Kerry Lacked an Ideology and a Record of Achievement
Well, I was wrong about the election. I predicted Bush would lose the popular vote and win the electoral college on the strength of 28% of the Jewish vote. I had not counted on the effort Bush made to win votes in states he knew Kerry would win in an effort to pump up his total and, though Bush’s share of the Jewish vote increased about 30% (to 24%) from 2000, Jews appear to have made little difference in the outcome in the battleground states.
Of course if you listen to the loony left, represented by the likes of Susan Sarandon and Michael Moore, you are convinced of a grand conspiracy to rig the vote and think that Kerry actually won. While slightly more rational Democrats want to blame the Christian right and Karl Rove’s use of “wedge issues,” I believe the explanation for Kerry’s defeat is rooted in the Democrats’ absence of a definable ideology.
About the only person who couldn’t have won 49% of the vote for the Democrats was Osama bin Laden. Nearly half the country despised Bush, but to win, the Democrats had to win at least a few votes from people who did not see the President as the devil. They couldn’t do it because they had nothing to offer but fear and contradiction. The Democratic mantra in this and every election is that the Republicans are only interested in the wealthy and want to steal seniors’ social security. It’s rubbish, and the Democrats know it, but they’re convinced it sells. Unfortunately, the buyers are almost exclusively the far left of the party. It was even harder to sell than usual this year because the Democratic nominee was a millionaire with an heiress wife who seemed about as much a man of the people as Prince Charles.
It was not only his wealth that made Kerry a lousy candidate. He did stupid things like go duck hunting to appeal to hunters and wind surfing to appeal to god knows who. His position on the most salient single issue, the Iraq war, was incomprehensible and, ultimately, seemed indistinguishable from that of the President. What was most remarkable about Kerry was his complete lack of accomplishment in two decades as a legislator. No one could point to a single important issue or piece of legislation that he championed in the Senate. Consequently, he was reduced to attacking the president and playing up his ancient war record.
The public was looking for someone with a positive vision for how to turn around the war in Iraq, protect us from terrorists, and project a sense that life will improve. Bush’s ideology may be simplistic, but it is an ideology nonetheless. He sees the world in terms of good and evil and believes we are the good guys and have a mission to bring freedom and democracy to the world. His world-view is shaped by his faith. This appealed to conservatives and religious fundamentalists as well as many average Americans who are people of faith with a similar conviction that America is beneficent.
Kerry’s lack of ideology may explain why he had no record of achievement. The way he attacked U.S. foreign policy he came across as someone who did not believe Americans were the good guys. He was more interested in seeing the United States cooperate with the countries that turned their backs on us than those that stood beside us. While Bush was portrayed as a dimwit, it was Kerry who appeared clueless in maintaining that countries, such as France, which are committed to subverting U.S. power, would be more accommodating just because he planned to be nicer to them. Americans want the United States to lead, not to be led, or to become sycophants seeking the approval of other nations. They don’t want to have to pass a “global test” to decide how and when to protect American interests.
Did the Republicans run a campaign that also had elements based on fear? Sure they did, but no one had any doubt what the President stood for. All we really knew about Kerry was that he disagreed with Bush. He had no vision to explain why the Republican-inspired fears were unfounded; the best he could do was to intimate we should trust him because he won some medals in Vietnam. Most of my friends and acquaintances loathed Bush, but not a single one was enthusiastic about Kerry. Ask a Democrat if they’d take a bullet for Kerry and they’d probably tell you they’d be reluctant to jump in front of a water balloon.
Many Americans are “cultural conservatives, but it isn’t abortion, gay marriage and other such issues that brought down Kerry, it was the absence of any moral compass informing his policies. The Democratic compass spins with the political winds. That is why the Republican TV ad showing Kerry shifting directions while windsurfing was so devastating.
Some Democrats now say the answer is to adopt a more culturally conservative agenda, but this will not work without a candidate who has an ideology consistent with those policies. Otherwise, it will be viewed as inauthentic, another reaction to the shifting winds.
The Democrats need a candidate who will say this is who I am, and this is what I believe, and have a record of deeds consistent with those words. Of course, those beliefs will still need to resonate with 50.1% of the electorate.