party - one must take into account what has come to be called the Religious Right as the inevitable, ever-present joker in any national Republicans' winning hand. Positing a progressive poltical project aimed toward securing an electoral majority at the national level - be it via "reform" or "rebirth" - isn't terribly difficult until you factor in millions and millions of voters who will vote against their own palpable economic interests and assent to the country's military power being squandered in order to make a "values" statement against abortion and against gays.

What happened last night isn't really all that surprising. Bush has strengths as a candidate that are consistently underestimated. Incumbency is a huge advantage. As is a largely toothless press. And war presidents - even in unpopular wars - are not likely to be ousted. (Remember Nixon, who ran against one of the few opponents in my memory who likely passes Marc's smell test and who fared far worse than Kerry.)

The only good news I can find in all of this is that four more years of Bush may, as has been observed elsewhere by finer minds than mine, turn out to be bad news for his own party. Experience is an even greater teacher than incisive - even prescient - folks such as ourselves. And the country definitely has some lessons in store from Bush Unbridled.

It's not a day for optimism. But a rather impressive man - the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci - who suffered and died in Mussolini's prisons (which was a bit worse than driving around with a Kerry-Edwards bumper sticker on November 3rd, 2004) suggested the most appropriate psychological formula for anyone who takes politics seriously - pessimism of intellect, optimism of the will. Josh was joking about hope among leftist types a few threads back. I'll leave the one-liners to Jesse Jackson, but frankly, in appropriate context (left-wing reductionism or liberal hysteria don't qualify) and joined to other virtues, hope is very powerful indeed. Whatever else we do, let's not abandon it.


A nice post. I hope the Dems do look inward, debate on merit instead of debate on personality will strengthen both parties.

As for the one line of Kerry's: "I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it". And not just for the surface flip-flop. But rather for being Senatorial (compromising) instead of Presidential (decision making).

"As for the one line of Kerry's: "I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it". And not just for the surface flip-flop. But rather for being Senatorial (compromising) instead of Presidential (decision making)."

What was wierd to me wasn't that. Frankly I'd have no problem with his voting against the measure as an anti-war stance and leaving it at that. But, what is amazing to me is that he allowed his vote to be so distorted and never rebutted the claims that he voted 'against' the provision of $ to the Iraq 'cause'. All Kerry had to do was call out Bush on his claim that he was going to veto any version that was not the same as the one Bush supported--making quite clear that Bush had done the same, voted for one version and against another. What was odd to me, not that odd, but strategically speaking odd, was that Kerry simply let that line about voting against the 87 billion to stand.



Yes indeed: 'We lost fair and square.' And Where oh where ARE leaders of strong principle from the left? I personally think Pelosi is one who has got to go -- she's no effective counterweight for DeLay, Hastert and the house repubs unless she can make some major changes and I just don't see that happening. McAuliffe's time is past too.

Your analysis/writings prove a long-held truism: we progressives/leftists/liberals have long excelled at critiquing/parsing/deconstructing and warring within while spreading the blame all around, both INWARD and outward (which you allude to).

Your columns, these blogs and most other missives from the left show repeatedly that we're far better at deconstruction, critique/criticism and logical analysis than recovering from loss (or avoiding it in the first place).

One MAJOR area we've (collectively) never really mastered and sustained -- unlike the right/repubs/neo-cons -- is figuring out a coherent, long-term strategy for what is next and then HOW to actually accomplish it -- how to become adept at and committed to working together as a united front to actually 'solve the problem'. And to not quit that work, lose that focus once some headway is made on the election front.

That said, I certainly believe it would be a mistake for the left to abandon or betray or continue to dismiss core dem/leftist values of respect for differences and concerns for the most vulnerable simply in order to win.

I totally agree with Hope: "Bush and his people follow the model that if it's right for me and my faith, it's right for the world. We look at the world and see what we think is right and wrong, just and unjust. We look at the big picture first and then we focus on our role within it."

Yes: we tend to prefer and value process as much as outcome, while the right effectively uses the means to achieve an end.

Then again, there's simply always so much emphasis and practicing of our first amendment rights -- a blessing and a curse. Would we really want it any other way? Do we need to learn more conformity and silencing for the 'greater good'? What is the appropriate balance? And in what context and setting?

Perhaps there is and always will be so much dissent in and among the left because unlike the right, the left is actually much better at inhabiting and living (the constitutional principles) that individuals DO have the right to lives of liberty and personal freedom (as long as they don't encroach upon others' rights, theoretically at least).

That contradiction is something the right very much resents and fears -- they want personal liberties for themselves and the people like them as long as they live the 'right way' that they think life should be lived, but not for all those other 'bad, immoral and lazy' people, i.e. blacks, latinos, poor people and especially GAYS, i.e. -- all the immoral people who are 'too individualistic' and don't follow the right rules and belief systems. Fear is a big motivator for all human beings, whether it is rational or not. The left has its version(s), the right theirs.

The good thing about this outcome as many have pointed out is we/left/dems/progressives have a chance to really do some serious, in-depth introspective reflection (IF we dare) -- what actions will result -- that's the ultimate question.

Sometimes stepping back from the' battle', deciding not to participate for a while can be a good thing individually -- do we have the luxury collectively?

As an elderly (southern) relative stated: well, at least he's gonna have to clean up his own mess.


Absolutely agree on Cooper's comment on Edwards. Gore's nomination speeech was similarly rousing (his sincerity is not an issue) and right to the point. He got a majority of the popular vote.

People have lost their capacity to look at their own miserable reality, transferring their frustrations --and suffering-- onto "moral" issues, from gay marriage to stem cells. But that capacity can be restored using the good old populist techniques -- this side of Howard Dean's contrived ardor.

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